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Monday, September 04, 2006

Holistic Health and Darwin

The holistic view of health and disease is largely influenced by Darwins evolutionary theory and natural selection and the “fight or flight” concept set forth by Walter Cannon which states that a stimuli... either real or perceived, can elicit a response that originally enabled an immediate survival response by readying the body to either fight or run away from danger. This immediate response ensured maximum resistance for short duration in order to resist or avoid danger. However, as mankind continued to evolve, the primitive dangers were replaced by social and perceived psychological stressors which often elicit the same physical response patterns but without the ability to expend the associated energy. Also, perceived psychological stressors may be found frequently in daily interactions...so frequently they become a learned coping response. Some degree of stress, physical, mental, and emotional, is necessary for optimum performance. For example, exercise is a form of positive stress which allows the organism to function more optimally. However, modern living exposes the human organism to an on-slaught of stressors without the corresponding ability to relieve the built up tension.
Now the quick response which previously ensured the survival of the species has become a potential source of illness. This is especially true when mental and emotional work become the mainstay of society. Now a measure of survival depends upon modern man being able to quickly respond to less physical danger but rather respond to emotional and social stimuli which represent a threat to livelihood. The body responds in the same manner to any perceived threat whether or not a physical response is warranted. So, under a perceived psychological, emotional, or social threat the person responds with the same physiological arousal as if confronted by immediate physical danger. That response is not appropriate and must be controlled therefore prolonging or even prohibiting the release of tension. This often becomes a common occurrence and may result in malfunction or chronic disease due to the bodies chronic state of stress as identified in the General Adaptation Syndrome.
The concept of psychosomatic is taken to mean the mind/body interaction especially as it relates to the excess emotional arousal which may lead to disease. The process of disease may be a response to the chronic or continued stress in and of itself, or it may allow a previously existing condition or pathogen to gain access to the body during a period of reduced resistance. In either case, there is a stimuli which is either real or perceived to be a threat. The perception of that threat may be conscious or sub-conscious and is often determined by the individuals background, training, and conditioning. In either aspect, the hypothalamus is aroused resulting in the “fight or flight” response previously noted with the corresponding muscular arousal, cardiovascular involvement, increased immune responsivity, decreased peristaltic activity, and overall physical arousal. During this process there are several points at which to intervene. Beginning with the individuals perception, it is possible to dramatically influence this response pattern by altering what the individual perceives to be threatening in the first place. If the stimuli is not regarded as a threat then the corresponding physiological chain of events are less likely to occur. Research has shown that some persons “over-react” or fail to appropriately react to stressors thereby increasing the potential risk for harm. For example, “excessive reactors” often fail to control their response to stress whereas “deficient reactors” fail to appropriately respond in a manner that allows them to rid themselves of stress. By teaching an individual the correct way to respond or by desensitizing them to stimuli, it may be possible to eliminate the stress by the person not perceiving it to be stress, or teaching them to handle the stress appropriately if it is considered stressful. Next, it may be possible to manipulate the environment in order to reduce the exposure to threatening or stressful stimuli. These may include relationships or the physical environment surrounding the individual. Once again, this can result in the elimination or reduction of the degree or quantity of the assault. The next intervention point may be that of the physical response once a person has been exposed to a stressor. Once again, since some persons over-react or fail to appropriately react to stress, the physical assault can become disproportional to the actual degree of stress. Also, due to the chronic nature of some stressors, the body...in its attempt to maintain a level of homeostasis... “resets” itself to a higher or more stressful state. By teaching the body itself to lower its own response to stress, it is possible to reduce the overall level of stress. This can be accomplished in many ways but the primary objective is to teach the body a new way of responding so that the physical arousal state is minimized once a stressor is perceived. This results in less chronic damage. A common example of this is the use of biofeedback and relaxation techniques to lower blood pressure or other physical manifestations of maladaptive stress response patterns...or what the book terms “incompetent coping”. Other physical interventions can include diet, exercise, sleep, etcetera. Whether these interventions focus on the psychological, social, environmental, or physical ... all are designed to minimize the frequency, duration, or intensity of the stress while allowing the person to gain greater coping techniques that withstand a higher degree of stimulation without perceiving it as threatening but rather as an opportunity for growth. Finally, by controlling the by-products...so to speak...of stress, it is possible to maximize the individual overall level of functioning to allow greater productivity, growth, health.
In summary, points of intervention include the following:
1. Social engineering: this may include life events such as environmental factors or social interaction.
2. Personality engineering: this may include cognitive based therapy, education, or other interventions designed to change perception, feelings, emotional instabilities, or defense mechanisms.
3. Physical arousal...both covert and overt. This may include exercise, releaxation techniques such as visualization, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, Yoga, and biofeedback; or the use of medication.

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