Stress may actually be the single most destructive factor in people’s lives today. Unfortunately, people sometimes neglect the warning signs of stress, not realizing what a major role it plays. In fact, a very large part of their suffering may be a direct result of stress alone. The reason stress is brushed off so easily may be because of certain perceptions that have been passed down to us. The macho-man attitude of not considering an illness serious until it proves catastrophic for the body has crept into all parts of society, even up to physicians themselves. Being told by a doctor that your illness is “all in the head” usually means your illness has been dismissed as either unimportant or non-existent altogether. Fortunately, though many physicians continue to neglect the effect of the mind on the body, a rapidly- growing field has emerged debunking their wrong notions and leaving them far behind in the field of clinical medicine. Psychoneuroendocrinology, more simply known as Mind/Body medicine, has effectively proven from repeated and well conducted research trials that the mind is not just something locked upstairs in the attic of the body. Rather it is so intimately connected with every bodily function, conscious and subconscious, that the root of health and disease lies within it.
DISEASES CLOSELY RELATED TO INCREASED STRESS
- Weak immune system
- High Blood Pressure
- Gastric Ulcer
- Drug abuse
- Ulcerative Colitis
- High cholesterol Chronic
- Eating Disorder
- Sudden Heart Failure
- Skin Diseases
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
The definition of stress varies depending on the disciplinary context but ea
ch one provides some useful insight. Engineers may refer to it as a state which has been subjected to pressure beyond its tolerance. Sociologists may talk about stress in terms of difficult environmental problems. Psychologists will refer to it with respect to the mind, whereas biologists may focus more on the physiological responses it causes in the body. The comprehensive approach, however, recognizes that stress is a combination of all interacting physical, biological, psychological and social factors having mutual and reciprocal effects on the body and mind. In other words, many factors contribute to stress and stress has an effect on all parts of the body and mind.
An example may help clarify the power the mind has over the body. Practitioners who actually take time to listen to their patients will often tell you the parallels they have drawn between people’s perceptual stresses and many of the diseases occurring in their bodies. A patient with eczema, for instance, may often report the exacerbation of symptoms with stress, a very non-tangible and thus easily dismissed causative factor. However, seeing the stress from this patient’s point of view may help you realize why it leaves such dramatic effects on his body. This poor woman may be working three jobs, supporting a family that has no other source of income but her, she feels tired at the end of every shift just by the thought alone of going to her next workplace. She does not enjoy where she is in her life and she feels the trials ahead of her are just too large, the responsibility too heavy, and as if she is struggling to carry this heavy burden uphill, like she is crawling up a mountain. She feels as if her delicate skin is scraping on the rough terrain as she is exposed to the conditions without a barrier; there is nobody there to pick her up or help her. The vividness of the perception of her life’s stress is true of all people and their stresses, and this specific feeling is astonishingly common specifically among eczema patients. Regardless of the specific situations they may be in, their perception of it is often similar. And once the perception of an event is so real that they genuinely feel themselves in it, then the effects of the situation actually physically manifest on their bodies.
So to continue with our example with eczema, amazingly it presents most commonly on the knees and elbows. And where else would a person crawling up a mountain develop lesions of thickened skin? This, and an incredibly large growing number of illnesses are now finally being connected with a deeply stressful event in people’s lives. Until more attention is paid to the Mind/Body connection, the root of chronic diseases will never be understood.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO REDUCE STRESS?
Firstly, we must begin to change our attitude toward stress. Understanding that stress affects everyone in some capacity will help us to empathize, a necessary component of healing. Our failure to recognize that stress is affecting us doesn’t mean it is not; rather it means we’re just out of touch with our bodies. A stressed and irritable man who says he doesn’t think that stress is anything important may have any and all of the following:
The Stress Response
- The heart rate and force of contraction of the heart increases.
- Blood is shunted away from the skin and internal organs, except the heart and lungs.
- Production of digestive secretions is severely reduced since digestive activity is not critical for counteracting stress
- Blood sugar levels are increased dramatically as the liver dumps stored glucose into the bloodstream
- Bowels decrease activity leading to constipation, gas, bloating and decreased absorption of nutrients
With schedules being as hectic as they are, many people remain in this high-strung state for the majority of their day. Then when it finally comes time to wind down and sleep at night they find it extremely difficult, which only aggravates their stress. By morning they are inadequately rested from their tossing and turning and they need stimulants such as coffee to get them back into a high strung state for work once more.
As vicious as this downward spiral may be, certain coping strategies can help our bodies come back into the relaxed state best for recovery and wellbeing. Healthy coping strategies also increase how much stress that our bodies can bear as well as prevent the progression of the majority of illnesses. Below is a Mind/Body exercise and some useful tips that will give you control over the stress response.
Tips to Cope with Stress
- Diaphragmatic Breathing(effective in quickly eliminating the stress response in minutes)
- Cut out stimulants such as coffee, pop and cigarettes (especially after noon).
- Exercise regularly: studies show it increases our ability to handle stress.
- Make “to do” lists. They will allow your mind to let go of the things you don’t have to worry about at present.
- Turn off your radio, television, computer or telephone when you don’t need them. Allow your body to unwind from all stimulation. Instead relax with a book, or being with nature.
- Hot baths are very calming.
- Ask for help. Talking is therapeutic.
- Massage into your temples and between the eyebrows a couple drops of lavender or chamomile essential oil.
- Make time for meditation, contemplation or prayer.
- Turn clocks away from your bed.