He was sitting alone in a dark alley with only the light from a nearby road creeping onto his right side and the left barely lit by an open restaurant door that lead to the busy kitchen. He was crouched down on a milk crate eating a tray of noodles, likely from a cook inside the restaurant.
I could not understand much of what he had to say, but he was very talkative so I simply listened to what sounded like meaningless chatter. But, it made me wonder what has caused him to become this way? Did it start before he became homeless while working as a diesel mechanic or did it happen due to one extreme stressor in life or multiple stressful situations with negative outcomes?
Have you ever thought about how unnerving our world is today? So many people fall into emotional and physical disrepair because of an inability to handle the things around us. Politics, natural disasters, physical ailments, declining health due to age or bad habits, addiction, loss of employment, false ideas of how religion should be verses how it is viewed in our churches, fear of relationships – I could continue typing for hours naming things that bog us down. But, why do we let these things get under our skin?
The simple answer is that not all of us do – some are better equipped with handling today’s times.
A Yale University study found that some people had brains that were able to process stressors better than others. What was interesting is that the study allowed researchers to see which three areas of the brain responded to stress during a functional MRI (fMRI).
The Yale study saw a decrease in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) area of the brain at first and then a huge increase in that same area by most of their study participants. That huge increase could be seen on scans that were overseen by doctors and scientist. For those that had the hyper increase of activity, it meant that their brains were blocking the stressors or protecting the person from stress.
The ventromedial prefrontal cortex area is involved in brain management, in a way. It is utilized when dealing with self-related processing or figuring out when to feel stress or not to feel stress. This area of the brain also causes disruptions in individuals with autism and those who function poorly in social settings. In other words, the vmPFC is not building that wall to block the stress as it does in some people.
Basically, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex either goes into overdrive to protect the brain from extreme emotional response, or fails to go into overdrive (fails to build that wall), which equals a flood of stress and emotional reactions to the stressor.
The Yale study found that those whose brain failed to guard against the stressor, they likely had an increased risk of binge drinking, binge eating or other self-destructive behavior after being stressed.
So if you react poorly to stress and find yourself acting out in self-destructive behaviors after a hard day, your ventromedial prefrontal cortex area is not guarding your brain. A quick fix for this problem is not available, but it is now the spotlight of more research.
For those who experience one extreme stressors daily, weekly or even monthly – these stressors add up and cause serious health issues. Those health issues can include high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease which can lead to more stress. More stress then leads to depression, anxiety or the onset of an underlying mental illness that did not make itself known until that stress in life continued to build up. So, if not tackled in the beginning, it can quickly become uncontrollable for an individual.
The end result of accumulated stress that is not handled properly… we break.
“Stress is the trash of modern life-we all generate it but if you don't dispose of it properly, it will pile up and overtake your life.” ― Danzae Pace