Stress is a word so
commonly used, but rarely identifies a specific cause and effective cure.
Stress is similar to love. Everyone has their own definition.
By questionnaire, doctors
contribute stress as the underlying cause to 75% of most health care
complaints. Stress is a symptom manifestation, rather than the etiology
of the discoordinance in psychological balance.
Similarly, most treatments
for stress deal with the neurological response, rather than the root of
the problem. Common treatments are relaxation, controlled breathing,
meditation, exercise, biofeedback, counseling and medications—both
alternative (natural) and prescription.
Hans Seley won a Nobel
Prize for his work on the neurological-hormonal pathways of stress induced
physiological changes in humans. Hans Seley, a pioneer in the study and
disease, describes stages of adaptation to a stressful event:
Exhaustion or recovery
In the alarm stage, the
body senses stress and the central nervous system is aroused. The body
releases chemicals to mobilize the fight-or-flight response—adrenalcorticotropic
hormone (ACTH). This hormonal release is the adrenaline rush associated
with panic or aggression.
In the resistance stage,
the body either adapts and achieves homeostasis, or it fails to adapt and
enters the exhaustion stage, resulting in disease.
The stress response is
controlled by actions taking place in the nervous and endocrine systems.
These actions try to redirect energy to the organ—such as the heart,
lungs, or brain—that is most affected by the stress.
Physiologic stressors may
elicit a harmful response leading to an identifiable illness or set of
symptoms. Psychological stressors, such as the death of a loved one, may
also cause a maladaptive response. Stressful events can exacerbate some
chronic diseases, such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Effective
coping strategies can prevent or reduce harmful effects of stress.
There are differences in
gender to how men and women manage stress. These differences are directly
related in how men and women’s brains operate.
Roger Sperry won a Nobel
Prize in 1981 for his work on the specialization of the right and
left-brain. Since his publication, many studies and books have written on
the differences of men and women’s processing. These include books such
as “Women are from Venus and Men are from Mars.” These books highlight
that men as a whole are right brain dominant: whereas, the women are
left-brain dominant. What does this mean?
First of all this does not
mean that right brain dominance correlates with limb or arm dominance.
Brain functioning dominance focuses on the specialized brain functions
that are located in these different hemispheres.
Women are primarily left
dominant. The left- brain hemisphere controls the following:
Deductive and Inductive Reasoning
Process information piece by piece—similar to a computer
Men are primarily right
dominant. The right-brain hemisphere controls the following:
The connection or bridge
to each hemisphere is through nerve fibers called the corpus callosum.
Women have 20% more corpus callosum than men. These do not finish growing
until the age of 21. The other bridges are the neurologic fibers called
the Anterior and Hippocampal Commissures.
Speak earlier as
Know more words
Recall words better
Glide through tongue
Testosterone slows left
“Y” gene develops higher
levels of Dopamine
Increased Dopamine leads
to greater addiction and novelty seeking activities
Later in life decline in
Dopamine leads to Parkinson’s Disease
The union of two sex
chromosomes--the X from the mother and the Y from the father defines men.
The woman defined by the X from the mother and an X from the father.
The Y chromosome contains
only 25 genes, whereas, the X chromosome may contain from 1000-1500 genes.
Women have two X
chromosomes, usually one is active and the other is inactive. In 19% of
the female population both X chromosomes are active and this has a more
Women have deeper limbic
systems. The limbic system is that brain center that processes emotions.
Studies find that women get depressed at lower levels of stress than men.
Additionally, women produce a larger quantity of stress hormones, but
unfortunately have a lower ability to shut these hormones off than men do.
Women internally amplify
negative life experiences and push them into the subconscious whereas men
usually react to negative life experiences. OJ Simpson reacted. The wife
dealing with raising children, taking care of expenses deals with
infidelity by internalizing the stress into the subconscious. However,
internally suppressing and ruminating over negative thoughts and feeing
precipitates a cycle of hopelessness and despair.
After labor and delivery
of a newborn, the woman has a tremendous fluctuation of hormones and
usually experiences post partum depression. This depression varies in its
duration. The next phase of vulnerability for women is in the period of
child rearing, where she senses a feeling of abandonment from her spouse.
Stress has been
categorized into four major categories:
Stress and tension produce
a hormonal release of ACTH, which destroys Hippocampal neurons. These
hippocampal neurons are involved in learning and long-term memory
formation. An injury to this hippocampal area doesn’t allow one to create
Stress interferes with
learning. Anxiety triggers a flood of information through neurological
impulses. The ability to concentrate diminishes as anxiety levels rise
and retention of new information is muddled. Learning memory is enhanced
when you are relaxed.
In order to optimize our
learning we can minimize stress through:
Having a positive
outlook and attitude
emotion, fear, anxiety and frustration
Focus on learning
components rather than the entire content
We retain information that
is emotionally charged. One sees an athlete celebrate excessively on a
good play or shot, and try to eliminate emotions with poor performance.
That part of your brain that is responsible for emotions is also
responsible for converting short-term to long-term memory. For that
reason, we remember events from our experiences that had the greatest
A focus on negativity will
To improve our brain and
physical performance we must overcome stress and tension. Prior to a
learning session or intensive reading we must consciously attend to
relaxing the body and mind. The three most common ways are the following:
chanting 3-5minutes of “Ah-oh-mm”
Preparing the eyes—eye
movements in short and long horizontal scanning
Use of internal imagery
to “experience” a mental and auditory image of content
The sequence, in which we
learn to process information, follows first in thought, then imagery and
then feel. This leads to learned memory, or as in the case of physical
movement--muscle memory. Take this test. Sign your name quickly. Now
try to reproduce it using curved and straight lines. Note the difference
of learned memory vs. task performance.
Learned muscle memory
leads to athletic success. A golfer may experience poor putting through a
phenomenon known as the “yips”. Putting less than six feet increases
tension and anxiety. Researchers have studied this phenomenon with
measuring brain wave activity by EEG. They found that initially the
left-brain quiets down then the right brain takes over. The left-brain is
verbal, tasks by components that create confusion and subsequent
adjustments that lead to missed puts.
Rifle marksmen of Olympic
level were studied to note how the brain waves affect performance. It was
found that initially the right brain analyzed the target, and then
switched to the left-brain to pull the trigger and not make any more
corrections. This sequence was made smoothly and without prolonging the
Frequently athletes are so
well trained that their brain will “slow” down the speed of the game and
they feel as is they can anticipate the opponent’s movements. Michael
Jordan recalls that in his playing days he had the sensation of slowing
down the game and thus was able to beat his defender to the free lanes
where he would be able to get off a higher percentage shot.
This ability to focus is
commonly referred to as being in the “zone”. The zone is a combination of
extensive muscle memory, game experience and confidence, all which can be
heightened when one diminishes anxiety, fear, and frustration.
Stress in athlete comes in
many forms. A major league pitcher with 10 years with one team was very
successful, but when traded to the Yankees, he could not adjust to the
move and his performance became adversely affected such that he was traded
within a few months.
Athletes use techniques to
disrupt their opponent’s concentration and use of learned muscle memory.
A golfer who is prepared to strike a ball has switched from the left brain
to right brain activity; however, someone yelling or talking near him
triggers an automatic listening function re-activating his left brain
activity, which short-circuits his perfected swing or putting mechanics.
Another strategy for baseball pitchers is to have the batter start to
think anything but striking the bat against the thrown ball.
A technique such as a
prolonged wind-up gives the batter extra time to start thinking.
Additionally, throwing the ball towards the batter in a threatening way
will make the batter loose his focus and start thinking which will disrupt
his muscle memory. The corrective measure the golfer or batter take are
to “step out” of their stance and reset their mind set for an automatic
Should you have any further questions
regarding this article, please direct your questions or comments to "Ask
the Doctor" section.
Copyright © 2004 - 2012Taras V.
Kochno, M.D. All Rights Reserved
Board Certified in
Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation