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Allostatic Load

Discussion in 'The Okie Corral' started by Jedburgh, Jan 26, 2010.

  1. Jedburgh

    Jedburgh

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    Greetings all,

    I'm new to GT, but not to guns and such. I've recently completed some research on stress and thought others might find it interesting.

    There’s a cost to any business. For professional law enforcement officers, military personnel, or Federal agents the cost is wear on tear their body from the years of cumulative stress. There is a relatively recent hypothesis that asserts that there is physiological risk associated with exposure to psychosocial stressors over time. In lay speak, folks in high stress jobs will suffer physical ailments because of the pressures of the job.

    The term for the chronic exposure to stress and its effect on the body is referred to as the allostatic load. This term was coined by McEwan and Stellar in their 1993 text entitled “Health Psychology” published by McGraw-Hill. Allostasis could be literally defined as “maintaining stability through change.” From an NIA Exploratory Workshop on Allostatic Load in 2007:

    “Allostatic load refers to the cumulative biological wear and tear that can result from excessive cycles of response (i.e. too frequent and/or of inappropriate duration or scope) in these systems as they seek to maintain allostasis in the face of environmental challenge [someone assaulting you]. According to the theory, as these systems become taxed and dysregulated, they begin to exhibit imbalances in the primary neural mediators of the stress response…”

    Stressful situations can limit brain functions to basic levels, the much discussed “fight or flight” response. Allostatic load is impacted by repeated cycles of this response. Over time the allostatic load can cause changes in the physiological response to stressors. The police officer who once responded within a moral and ethical framework may begin responding with inappropriately high levels of anxiety and aggression.

    Obviously, the implications for the theory is that there are long-term health consequences to having a job with an unusually high allostatic load. The stress of the job can kill you. It’s worth understanding the threat and how to mitigate it for the same reasons you practice with firearms. From a 2005 UCLA study:

    “The body’s perception of stress leads to a significant load upon physiological regulation including circadian regulation, sleep and psycho neuroendocrine-immune [link between psychological factors and the nervous and immune systems] interaction.”

    Besides a physical toll, there is a psychological toll to this phenomenon as well. It is well documented phenomenon that acute stressors can cause PTSD in soldiers, law enforcement, or other victims of traumatic events. The frontal executive areas of the brain are responsible for planning, decision making, and judgement. This area is affected by the experiences that pass through it. The frontal areas of the brain are constantly “tuned” by experience. When two cells fire together, they are wired together.

    In a recent FBI study entitled Brain Functioning as the Ground for Spiritual Experiences and Ethical Behavior a veteran law enforcement officer commented “Peace officers are exposed to the worst that life has to offer. They see the denizens of society at their very worst – when they have just been victimized or when they have just victimized someone else. Peace officers see the perpetrators of evil and the results of their evil deeds. The constant contact with evil is corrosive, and those effects are cumulative.”

    The author (Dr. Fred Travis) further writes that “Experiences change the brain. This is inevitable. The violence law enforcement officers see becomes part of the functioning or their brains and bodies. Neural imaging assessed activation of the areas of the brain that stop wrong behavior, called orbitofrontal cortex, after individuals…” witness or experience violent, traumatic events.

    Allostatic load can reduce connections with frontal executive areas of the brain and amplify stimulus-response circuits. These changes, or structural remodeling, can impact memory and emotions and may increase anxiety and aggression. Victims of these changes may become distant from spouses, children, or other friends because they are emotionally incapable of interacting or feel a sense of detachment. Neural imaging of patients who experience high allostatic load reveal lesions on the frontal executive areas. The brain is intact, but the brain matter is no longer involved in planning and decision making.

    The impact on job performance can be devastating. Extreme errors in judgement, non-ethical or immoral decision making, and dereliction of responsibilities can all result from years of high stress and allostatic overload.

    How then, do we combat allostatic load? There are, of course, many prescription drugs available that can help mitigate the effects of allostatic load. Somewhat surprising, at least to me, is another non-pharmaceutical option. The solution may well be spirituality. Spirituality, loosely defined as a sense of wholeness, has been shown to engage the entire frontal executive area of the brain.

    Spirituality can obviously be religious. The research conducted by Dr. Travis, however, is more general. Any experiences that are universal in nature, or ones that transcend our own sense of time, space, or individual body can be spiritual. The effects of spirituality on the brain are widespread activation and higher brainwave coherence. The measure of this phenomenon is known as Brain Integration Scale (BIS).

    People who regularly practice spirituality have a correspondingly higher BIS. They become more self-reliant, self-sufficient, independent, and take responsibility for their lives and performance. BIS studies have shown a positive correlation between spirituality and emotional stability and moral reasoning, while showing a negative correlation with anxiety. BIS is increased with regular spiritual experiences.

    For professional soldiers and police, the conclusions are fairly straightforward. Each of you will react differently to the stress of your jobs. Over time, the cumulative stress may negatively impact your physical and/or psychological health. An otherwise good, moral officer will make immoral choices and could become extremely anxious or aggressive.

    For me, there is a certain elegance to the allostatic load theory. Becoming involved in your local church and establishing a healthy relationship with God will help you reach your potential as a husband, a father, and law enforcement professional. This foundational relationship will help you manage allostatic load and facilitate success both at home and at work. It provides balance to your life and will allow you to formulate the best decisions, even when under extreme stress.

    Thanks for reading.

    DOL
     
  2. Gallium

    Gallium CLM

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    Thanks for that.

    One question though. As a budding or full time scientist...does it have to be "God", or can it be service to the community, a nice big furry dog, a great hobby, a supportive family, having diverse interests, etc?

    'Drew
     

  3. Jedburgh

    Jedburgh

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    Drew,

    I'm a knuckle dragger who likes to read, which is dangerous enough for all of us.

    I wouldn't even begin to give spiritual advice to a grown man (or woman). Based on what I read, the study shows that any form of spirituality increased BIS and therefore reduced the effects of allostatic overload. How you define it is entirely up to you.

    I have recently started back at church, mostly because of the wife and kids. I think it's important for the family to spend time together. It works for me, but it may not work for everyone.

    Thanks for taking the time to read the whole thing and give feedback.

    DOL
     
  4. JohnBT

    JohnBT NRA Benefactor

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    I can't believe I read all of that just to get hit with a pitch for God.

    Allostasis was named and proposed first in 1988.
     
  5. Zell

    Zell IrregularMember

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    Thems a lot o' words for a forum post, for me tha is.
     
  6. Jedburgh

    Jedburgh

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    John - I apologize if it came across as a sales pitch. When I began research allostasis, it wasn't with the intention of ending up with spirituality as a solution.

    I didn't have any part of the research or findings. If you, or someone you know, suffers from stress then seeking professional help is obviously the way to go. I thought it was interesting that recent studies found that people who regularly engage in spiritual activities have higher BIS scores than people who don't. It so happens that I'm a religious man, but I didn't mean to imply that anyone else should change their beliefs based on an FBI study.

    The last thing I wanted was to start a religious discussion here in the Lounge.

    DOL
     
  7. Isaiah1412

    Isaiah1412

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    All of the above, as long as they provide an "grounding" factor that combats the psychological stressful which induce an allostatic condition. People exposed to or threatened with constant violence or harm generally react in one of three ways:

    -Cut themselves off from humanity, knowing that under every smiling face is a potential monster.
    -Deny what they've seen during those times, usually turning to substance abuse to aide in blocking out their experiences.
    -Do something that helps them connect with what you see as the "best" things about the world. Whether this is a religious invlovement, volunteering in the community, time with family, or even spending time alone with nature, it doesn't matter. The important fact is that there is something that allows them the chance to "come down" from the alarm state. That's necessary for both psychological and physical healing.
     
  8. chuckman

    chuckman

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    This research is neither new nor groundbreaking, and is certainly supported in the literature. A Duke psychiatrist (Harold Koenig) has written several books about the use of "spirituality" (and I will not make any definition of that word) in ill patients. In a nut shell, one's foundation and core values along with a belief in that "something higher" (however you want to define it) does improve one's physical and mental health.

    I can see how this article can be misinterpreted as a "pitch for God," but understand how it isn't.
     
  9. deadday

    deadday

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    Are you the article of this author?
     
  10. Tow/Repo

    Tow/Repo CLM

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  11. Jedburgh

    Jedburgh

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    Yeah I wrote it. I post at the Tree of Liberty from time to time as well.

    DOL
     
  12. skorper

    skorper harborrat

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    Stress certainly is cumulative over time. With resultant mechanical breakdown of the body.

    As far as long term stress goes, I have found that it is almost a must to maintain a spiritual component in your life to counter its' effects. If not, the natural progression is degradation of the higher functions. And reactionary decision making processes. And ultimately, any of the myriad number of health problems that one may be susceptible to.
     
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2010
  13. Brian Lee

    Brian Lee Drop those nuts

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    In my opinion, unselfish service to others is the primary thing that any real religion is all about.

    Time spent on rituals and worrying about one's own "salvation" or "washing away sins" is pointless when separated from a real desire to be the servant of God, by being of service to all God's other children.

    And there certainly is an unexplainable contentment that comes from being spiritual, even when every other aspect of life is grim - but not for those who's idea of being spiritual is nothing more than a selfish doctrine of praying for money & ones own "salvation". Some people want to treat spirituality like an investment in the stock market, with expectations of a material pay-off, without which, they have no desire to be "spiritual".

    Just being afraid to die and resorting to religion as a crutch does not make a person spiritual. It's too bad that so many supposedly religious people are in that category.