Friday, April 14, 2017

Support Your Connective Tissues, Think Rationally Stress Less

It is hard denying adrenaline's power commensal with a Type 'A' personality.
Alpha hats rule!

Probably my drive over the years to be 'a leader of the pack' has been partially responsible for the open heart aorta surgeries I've required.

Today, my increased awareness of the hormone's destructive power is allowing me to replace the automatic flight or fight responses with a more rational response when I'm faced with challenges.

But unfortunately those daily challenges perceived by me to be a direct confrontation - such as another driver cutting me off on the road - still produce that all too familiar, mostly unproductive adrenaline surge.

When challenged, my blood pressure rises and stress increases as cortisol pulses through my veins.  In the car, fingers tighten around the steering wheel.  Words not normally suitable for public use whirl around my amygdala while my frontal cortex wants to slip into hibernation mode.

But with the passing of a few dangerous seconds the icy layer blanketing my cortex's rational  systems thaws and the red quickly drains from my face.

My pulse drops back to the usual forty to fifty beats per minute.

By now the offending car is far out in front of me.

I'm not going to speed after it to show them who is...., who is what? Maybe more quickly prone to push an accelerator pedal down?  Best at petal to the metal?  Come on.

Really, was it super significant that an aggressive driver cut me off?

Yes and No.  And the struggle between the ancient survival portion of my brain and the more modern frontal cortex continues.

But my connective tissue limitations require me to deal with fight or flight response in a way that supports my cardiovascular system rather than further damaging my aorta.

My Type A aspect urges for resolution by dominance while the Beta aspect (Type B) presses for a ' do what benefits you most longterm' ending.

As a human driven by testosterone I struggle with adrenaline and cortisol prompted stress daily.

As a connective tissue disorder (Marfan) challenged person who has experienced first hand the damage these influential hormones can cause, I am finally learning to recognize the first signs of situational generated stress and now learning to initiate rational mitigating responses.

Its not easy, honestly.  It is a work in progress though but I am improving.

Self recognition of my dominant Type A tendencies was a good start.

Today, living with a dissected descending aorta (ascending is now Dacron) requires stress control.  Stress causes sheer pressures to build and aortic inflammation to occur.  I need neither if I want to live.

Research shows that emotional stress can trigger an aortic dissection.

So stress control is extremely important to those of us challenged by Marfan, Loeys-Dietz, Ehlers-Danlos or any other connective tissue disorder or syndrome.

But just when I thought I was doing better lately, a red mustang cut in front of me yesterday boasting a big bumper sticker that read 'If you are reading this you are loosing!!!'.

I always drive no faster than the speed limit.  My driving capability is a privilege I absolutely need, and besides - whoever printed up that bumper sticker couldn't even spell.

Four years ago my license was medically revoked because of my dissection.   Today however it has been restored and I take the privilege of driving very seriously.

Three years of living without a driver's license taught me many things.  Near the top of the list is 'do not get a ticket and jeopardize the driving privilege'.  So I stick to the speed limit.

Many drivers consider the speed limit to be 'grandpa slow'.  So on a daily basis drivers, young and old whiz around me.  Most just whiz by.  Some blow their horns.  A few flip me off.

All the whizzing by does bother me but my rational frontal cortex has learned to be boss.  Amygdala is still active but now understands about consequences and the 'time-out' corner.  Amygdala has learned of downsides of 'the ticket'.

At first this shift from Type A to Type B responses in my life made me feel as though I didn't live up to what evolution had programmed my body to be.  Survival required brute dominance, right?  I mean look at the lions and gorillas and baboons fight for 'boss' rights. I had to be first in line at the traffic light.

Nature selects for Type A, Alpha, 'leader' personalities, correct?  Think about mating rights.

Not necessarily.

Though Type A personalities may 'earn' certain short term mating rights or dominance positions in some species, Type A lifestyles also carry many downsides too.

Alpha personalities normally possess higher stress levels, and as some research shows may harbor even lower intelligence levels.

What does that mean to a connective tissue challenged individual?

Simply put, Type A driven actions may move one to the front of the line but they may not be there long if the adrenaline and cortisol surges damage the cardiovascular system to the point of a dissection or aneurysm failure.

There is a very interesting report entitled "We Can All Relate To Stressed Out Baboons", where Stanford physiologist Robert Sapolsky is reported to suggest that the stress of competition associated with an Alpha personality actually leads to disease and depression.

Sapolsky goes on to theorize that those who can differentiate between real threats (requiring life saving flight or fight responses) and common competitive but non-survival situations may have much lower bodily stress levels.

The implications here are especially important for connective tissue challenged persons.

High levels of stress are more damaging to cardiovascular systems than smoking, according to Sapolsky.

Increased cardiovascular stress is the last thing anyone needs, especially if looking to minimize aortic dissection risks.

Today I'm thinking whoever printed the bumper sticker about 'loosing' may have actually been a Beta personality, one who figured out how to make money off of the Alpha's irrational drive to be the brute and possibility their inability to spell correctly.

I will always struggle with dominance stress.  My long legs propel me to the front of any group walk about.  My amygdala still whispers about being the fastest and best-est.

No longer though do I think the Alpha personality is superior to the rational, calmer, more socially integrated approach.

With the Alpha approach the game is controlled by others so paradoxically we always end up 'loosing'.

Beta responses allow us much more control, especially to the connective tissue challenged population who are genetically predisposition to potential aortic tearing.

And maybe ultimately a more extended shot at mating too.

Take that you Alpha powered red mustang!

You are the one who is really 'loosing'!