How the Brain Creates Physical Symptoms
Do you find it hard to believe that your symptoms are due to mind-body syndrome? This blog post may help.
Mind-body symptoms are benign, they are temporary, and they are reversible. They are real physiological changes in the body, that are created by the brain due to underlying emotional components.
For though we walk in the flesh we do not war after the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God to pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into the captivity to the obedience in Christ... 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
Strongholds are simply beliefs that we have held for a long time and thought over and over. Some of my strongholds were thoughts of not being good enough (at anything), that I am a burden, that I need to be perfect, that I am not smart enough, that I don't deserve to be treated well, and more. When we carry these strongholds for a long time, they will eventually lead to physical symptoms in the body. All of these thoughts and fears cause the body to be on high alert all the time, and it also causes a lot of internal anger, that we are usually not aware of. But how does the brain create these physical symptoms if there is not an actual illness?
Before we go into the how, I want to reaffirm that the symptoms are REAL. Just because they are created by the brain, does not mean they are all in your head or imagined. I like to remind people that I had numerous tests showing imbalances. My thyroid hormones were low, I supposedly had too many bad bacteria and not enough good bacteria in my gut causing digestive issues, I had a saliva test indicating I have SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth), I had a hair analysis indicating that I was lacking certain vitamins and minerals, I had saliva tests showing that I had little to no cortisol production, and more. The list was endless and my medical file grew larger and larger with each doctor I saw.
So how does the brain do it? When you think about it, the brain controls a lot of things we never even think about. It controls your breathing, your heart rate, movement of your arms and legs, body temperature and more. Your heart rate can go up because you are exercising, but it can also go up because you are nervous. When we think about it in those terms, it's a little easier to believe that the symptoms in our bodies, even if we have a medical diagnosis, can be caused by the brain. Here are three ways your brain creates symptoms:
Neural Pathways You have neural pathways for everything in your brain. Things like riding a bike, brushing your teeth, how to walk...everything. Let's use pain as an example. Once we have pain, due to real tissue damage for example, there is now a pathway for that pain. It becomes learned so to speak. Now it's easier for your brain to use that pathway and the more it uses it, the easier it gets to use. Imagine forging a new path in a grassy field. When you come back the next day, you can probably barely see it, but the more you walk that same path, the easier it is to see and use. It's similar with neural pathways. Since pain is ALWAYS from the brain (this was a new one to me), whether it's acute or chronic, the brain can also create pain without any initial tissue damage. Pain is always a danger signal. If you break your ankle, your tissues surrounding your ankle send a message to your brain, the brain determines if there is danger, walking on that ankle would cause further damage, so the brain sends pain signals to keep you off your ankle. In mind-body pain the brain perceives danger when there isn't any.
Peptides A peptide is a short chain of amino acids (the building blocks of proteins). They are like neurotransmitters in your body and your brain uses them to control every cell in your body by sending them through the blood. Through peptides the cells can then cause physical changes in the body due to emotional reasons, that the body can cause for physical reasons. Candace Pert talks about this in her book Molecules of Emotion.
Fight/Flight/Freeze When we live in fight/flight/freeze, which often results from childhood trauma but is not the only reason, the nervous system is on high alert all the time. This response is a normal response when there is actual danger, for example, if a lion is chasing you or a loved one is trapped under a car. We have all heard of stories of someone exhibiting crazy amounts of strength, that they are not normally capable of, if they are trying to rescue someone. This is normal and we have this response for a reason - to get us out of a dangerous situation or to help someone else who is in a dangerous situation. During those times cortisol and adrenal are released in high amounts, and the body diverts all its energy to what ever the need is. In that moment, the body is not concerned with digestion, hormone regulation, sex drive, and other normal bodily functions. The problem is that many of us live in a constant state of fight/flight/freeze, even though we are not being chased by a lion, and the normal bodily functions mentioned above (and others) are negatively impacted.
Dr. Sarno theorized that chronic pain is caused by mild oxygen deprivation in the tissues, but that theory has been challenged by some. However, it is more and more widely accepted that the brain can initiate physical symptoms in the body because of underlying emotional reasons. Of course it's best to see a doctor, and my recommendation is to see a mind-body doctor. Below is a list of diagnoses that typically do not cause symptoms and are due to mind-body syndrome:
Torn Rotator Cuff
POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome)
IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
Blood Sugar Dysregulation
This list is not exhaustive but a good start. Dr. Howard Schubiner, Dr. Dave Clark, and some other physicians are going to put together a list of symptoms that are due to mind-body syndrome. I will post a link to the list once it is available.
If you have questions or would like to learn more, there are several ways you can get in touch with me: