Higher Living Reflections

Homeostasis v. Allostasis…Huh?

Disclaimer: The following is based on my understanding of biomedical concepts and is not to be accepted as definitive.

We’re frequently reminded that change is the one constant in life. Change though, conflicts with the aspect of the human psyche that seeks security and safety in stability, clarity, assurance, definition. The reason is that change upends the normal order of things, the ways that have, heretofore, engendered a sense of control.

A person’s comfort with change is generally reflected in his/her political philosophy, adherence (or not) to faith systems, and even in the types of reading he/she does. Regarding the last, how do you like your stories to end? Conclusively or are you comfortable with ambiguity? After all, the one certainty today is that we exist in a state of ambiguity, uncertainty.

It stands to reason, then, given that change is life’s one constant, it is actually the normal. Therefore, questions and debates about us moving towards a new normal once we’ve gotten a grip on Covid-19 and achieved herd immunity miss the mark. No one knows where we will be in six to eighteen months. Thus, it’s better to leave those to the prognosticators, tea-leaves readers, and other futurists and focus on the immediate pressing question for every adult and adults with dependents:

How am I and they coping with the swirling storm?

In addition to being counseled to do all the right things to protect our physical health, we’re also advised to be attentive to our mental and emotional health. Those ways can be as varied as the persons dealing with this crisis, which is to say, billions.

A recent poll showed 45 percent said the pandemic has impacted their mental health either in a major (19) or minor way (26), women more than men. That suggests that upwards of 55 percent are not being truthful. It’s unfathomable a majority can claim their anxiety levels have not been heightened, even stressed, for one reason or another: health, financial from jobs to investments, and concern for others in their orbit who are at higher risk.

To get a grasp on what might be happening within your body, it might be helpful to have a basic understanding of how your brain monitors how you handle the steady stream of disconcerting and, oftentimes, conflicting information.

The brain is the primary organ that handles impacting stressors. It processes external sensory inputs from the environment as well as internal inputs from the body. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “It determines what individuals will experience as stressful, it orchestrates how individuals will cope with stressful experiences, and it changes both functionally and structurally as a result of stressful experiences.”

The toll those stressors have not only impacts our mental and emotional state, but also our physiological. In biomedical terms, allostasis aids in maintaining homeostasis or equilibrium in the body.

“Allostasis,” says NCBI, “is essential for maintaining homeostasis in the face of external and internal demands that are registered by the brain.”

The cost for that adaptation, in turn, is called allostatic load, or “a measure of physiological wear and tear on the body’s regulatory systems, including the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, autonomic nervous system, metabolic system, gut, kidneys, and immune system, resulting from a cumulative exposure to stressors.”

All that to say the impact of the ongoing overload of stressful information can be causing you mental, emotional, and physiological harm just as overloading your vehicle puts stress on far more than its springs. If not consciously acknowledged and effectively addressed, you will respond unconsciously in ways not helpful to yourself and those around you.

The question becomes how?

The methods, as I note above, can be as varied as the numbers of people dealing with it.

Start with taking a deep breath…





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