Last night I got an upsetting message (sms). But I did not feel upset when I read it. I just noticed it and started thinking about it. Although there was no need to answer it, I must admit that I had the message in mind for quite a long time. But I did not feel upset, anxious or restless, as far as I manage to know myself. I had gone to bed for the night, and sort of reflected upon the message.
The something strange happened. For the next three hours I had to visit the toilet six or seven times to urinate. And it was not something like a nervous bladder. I produced impressive amounts of urine, and although I had eaten cabbage and consumed coffein earlier, that could not fully explain what was happening.
The only explanation seems to be that I was indeed stressed in some way. When my adrenaline levels goes up, so does the anti-diuretic hormone (ADH), meaning that the re-absorption of water in my kidneys went down. That is a common effect of a rise in adrenlin, and also a common effect of stress. We all have experienced that, and while it is often attributed to a nervous bladder, the explanation above is always a part of it.
The interesting part of this is that while my trained brain, through meditation, handled this rationally, my visceral body acted emotionally. What we know is that the anterior cingulate cortex (dealing with arousal) actually fire in the same way when we experience something unpleasant and surprising whether we meditate or not. But while most people keep that level for a prolonged time, the activity in the cingulate cortex drops to a more basic level quite fast among meditators. At the same time the activity in the amygdala (one of the places where negative feelings arise), also drops, while the activity in the prefrontal cortex (our rational mind) increase. Those effects are among the most common effects of what we call “mindfulness”.
How ist it then, that I have had an elevated level of adrenaline, if my amygdala fires less? An important structure involved in a stress-reponse is the para-ventral nucleus (with projections ending in the piutary gland, secreting adrenaline). The PNV is influenced not only through tha amygdala (my highlightning):
If the PVN plays such an important role in the modulation of the stress response, how is this accomplished? The exact answer to this question is not known, but the afferent and efferent connections to the PVN provide some clues. The PVN receives an important input from the amygdala. The amygdala receives multimodal input from all sensory modalities; therefore the PVN receives indirect sensory input. Stress signals can also activate the PVN via the lateral hypothalamus, which receives input from secondary (higher) sensory cortical areas, and via inputs from the locus coeruleus, the prefrontal cortex, and the hippocampus (memories of stressful things!). In addition to releasing CRH into the portal system and inducing ACTH release, the PVN has strong projections to brain stem autonomic ganglia – i.e. the preganglionic neurons in the dorsal motor nucleus of the vagus (dorsal motor X) and sympathetic preganglionics in the lateral column of the spinal cord (T1-L2).
So it is possible that I have had a visceral stress response regardless of a possible “control” of my amygdala. The massage received ws definately coupled to memory (Hippocampus), and that may have been a pathway. The second explanation is, of course, that I actulla was more stressed than I was aware of, and that my stress-reaction was a result og a high activity in the amygdala. I prefer to think that this is not the explanation.
Anyhow, the interesting thing in this experience, was that although i did not feel stress, my body expressed s stress-reaction. Mindfulness may bolster negative feelings, but my visceral stress-reactions may still be present. But my mindfulness also implied another victory: I was aware of what was going on, so that I could avoid further distress and anxiety.