Brain=Body: The Internal Stimulus Regulating Center
We would all like to believe we have control over our own bodies. We can talk, and walk, and think and daydream. But what happens when our bodies start doing things we have no control over? In times of stress and extreme emotions, some part of our brain takes over and interferes with our body’s natural functions. Why don’t we have control over our body in these circumstances? We control our brain don’t we? Even if we agree that there is a particular part of the brain that is causing these external reactions to internal stimuli (the I box), where is it and what determines the response?
Shingles is a second eruption of the varicella-zoster virus (VZV) - the same virus that causes chickenpox. Anyone who's had chickenpox may develop shingles; it merely lies dormant in the body until a time of physical or mental stress and then it can reactivate, causing localized rash and nerve irritation . The exact reason for this second outbreak is unknown, however certain studies have shown persons experiencing significant psychological stress are more prone to infection than those who are not under stress . Researches at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas have found that during and after space flight, 30% of astronauts tested positive for VZV in saliva, while before flight, only one out of the 112 samples was positive for VZV DNA . Now, I think it is relatively safe to say that astronauts are under a great deal of stress during and after flight. What is it about an intense situation that spurs the brain to act without conscious consent to physically change the body? There must be some internal stimulus when we are stressed that causes a physical manifestation in the body, but how would this be beneficial? Perhaps it is the brains way of calling for help to ease an intense and potentially harmful situation. This implies then, that the brain is just as fragile to thoughts and emotions as the body is to physical stresses. Perhaps it was physical stress that causes the VZV to re-attack in astronauts.
Another manifestation of psychological stress is hair loss. As I can personally attest to, persons under stress experience mild hair loss. This is called alopecia areata (AA) and can be seen in anyone from surgeons to children who have been abused. Misery L, and Rousset, H support that Alopecia aerata often occurs after stress, particularly during mourning and “psychopathological mechanisms … seem to be the key for understanding how stress could induce hair loss” . That is to say it is through studying the mind that the solution to this physical problem can be achieved. In the case of alopecia areata, most of the time there is no physical stress, but the body still manifests a psychological condition physically. So perhaps the theory that our brain cries for help through our body when being ‘damaged’ by strong emotions and stress is true. But to what extent can this effect take. Both shingles and hair loss are associated with the nervous system. Shingles irritates nerve endings and leads to liquid filled blisters and rash, and with hair loss, ach hair follicle is encased in a nerve ending, which is affected by neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters are altered by stress levels, thus affecting the hair follicle. So it makes sense that the brain can alter the body through these maladies. Hair loss and shingles all are related to the nervous system so it is not too much of a stretch for the brain to change a different part of the nervous system.
Pseudocyesis is a dramatic example of a pysiopsycological manifestation that affects the entire body. Pseudocyesis is the medical term for a false pregnancy. It can cause many of the signs and symptoms of pregnancy, and often resembles the condition in every way except for the presence of a fetus . Sufferers can experience swollen lactating breasts, morning sickness, weight gain and distended belly. There are three theories to attempt to explain this astonishing phenomenon: conflict theory, where there is a desire or fear of pregnancy triggers the illness, wish fulfillment theory where minor body changes initiate the false belief in pregnancy in susceptible individuals leads to further changes, and depression theory where pseudocyesis may be initiated by the neuroendocrine changes associated with a major depressive disorder . All three theories are psychological! This is a phenomenon where there is no physical stress, only the stress the woman (or man) is putting on herself to have a baby, and the entire body is affected.
The part of the brain that controls stress response, lets call it the internal stimulus center (ISRC), must be able to affect all systems of the body and be able to determine when the brain is in danger of overload. However, I do not mean to imply that there is a certain part of the brain that does this. It takes the entire brain to run the functions of the body that are affected by these diseases. Thus, it would activity out of the scope of the I-function. We are not aware that it is happening; however like a reflex, it occurs weather we like it or not. If the ISRC is indeed causing the physical changes in our bodies as a warning against too much stress or a manifestation of strong desire, perhaps it is acting as the bridge between the I-box and unconscious brain. As such, some physical ailments have ground in psychological issues and should be taken as indicators of a different level of problem.