Happily, the brain also possesses extremely complex but, where operational, (even in the most uncongenial and hazardous host environments) unerringly successful means and mechanisms for coping with life. This may be witnessed in the countless number of well-documented instances of survival among pioneering adventurers, PoWs, prisoners of conscience, hostages and the like. As we shall witness in what is to follow, we are, in reality, neither helpless nor defenceless in the face of adversity. Although some individuals will always undoubtedly prove to be by nature, more physically and psychologically hardier and robust than others, there is much that each and every one of us can do to improve our stock. Thus it is surely, plainly apparent (with reference to the previous posting) that whilst it is important and indeed necessary to the study of medicine, to divide the body’s wellbeing and daily functioning into systems in order to facilitate study and understanding, this approach must most assuredly be thereafter left where they belong; i.e. on the pages of the the appropriate textbook. Otherwise, we fall in danger of failing to recognise that in reality, all such systems are related and in that sense, inextricably connected. Disturbing one will almost certainly exert an effect to some degree on some or all of the others. Indeed, if there is one overall system to which we can justifiably refer, we could do much worse (and I am by no means the first to do so) to refer to it quite simply as “the human healing system”.
For centuries, human beings believed that reason was the pinnacle of the brain’s achievement. Indeed, it is only in relatively recent times that we have learned of ground-breaking research into the brain’s own internal pain-regulating capacity, via the release of endorphins. (endorphins are one of a group of chemical compounds occurring naturally in the brain with pain-relieving properties). Thus it is clear that emotional reactions and responses to events can and do impact profoundly upon general health and well-being and that there is a key link between the release of stress hormones and the adrenal cortex. (The adrenal cortex is a part of a gland on the surface of the kidney which is stimulated by pituitary hormones, mediating chemical and physical changes to do with the liberation of energy, the conductivity of minute but key electrical changes and sex gland function). Indeed, it was well into the 1970s that Nobel Prize-winning research revealed the pattern and pathways of communication between brain and body. Indeed, a series of studies in that one decade revealed how it is that a) the brain sends chemical messages via neurotransmitter substances, to appropriate parts of the body and b) that the nervous and immune systems are similarly, fully connected. Thus, I have then already begun: and I hope – in blogs yet to be posted on this subject – to further reveal why it is so reasonable to conclude that to ignore or in any way avoid specific and direct reference to the brain in such a series as this, i.e. on coping and health promotion; is not dissimilar – albeit in the weakest and most inadequate of senses – to attempting to meet the pressing and immediate debt (to which, by way of analogy, I referred in an earlier posting), without reference to our ‘rainy day’ resource.
As, hopefully therefore, we are now coming increasingly to appreciate; every one of us has his/her very own immensely adept and adaptable coping resource already on-board, from the moment (indeed, to be precise, from well before the moment of) birth. In reality, it is the product of millions of years of genuine “life and death” drama and has from the very beginning increasingly provided meaning and purpose to our very consciousness. It has provided for and it controls our internal functioning, which is, in turn, the “bed rock” of good health and wellbeing. It has brought stability to our mental and emotional lives and has facilitated and maintained our continuance as social beings. By that staggeringly complex and exact series of running adjustments, secretions and a bewilderingly but very precisely inter-meshed and interdependent chain of signals and commands referred to above, it has been shown to be, at heart, the ‘fount and spring’ of everything that we need or shall in any way refer to as “coping”. ©SB.