You are told so often and by so many people that “we become what we think about”. If you understand the scientific basis for this, you will appreciate its meaning and why it must be true.
In this article I want to explain, in a brief sketch, the functioning of the nervous system and other systems of the body sufficiently to support my new book, The Mind Diet.
The messages from the brain are transmitted through the nerves. This requires chemical agents also, called neurotransmitters, to connect the message from one nerve to the next. There is also a hormone system in the body called the endocrine system of glands – pancreas, thyroid and adrenals as examples – hormones are released into the blood stream to assist in carrying out the messages from the brain.
I fully appreciate that this is a superficial essay which takes some licence but is not intentionally inaccurate. The function of the mind, brain and the nervous system is massively complex and not yet fully understood.
There are two fundamental methods of function of the nervous system; voluntary or in an involuntary way. – or more correctly termed: somatic or Autonomic.
The somatic or voluntary nervous system is that part which we consciously command to function such as the nerves which activate the muscles for standing and running.
The autonomic nervous system – the ANS – is, in the main, outside of voluntary control, managing all such functions as breathing and circulation of the blood; digestion and self-protection. It supplies almost all of the organs of the body.
The ANS in turn has two modes of action differentiated as the Sympathetic SNS and Parasympathetic PNS. The SNS is the excitatory aspect of control. The ‘Fight or Flight’ activation which can work immediately there is a real threat, giving the energy, oxygen and blood necessary to escape or fight. We associate this reaction with the hormone adrenaline.
Functions of the sympathetic system are: increasing the heart rate, the rate of breathing and the focusing of the blood supply to certain parts of the body necessary for action and defence.
This is the same mechanism which is activate in stress. This is very significant because if we can gain control over this reaction we can manage stress. So although the ANS reaction is involuntary, if we can find a way of taking voluntary control it is therefore obvious that it would be immensely helpful.
The parasympathetic aspect of the ANS has the opposite effect (in the main) slowing down the heart rate and respiration and allowing blood pressure to reduce.
These functions require many aspects of the mind and the nervous system generally. There is one major nerve of the central nervous system called the Vagus nerve that reaches out from the brain and touches almost every organ of the body. Some examples: If you touch your inner ear and it makes you cough that is the Vagus nerve reaction. Fainting is called a vasovagal episode. In a faint the Vagus nerve slows the heart and dilates blood vessels – the opposite to sympathetic – so that blood pressure suddenly drops.
The nerve also supplies the vocal chords and reaches out to the intestines – a gut feeling!. There has been an intriguing discovery in recent years in relation to the innervation of the intestines.
Serotonin is one of the body’s relaxing neurotransmitters/hormone. Medication such as Prozac – the SSRIs – boosts levels of serotonin to help in depression. 95% of serotonin is produced in the intestines; only 5% therefore in the brain. What is intriguing is that approximately 60% of intestinally produced serotonin is made by bacteria which live in the gut.
More intriguing is that these bacteria are stimulated by the brain possibly by the vagus nerve to make the neurotransmitter. Such cooperative action to the body by an outside organism is intriguing.
In common with all the cranial nerves there are two Vagus nerves; right and left. The role of the Vagus is primarily parasympathetic; relaxing.
Here is the important message.
There is a two-way flow in these nerves, carrying messages back to the brain also. Although the ANS is primarily involuntary so that we do not have to think about the essential functions of the body, there are ways through which we can access the ANS to send relaxing messages to the brain which will in turn trigger further relaxing hormones to flow through the blood stream.
It can be seen therefore that as the Vagus plays a role in breathing, by controlling breathing we can send messages back to the brain which in turn sends out a message of relaxation which is in turn intensified by hormone release.
We can use thought to frighten ourselves, as in ghost stories. We can use thought to motivate ourselves to run a race. We know that what we think about changes how we feel.
When the body is bathed in stress hormones for too long, illness follows. It also follows from this that when the chemistry of the body is of a relaxed nature it is the correct environment in which regeneration can takke place.
The body cells are constantly being replaced therefore it follows:
We become what we think about.
This article should be read alongside other articles on this blog to add meaning to the message. Ort better still:
If you want to read a lot more about how you can apply this knowledge to bring success into your life go to my new book