The Secret of Vigor

What is vigor anyway? In his book “The Secret of Vigor” Shawn Talbot describes it as, “a state of biochemical balance – a three-tiered sustained mood state characterized by physical energy, mental acuity, and emotional wellbeing.” Brain chemistry. When the brain is sending signals with acuity and quickness, vigor mounts. Vitality flourishes. That seems easy enough. Can’t we just will our brains into it?

The brain does a ton of work. But it too needs some calm in between storms. While the brain is the driving force behind all physical, mental, and emotional activities, it itself is highly affected by four variables that are continually at play within the body; blood sugar, inflammation, oxidation, and hormones – stress hormones in particular.

According to the World Health Organization, 80% of North Americans have enough stress to cause health problems. Stress contributes to half of all illness and over 70% of all deaths. 

Stress hormones are pervasive

Living a busy, high-stress life is often commended as a sign of productivity. We feel it as fatigue, first. Big deal.  “So what?” we say, “everyone’s tired.” When depression and mental illness begin to surface – highly linked to stress – we often treat them with a pill and continue on. The outcomes of stress don’t stop there, however. It’s like being pushed down every time you try to stand up. When the brain keeps getting shoved down, with no time to recover, the immune system comes out like a tag team.

Cortisol is our immune system’s first line of defence. Levels should rise and fall in the blood each time a real stress occurs (a bear chasing us). The trouble is that a perceived stress triggers an influx in cortisol. When this happens repeatedly, levels never drop. Cortisol keeps hanging around waiting for the sky to fall, again, for the 18th time that day.

The brain is constantly being notified of what’s happening in the body. It responds via the nervous, immune, and endocrine systems who, in turn, alter the body’s inner workings. It is then alerted of the outcomes of its initial responses, and has to make yet another decision about which action to go with next. While all of this interplay is for the sake of preserving  life, when the stress alarm is being pulled over and over again every day (and not by a black bear) it’s like the boy who cried wolf. We rationally know that we won’t be killed if we don’t meet a deadline, but the brain responds as if we might be. Can you imagine if every time we felt stressed we took off running in a full sprint? We’d burn out fast.

Give the brain a break

Intuitively, we know  how we can simplify or lives. It’s just deciding that it’s important enough. It is.
Our vigor and vitality depend on it.

So what do you think?