Jan 30, 2015

What Happens in Vegus Doesn’t Stay in Vegus (Vegas)


Have you ever wondered if stress at work really can cause you to become sick? The American Psychological Association (APA) says, “Absolutely!” and this is based on the latest research in the field of Psychoneuroimmunology. As you can tell from the long name, this is made up of the study of the psychology (the thoughts of a person), the neurology (the physical paths traveled in the brain), and the immune system all combined in one interactive feedback loop. One of the primary parts of this loop is the Vegus Nerve. Without getting into the medical terminology, basically there are signals sent to the brain when there is an infection or intrusion into the body that is foreign and shouldn’t be there. The Vegus sends a signal to the brain that is very similar to the “Threat Response”, fight-or-flight, and the brain then sends signals back through the Vegus telling the body how to respond.

Interestingly, what has been discovered is that stress taps into this very same circuit as infection, but starting in the brain rather than the immune system. The APA says that Dr. Steven Maier and his colleagues, who have been deeply studying psychoneuroimmunology, have found that if they stress animals–by socially isolating them or giving them electrical shock–they see massive increases in the activity in the Vegus.

“Stress and infection activate overlapping neural circuits that critically involve interleukin-1 as a mediator,” said Maier.
And, not only does stress produce the expected stress response, it also produces exactly the same behavioral changes–including decreased food and water intake and decreased exploration–and physiological changes, including fever, increased white blood cell count and activated macrophages seen in the “sickness response.”

“These animals are physically sick after stress,” said Maier. “You see everything you see with infection.”

What does all this mean to you? “Stress is another form of infection,”said Maier. “And the consequences of stress are… activation of circuits that actually evolved to defend against infection.” So, the next time you find yourself feeling “sick”, chances are that there has been stress as a precursor to it. The boss that stresses you every time you see them, hear their voice, or even receive an email from them. The pressure to perform and you don’t have the confidence that you can get the job done. When you’re asked to take on a new assignment or job that either you don’t feel qualified for or aren’t trained to do. Of course, if losing your job seems likely, the stress level rises significantly!

Consider that stress may play a role with others, too. If your spouse or significant other are sick, you should consider what stress they may have been under prior to becoming sick. Of course, if your children are sick on a continual basis, it could be a clue that there is ongoing stress somewhere in their life. I’m not saying that all sickness is stress related, but there is a reason that we have what are called “dis-ease”. Think about it…

A major part of the help I give to my clients is relief from stress. An example is from a client of mine that posted the following on my Facebook Page, “Met with you today and I honestly have not been this relaxed in 2 years….I already had 2 friends say they could hear it in my voice….thank you”.

If you can imagine being more relaxed than you have been in years and being enabled through that relaxation to make immediate and significant changes to become more of all the things you want to be, then now is the time to contact me. Set an appointment with me today and change your mind tomorrow!

Creating life in forward motion,
Dr. Edward Lewellen