The human body is regulated by the nervous system and its functions. Under normal circumstances everything runs smoothly with no issues; however, fear can have an impact on how the nervous system works. One aspect that can be examined in relation to the nervous system and the ways that fear affects it is through body temperature regulation. When fear is present it bring on the production of specific hormones that cause certain responses within the body leading to the flight or fight situation. As with any function of the body there are impairment that are always possible as well. Knowing in advance what types of things can impair one’s thermoregulation process gives people a step up against having issues later in life.
The nervous system consists of two parts, the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS) (National Institute of Health [NIH], 2013). Each part plays a role in our bodily functions. The CNS is made up of the brain and the spinal cord, the PNS is made up of the all the branch-like fibers that come off the spinal cord and reach all over the body- arms, legs, face, neck, etc. Without the nervous system there would be no way to get information from the brain to the rest of the body; all the messages that our brain sends out must be sent though the nervous system through neuron communication. “Neurons communicate with each other using axons and dendrites. When a neuron receives a message from another neuron, it sends an electrical signal down the length of its axon. At the end of the axon, the electrical signal is converted into a chemical signal, and the axon releases chemical messages called neurotransmitters” (NIH, ¶ 3). This process is how the brain tells the body to walk or blink or even body temperature regulation; it is a very important process that regulates all bodily functions.
Body temperature regulation is the process by which our body maintains a steady internal temperature. This process is known as thermoregulation and is mostly controlled by the hypothalamus section in the brain (Vella & Kravitz, n.d.). When properly regulating the human body’s “normal core temperature at rest varies between 97.7 to 99.5 Fahrenheit” (Vella & Kravitz, ¶ 2); however, a factor like fear can cause fluctuations from the core body temperature. According to the Juvenile Bipolar Research Foundation, children who have high levels of fear have a harder time than children with regular amounts of fear when it comes to falling and staying asleep. The disturbance in a regular sleep cycle has been shown to affect how the thermoregulation process functions; fear can cause the body to overheat and not allow the body to cool down when needed (Juvenile Bipolar Research Foundation [JBRF], n.d.).
As with any function in the body fear produces a hormonal response. When a person experiences fear the hormones glucocorticoids, produced in the adrenal cortex, and catecholamines, produced in the adrenal medulla and sympathetic nerves, are released into the body and cause the individual to either take the flight or fight stance (Rodrigues, Ledoux, & Sapolsky, 2009). Both of the fear induced hormones impact the nervous system in many ways. For example, glucocorticoids play a large role in the functioning of the CNS. It can lead to anatomical brain changes that result in a higher likeliness of sleep disturbances, psychiatric diseases, mood alterations, and cognitive impairments (lacroix, 2014).
The body’s ability to thermoregulate its temperature can become impaired. This type of impairment is sometimes caused when a person goes under anesthetics. According to Daniel I. Sessler, M.D., Professor and Chair, “Anethetic-induced impairment of normal thermoregulatory control, and the resulting core-to-peripheral redistribution of body heat, is the primary cause of hypothermia in most patients” (Sessler, 2009, ¶ 2). In other words, if the body is unable to control it’s thermoregulation it can start going into a hypothermic state which would lead to other risk factors and issues. During surgery a patients temperature is normally watched closely to make sure this is not an issue.
On the other end of the spectrum, if a person suffers from dysautonomia they can experience excessively high body temperatures and have difficulty bringing their temperature back down to a normal resting temperature. If this does happen the person may experience irritability, disorientation and confusion; this type of disorder leaves the symptoms being able to be treated but not the cause. Some suggestions for ways to help lower the internal body temperature are drinking lots of fluids and water, but avoiding caffeine and alcohol, placing cool compresses across the neck and if necessary seeking professional help from a doctor or hospital if needed.
Although the human body is a very complex and impressive organism it is not invincible to ailments. The nervous system keeps our bodies running and communicating so that we are able to act on and do every bodily function possible. Looking at the thermoregulation abilities that the body posses is very impressive and intricate, but it does have ways that things like fear are able to intrude. This intrusion can change the way our body responds to thermoregulation by emitting hormones that tell the body it may need to prepare for a flight or fight situation. Thermoregulation also has the ability to fall prey to impairment that can be very debilitating to the individual; impairments can range from unable to bring the body temperature down to a normal range or up to a normal range. In closing, thermoregulation may be an involuntary regulatory behavior, but it is still possible to impress changes upon it by either ailment or other outside factors.
Juvenile Bipolar Research Foundation (n.d.). _Sleep, activity patterns and temperature study_. Retrieved July 14, 2014, from http://www.jbrf.org/category/description-of-the-condition/
Lacroix, A. (2014). _Glucocorticoid effects on the nervous system and behavior_. Retrieved July 13, 2014, from http://www.uptodate.com/contents/glucocorticoid-effects-on-the-nervous-system-and-behavior
National Institute of Health (2013). _What are the parts of the nervous system_?. Retrieved July 12, 2014, from http://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/neuro/conditioninfo/Pages/parts.aspx
Rodrigues, S. M., Ledoux, J. E., & Sapolsky, R. M. (2009). _The influences of stress hormones on fear circuitry_ . Retrieved July 14, 2014, from http://my.psychologytoday.com/files/attachments/37382/rodrigues-ledoux-sapolsky-arn-2009.pdf
Sessler, D. I. (2009). _Temperature monitoring and perioperative thermoregulation_. Retrieved , from July 14, 2014
Synapse (n.d.). _Get the facts- temperature control and dysautonomia_. Retrieved July 13, 2014, from http://synapse.org.au/get-the-facts/temperature-control-and-dysautonomia-fact-sheet.aspx