Road Worrier

The locals say we live in the country. From our window I can see farmland, some with cows and horses. So I suppose it’s true. Google maps shows we live 26 miles from the center of downtown Knoxville. The Kroger we frequently go to is 9 miles away. I guess it’s all in how you look at it. Going 26 miles from the center of downtown Houston and you are still in a big city.

Our trek into the city offers two direct pathways. A typical four lane highway, or we can take a country road that runs parallel to the highway for about 8 miles before the two roads combine. A simple choice for most drivers, but for me, requires contemplation every time.

This country road has two lanes with no legal passing allowed. So once you start this journey, you are committed for the whole 8 miles. The path is winding and traverses a scenic country view with a diverse mixture of mostly traditional homes and farms with barns. Each with interesting landscapes and a mountain view in the back ground… so what could go wrong? Enter the dimension of time.

The speed limit is 40 mph but I feel much more comfortable doing 50 mph. Along the way, inevitably I will have to beckon to the driver that decides to do the speed limit. I wish they would understand that this road design clearly supports safe driving at 50 mph! Only once in the past 3 ½ years have I been able to successfully complete the 8 mile journey on my terms. Later today I will have to decide which path to take and I can already feel a subtle angst.

It’s in-congruent, the degree to which I am emotionally triggered by this 8 mile issue. Let’s look at the facts. It takes 12 minutes to go 8 miles at 40 mph. It takes about 9 ½ minutes if going 50 mph. My net gain is 2 ½ minutes. The discussion should stop there, logic dictates that the clear winner is the law abiding citizen. But that is not how I feel.

I tell myself to just chill out and accept the slower pace forced upon me by this idiot. But my logic filled self talk is not enough to curtail the onslaught of excess adrenaline being produced and coursing through my veins. I feel my physiology in real time. Elevating pulse rate, suppressed respiration, survival mode attitude, and generally a “less peaceful feeling” has become palpable.

What I know intellectually but cannot feel at that moment, is the long term damage that accompanies excessive and repeated adrenaline surges. Increased blood pressure and other cardiovascular disorders, weakened immune system, increased risk of developing stomach ulcers, and advancing DNA damage are just some of the comorbidities.

To be honest, sometimes I can travel this nice road at sub-optimal speeds and stay calm and in my element. That potential is governed by how balanced my metabolic, neurologic, and psychologic systems are operating. These physiologic variables establish our mind-body baseline efficiency and calibrate our set point trigger of activation. In other words, the relative tendency for us getting upset, or how easily we can get triggered.

A common metabolic set point of consideration is blood sugar regulation. Blood sugar imbalance is an underlying driver of how we react to a stressful situation. When our blood sugar is too low to satisfy our immediate need for fuel, the adrenals will produce and secrete adrenaline. This is a normal adaptive response. This is one reason many individuals feel more alive as a byproduct of following an intermittent fasting diet.

Coupling no breakfast with coffee is a formula for surging adrenaline. The hope is that your metabolism will, over time, learn to better metabolize fats for energy. Individuals with a fast metabolism, hence a greater propensity to become hypoglycemic, have a harder time getting intermittent fasting to work for them.

High blood sugar causes elevated levels of insulin. Over time, this can lead to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. This pushes our psychologic set point towards that of a feeling of depression. But what goes up must come down and reactive hypoglycemia and accompanying anxiety is sure to follow elevated blood sugar. This an example of a metabolic to psychologic set point coupling effect.

The autonomic nervous system establishes our neurologic set point. Providing opposing forces to sync our intended activities to our physiology. Our sympathetic nervous system is the arbiter of the fight or flight response and is driven primarily by adrenaline. Let’s say you are running late for an important appointment and you need to be more ‘fight or flight” to accomplish your task. You may decide that 2 ½ minutes is enough of a difference that justifies breaking the law and driving more recklessly. Seeing it written on paper like this supports our better reasoning to throw that argument out the window. But in the heat of the moment, our hormones are far more powerful than some logical reasoning. To hell with it, speed on…

But consider the person whose nerves are fatigued. They have had to deal with many tough situations and to do so, pushed through by over utilizing their fight or flight response many times over the years. Their ability to conjure up vital adrenaline will be compromised. This is a person whose autonomic nervous system is out of balance leaving the parasympathics (rest and relaxation) in dominance. Late for an appointment? They will feel challenged in their ability to muster up enough mojo to get it done. They would rather rest or relax. This will breed anxiety and subsequent bad decisions. Could this be the slow driver in the fast lane? Too tired to try harder and too tired to care? Passive aggressive? Their complacency drives the other type A drivers crazy.

When I am in Houston traffic it is the slow driver in the fast lane that sets me off. Ironically, being in heavy bumper to bumper traffic does not activate me that much. Somehow I realize I am surrounded by thousands of idiots and my fate is sealed. I truly get that it is time to just surrender to the moment. No amount of adrenaline, even enough to transform into Hulk is going to positively change my outcome. I would be an idiot to do otherwise.

These are just a few examples of how our temperament is maintained by our physiology. Our perception of the magnitude of external stressors are determined by the state of our internal environment.

What is your country road? Are there issues or a situation that is illogically driving you to an unhealthy place? Our road map to wellness is inside us. Road trip anyone?

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