Brain networks: the stress connection in health and disease{Guest post by Patricia Worby, PhD, Trauma Therapist who is teaching The Stress Connection in Health and Disease event with me on 17 March 2018.}

Humans are creatures of attachment. It overrides even the desire for life. This is biologically important so that we can be taken care of.

A human child especially is vulnerable to loss of attachment because they are born almost entirely helpless and need attachment to survive; our brains are very immature.

The quality of that attachment is significant for further brain development outside the womb and is something that actually changes the brain of the child when it is withheld; a developmental stage is often not completed properly, with the emotional brain (limbic system in the centre of the brain) failing to develop with a sense of safety at its core.

Now, all children have stress of some sort – even with the best parents in the world. Most children adapt to a rupture of relationship if it is repaired in good time by an empathetic and caring parent or significant caretaker. Indeed, it is important for the child’s development to have some stress and thereby develop resilience and a sense of itself as separate.

However, if it is prolonged and unrelieved then short-term stress translates into chronic stress which is the harbinger of long term disease and pathology. An adaptation to early stress in the short term becomes a long-term adaptation if the stress is not mitigated. Stress as a ‘state’ then becomes a ‘trait’ i.e. hardwired into biologically driven survival behaviours.

And it may not even be limited to one generation; certain patterns of multi-generational stress may be transferred down the generations as those childhood adaptations survive into the adult who then becomes a parent and is driven by anxiety and their own loss to unwittingly inculcate in their child more of the sense of lack, fear and loss. This has been shown in three generations of Holocaust survivors, for instance, and in animal models. It allows us to provide an explanation for why trauma seems to run in families.

The autonomic nervous system response to stress

A child is quite helpless to change the situation and has recourse to only a few options which are ruled by our biology; either the social engagement system (help-seeking) or the sympathetic response of fight and flight in that order.

If they don’t work or are impossible then the only response is a freeze or dissociation response.

Dissociation takes many forms, not all of them obvious; for instance, we ‘tune out’ or scatter attention (ADHD) to defuse the stress. It is a common feature of stressed children along with bed wetting, chronic ear infections, gut problems and so on.

They are all elements of a reptilian freeze response arising from the parasympathetic system which innervates the head, face, and neck as well as the major organs above and below the diaphragm*.

Amazingly, it can start from before birth.

Children can feel the stress of their mother; they are bathed in stress hormones as they share a common blood supply through the placenta. Remember, brain development is a response to the environment and determines health and learning behaviour.

One of the most important mind and body connections is a branch of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) called the vagus nerve; and it is highly influenced by emotions.

So, for example, a colicky baby which cries a lot, stresses the parents, which will upset them. They then fail to respond to the baby, becoming nervous or fearful of the upset of their child. A dysfunctional dynamic is set up already which can be hard to rectify. Imagine if the mother is addicted, depressed or just emotionally unavailable. The quality of adult responsiveness to the child then determines the development of that child’s brain and the ability to self-regulate their nervous system with lifelong effects on concentration, attachment behaviour and impulse control etc.

Dis-ease as a result of trauma

Many diseases have trauma at their core and the primary need is to re-establish a sense of bodily safety.

No amount of talking can do this.

It needs a bodily learning to re-train the Autonomic Nervous System to operate under conditions not of threat but of safety; this then allows resolution of normal functioning and play, intimacy and creativity can resume.

As medicine does not know of this link, (although it is written about in paediatric journals) the symptomatic treatment of specific ‘organ’ problems continues without any sense of the nervous and endocrine system that sustains it.

We don’t yet have a systems-based approach but new developments in functional and natural medicine are changing this finally so we can see that mind and body are intrinsically linked and symptoms are simply the body’s cry for help not the problem in itself.

When you are able to approach the body with compassion and understanding of these processes, healing is possible, without it we are stumbling in the dark.

*This is the understanding of polyvagal theory developed by Stephen Porges. It is a major advance in our understanding of our neurobiology.

By Patricia Worby, PhD, Trauma Therapist

Patricia WorbyDr Patricia Worby, PhD, Msc. HPD is a former scientist, researcher, and now specialist practitioner in chronic illness.

She is a specialist using Hypnotherapy, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) which, together, form a powerful armoury for treatment of toxic thoughts, addictions, and chronic pain. In addition, she is a certified NLP Practitioner and Chrysalis Effect Wellbeing Coach specialising in Chronic Fatigue Syndromes such as ME and Fibromyalgia.

Alchemy Therapies (therapy site) | Patricia Worby (general info)

Want to find out more? Then come to…

The Stress Connection in Health & Disease

The stress connection between health and diseaseHow to prevent and reverse chronic anxiety & stress.

Saturday 17 March 2018 | 2-5pm
The Yoga Shed, Wickham (Behind Pages Newsagent), Wickham Square, Wickham, PO17 5JN
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£45 early bird (book before 28 February) | £50 standard
Book your place here

Are you ready for more emotional balance and less stress and anxiety?

A journey of insight and inspiration awaits you on 17th March with a unique collaboration between Trauma Therapist Patricia Worby and Dru Yoga & Meditation Teacher Stella Tomlinson.

You will learn how stress impacts your body and creates anxiety and dis-ease, AND how to reverse it through an exploration of energy psychology, mindful movement and transformational breathing.

You will gain insight into body, mind and emotions and why you feel the way you do, and learn life-changing interventions to relieve your symptoms of anxiety and stress.

Find out more | Book here

{Photo credit: digitalbob8 via / CC BY}

Stress and the Body: the importance of attachment
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