by Kathleen Quinn, MD
Most of us know that too much stress is a bad thing – bad for our lives, bad for our families and certainly bad for our health. One thing you may not realize is stress actually changes our brains permanently. This happens when hyper-arousal and continuous pressure puts us in “fight or flight mode,” and the result is detrimental responses that wreak havoc on body mechanisms related to health and well-being, including our emotional states.
If we look at cardiac conditions in men and women, we know that stress plays a role in the development of heart disease, as does diet, exercise and smoking. Massive amounts of research have been performed on men’s cardiac health, which resulted in the creation of interventions for patterns of negative behavior. The problem is these interventions for men don’t necessarily work for women because heart disease does not follow the same pathways or exhibit itself in the same manner that it does with men.
One of the things we now know is reducing stress and the consequence of stress is not enough. When the brain has been damaged in stress (and high levels of continuous stress can cause death), it requires creating new pathways for brain development.
Clinically, in psychotherapy we work to help the patient develop what is called pre-synaptic function so that in the post-synaptic state new dendritic spikes are formed. Very simply, this means we help the brain rebuild/recycle itself into a healthier state. This takes time and often includes psychotherapy, vitamin therapy, nutrition counseling and certain exercises that support this type of development.
Without these interventions, the patterned activity in the brain supports responses that are detrimental, to men, women and even to children. This is part of the difficulty in treating depression, changing interpersonal interactions on a long-term basis, and making changes in marriage and parenting. It is not just a matter of saying I want to change, it is a matter of being fully supported in the process of changing the patterns and responses that you are working to change.
Dr. Kathleen C. Quinn holds a doctorate in Marriage and Family Psychotherapy and master’s degrees in Women’s Health Nursing, WHNP-BC, Theological Studies, Religious Education, and Guidance and Counseling. Dr. Quinn uses her background in both integrative nursing and psychotherapy in her clinical practice at Discovery Integrative Healthcare Centers and in her role as executive director of the National Sexual Trauma Center. For more information, visit www.drkathleenquinn.com. For an appointment with Dr. Quinn for psychotherapy in San Antonio, call 601-467-0041.