Stress Can Change Our Genes

In my last blog post reviewing Marc Lewis’ book, Memoirs of an Addicted Brain: A Neuroscientist Examines his Former Life on Drugs, I indicated that our brains, with all their neuronal and chemical intricacy, appear to respond to a higher authority than just chemistry. There seems to be a “self” or a “soul” which may alter the direction of an addiction–or other behavior. That is good news for all of us. It means that when we are depressed, anxious, or even addicted, there is an “I” that can come to our rescue. That is the message I have been presenting throughout my website, starting many years ago before there were blogs. I indicated at the end of that post that there was a second piece of evidence to support my proposition. Let me digress for a moment to set the groundwork for what I am about to share with you. Lemark’s Theory of Use and Disuse                   When I took high school biology (a very long time ago) we learned that there was a scientist called Jean-Baptiste Lamarck in 1809 who preceded Charles Darwin. Lamarck had a theory of “use and disuse” which said that characteristics that animals use get somehow incorporated into their genes and can therefore be passed down to their offspring, while unused characteristics get genetically dropped. The theory was rejected and we students laughed at such quaint ideas. Well, we can stop laughing. Researchers across the country and throughout the world are studying the field of epigenetics. This includes the effects of what are called epigenetic markers. This is the science of noting which genes are...

The Soul Behind The Brain

When depression hits, what do you do? When your Life Partner is not good enough to chase away the anxiety, what do you do? When past, black predictions by parents or others of your future failure, haunt your thoughts, what do you do? Well, of course, you blame your anxiety, depression, and self-hatred on a “chemical imbalance.” You claim that your present state is inherited and your only solution must be chemical. There are two new pieces of evidence to disprove that which will, hopefully, help you out of that pit of doubt that sends you pill-searching, either legitimately or illegitimately. People who suffer so intensely from depression and anxiety that they absolutely can’t handle one more minute of it often turn to prescription medication or illegal drugs to get them through the pain. The first piece I would like to share with you is a new book by Marc Lewis called Memoirs of an Addicted Brain: A Neuroscientist Examines his Former Life on Drugs. A Neuroscientist Studies His Addicted Brain         What is different in this book from all the other chronicles of addiction and recovery is the fact that Lewis happened to have been a doctoral student in psychology, specializing in neuropsychology when he finally escaped the chains of his addiction, so the book is sprinkled liberally with explanations of how the amygdala and the anterior cingulate cortex work, things you’ve seen discussed before in this blog. But there’s more to it than that. There is a point—after losing a marriage; after many thefts during the night; after Lewis is finally caught and faces jail time; after being...

The Biological Reason For Low Self Esteem

“I know I’m a good person,” Phyllis said earnestly. “I do a lot for my friends. They can count on me and they know it. I would never hurt anyone. I’m kind. The only thing is,” here, she hesitated, “I don’t treat myself nearly as well as I treat everyone else. Although I know this is ridiculous and objectively, I disagree with it, but deep inside, I don’t believe I deserve it.” A case of low self esteem that doesn’t have to be. It’s as if Phyllis is split between her logical self which knows she is a good person in the same way that you and I “know” E=mc2, a knowing at a distance, and her inner self which thoroughly believes she doesn’t deserve to be treated well. It is the illogical, inner self that seems real and the logical self that seems fake. How did this happen and how can Phyllis get past it? Toxic Messages Are Just Stronger Neural Pathways To answer this question requires a short side-step into the world of neuroscience. There is a lot of fascinating research going on all over the country on how the brain works and how it connects to our thoughts and feelings. Apparently, the more we hear a message, the stronger the neural pathways in our brain become. That is, if certain of our actions were followed by particular messages by our parents as we grew up, then a pathway was constructed in our brains so that the instant we would behave in a certain way or something would happen, it would trigger the neurons firing. The more...

What Is Normal Behavior? [video]

Normal behavior depends on your background and history. Normal really means the behavior we expect. But don’t judge your partner because you wouldn’t do something that he did; what’s normal for you may not be normal for someone else because your background affected you one way and your partner another...

Overcome Anxiety By Doing What You Hate

Marlene had to admit that a lot of her anxiety was born of a sense of childish entitlement which went something like this: “I’ve had an awful life, so I’m entitled to cut corners here and there to make it easier on myself.” The result was that she had bounced a check. And this wasn’t, unfortunately, the first time. “If I’m going to turn my life around and ditch this foolish anxiety problem, then I simply have to force myself to do my checkbook regularly. There is no excuse for this,” she said to herself. As she stood on line at the bank, Marlene had an “Ah-ha!” experience. It came to her, with an unheard-of forcefulness that if she could get control of her anxiety so well—and she was, indeed, feeling a lot better—she could get control of some of the things that had triggered her anxiety in the first place. She had absolutely hated balancing her checkbook. It was the most boring, annoying act on earth. It took up so much time, and invariably she made countless arithmetical errors. That’s why her way of coping had been to always keep enough money in the account to protect herself from situations like this one. Obviously, it was not a good enough system because something had gone wrong. She finished with the banking and as she headed toward the door, she noticed a brochure for getting online banking. Sure enough, with this free program, she could keep up to date on her account daily. She retraced her steps and headed over to a desk to sign up for it. From...
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