Pressure Cauldron

Words: Dr Rajgopal NIDAMBOOR

Sickness of the mind, or body, reveals how our systems work — and, why loss of equilibrium often leads to a breakdown. To bring a sense of measure to this component, we’d draw on a wealth of information related to the latest biological, biochemical and medical findings, especially in our age run amuck by stress, or psychosomatic illness, and in the light of the glorious connections that already exist between ancient puzzles, our brain, behaviour, immunity and disease.

The supposition is simple. The relationship between our mind and health, for more reasons than one, could be construed as being mediated not only by our behaviour, but also by the biological connection that exists between the brain and the immune system. The result is our physical health can influence our emotional state and vice versa.

Stress is nothing but a blurred response to the demands that life places on us. This is also how it builds up. In the course of time, it leads to stressful frustration — an indivisible element of modern life.

Our day-to-day life has its allocation of stress: peer pressure, financial, marital and workplace problems, among others. There is not a single healthy person who is absolutely free from stress. All of us accumulate stressful feelings, sometimes for no real reason. The moment we get into this stressful ‘pothole,’ we are putting pressure on the system. Any further build up will only ‘shake us up.’  Besides, the more one keeps quiet, the more one is looking out for an outlet, or emotional punch bag. This could be one’s wife, kid, boss, or colleague.

Stress occurs in three stages —

  • An initial period of alarm — or, physiological arousal
  • A longer phase of resistance — marked by irritability, impatience, anger and fatigue
  • A final stage of exhaustion — represented by physical and emotional imbalance, maladjustment, withdrawal, illness, or disease; and, in certain cases, suicidal tendencies, or death.

Stress, followed by anxiety and depression are primarily a result of either psychological, or physiological causes. An unsolved emotive issue can affect an individual’s physical health just as much as psychological well-being. On the other hand, it can also lead to biochemical imbalances, or deficiencies, while influencing one’s mental and emotional outlook negatively.

It is, indeed, ironical that the connection between mind and body is often overlooked in most conventional protocols. As a matter of fact, a mild-to-moderate emotional illness can have adverse effects on our body.

Stress is inevitable. It makes us ready for instant action. This is called the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. Stress can be ‘bad’ and ‘good,’ or ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ too. If one is bogged down, for instance, by long-term, or extreme stress, the body will eventually exhaust itself. Yet, the point is, some amount of stress, now and then, can be actually good. If nothing in life causes any stress, or exhilaration, one may get bored too, or not live up to one’s potential. At the other end of the spectrum, if everything in life causes stress, it can lead to health concerns. It is, therefore, important to understand one’s stress level and achieve balance to the best extent possible.

One of the most fascinating associations between our brain and the endocrine system is the influence of emotions over hormone secretion and function. Physicians have, for long, recorded instances in which emotional states have influenced health, or normal physiological processes. Women, for example, know that the timing of their menstrual periods may be altered by stressors, such as travel, or exams. The condition known as ‘failure’ to thrive in infants is also linked to emotional, or environmental stress — one that increases secretion of the pituitary hormones and decreases the production of others. Stress and other environmental factors have also been implicated in hyperthyroidism, besides a host of other health concerns. The relationship between stress and increased susceptibility to viruses is a classical example of an emotionally-linked immune response too. Stress may, likewise, increase intestinal motility and cause psychosomatic diarrhoea in some individuals; it may also, on the contrary, decrease motility and cause constipation in others.

It would be more than useful when one recognises and deals with the stressor, or stressful situation, appropriately. The reason is simple. A component of immediate stress — what you feel before a job interview, presentation, or sporting event — may give you extra energy to perform at your best. However, long-term stress, such as constant worry over your job, health, finances, or family, can actually deplete your energy and the ability to perform well.

One analysis published in The International Business & Economics Research Journal, based on interviews with workers and managers about how their stress levels at work affect their job satisfaction, evidences that people in ‘white collar’ professions often reported that emotional and mental stress made them ‘more forgetful.’ As if this wasn’t bad enough, memory loss, or in other words ‘forgetfulness,’ in critical situations, they described, created more and more stress — a vicious cycle.

Long-term stress is evidenced to trigger several illnesses. Examples: high blood pressure and diabetes, so also stroke and cancer — the leading cause of death worldwide. Research also suggests that stress elevates blood sugar and cholesterol levels, no less, while potentially increasing the risk of heart disease. Stress and depression, likewise, can hasten death in patients recovering from heart attack.

Other equally notable health problems include backache, sleeplessness and chronic fatigue syndrome [CFS]. Stress can lead to menstrual problems, besides hormonal imbalance, fibroid tumours, endometriosis and fertility problems in couples, aside from aches and pains, headaches, migraines, lack of sexual urge, anxiety and depression. Stress can also trigger gastrointestinal disorders, including hyperacidity [gas], ulcers, lower abdominal cramps, ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome [IBS]. Stress can lead to frequent allergies, colds and infection too, thanks to reduced immune function. Besides, stress can trigger skin disorders, such as acne, atopic dermatitis [eczema], psoriasis and white patches [vitiligo].

Research shows that stress, in childhood, or later years, affects the way our genetic material, deoxyribonucleic acid [DNA] is expressed. Childhood stress is something that many of us are becoming aware of only in recent times. One study has found that children who were traumatised, or suffered neglect, or abuse, while growing up, were one-and-a-half times more likely than others in developing heart disease, including other serious illnesses, viz., cancer, in adulthood.

  • Statistics suggests that 75 per cent of the general population experiences at least some form of stress every two weeks
  • 45 per cent of people report anxiety, anger, or irritability due to stress; 34 per cent report feeling sad, or depressed
  • 48 per cent report of overeating, or eating junk-food to manage stress.

Is there a way out? There is, albeit the progression is not easy. Yet, the best thing to do is to realise that not all stresses are stressful or negative. This relates to identifying your ‘true’ sources of stress, including your habits, attitude and excuses.

  • Do you clarify away stress as momentary [“I have a hundred things going on in my mind, right now”], although the reality is you just can’t remember the last time you took a break?
  • Do you define stress as an inescapable part of your work- or home-life [“Things are always mad around here”], or as a part of your personality [“I have a lot of unspent, ‘jumpy’ energy; this is all there is to it”]
  • Do you blame your stress on other people, or outside events, or look at it as a completely normal part of life?

All said and done, the big point is — you ought to accept responsibility and seek professional help, for the role you are playing in creating, or maintaining stress. This is, by far, the best way for you to bring your stress levels under your control.

Ayurveda 

Ayurveda suggests that fine-tuning vata is as essential to managing stress as well as for healthy longevity. It, however, does not approve of any ‘one-size-fits-all’ prescription. Ayurveda recommends spending time in pristine nature, taking a walk in the mountains, the woods — located far from the madding crowd, a getaway, so to speak, from time to time. It also recommends mindful pranayama, or meditation in simple parlance. The idea of incorporating abhayanga [massage] to ease stress is just as important. Your Ayurveda physician may also recommend Ashwagandha — besides following a regular, healthy way of life, free from negative distractions, and good sleep. 

Homeopathy 

Homeopathy helps to rebalance the mind and emotions. It is effective in people of all ages — from children with emotional. or behavioural. problems to adults bogged down by stress, anxiety and depression.

In a national survey, conducted by The Society of Homeopaths, UK, and published in The Homeopath, 87 per cent of patients who complained of stress-related mental and emotional problems reported positive changes after homeopathic treatment.

A group of people with above-average levels of anxiety were enrolled in a double-blind, placebo [dummy pill]-controlled trial and assigned to either a test, or control [placebo] group to assess the relative benefits of a combination homeopathic product designed to relieve anxiety. Using sleep loss as a measure of anxiety, the combination product produced results that were better than placebo [dummy pill].

In a clinical trial, a group of students suffering from test-induced anxiety were given either the homeopathic remedy, Argentum nitricum, or placebo. The level of test-induced anxiety was significantly reduced from the homeopathic medicine when compared to the placebo, and this effect appeared to persist over time.

Nutrition

A diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables helps one get optimal nutrients and minerals. This is fundamental when your body is feeling stressed and using more nutrients than it would normally. Incorporate 4-5 helpings of fruits and vegetables in your daily diet plan. Go for B vitamins, found in bananas, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, meat, fish and dairy products. Also, vitamin C, found in oranges, tomatoes, peppers, leafy greens and broccoli. Go nuts too, viz., Brazil nuts. Brazil nuts are rich in magnesium, so are beans, lentils, whole grains and leafy greens. Take a good magnesium supplement [300-400mg], daily. Magnesium to relax muscles. It also reduces anxiety, while donning a crucial role in hormone and energy production.

Eating healthy snacks throughout the day, such as fruits, raw vegetables, yoghurt, nuts and saying ‘no’ to processed, or sugary foods, when you are hungry would be a good idea, no less.

Dr RAJGOPAL NIDAMBOOR, PhD, is a wellness physician-writer-editor, independent researcher, critic, columnist, author and publisher. His published work includes hundreds of newspaper, magazine, web articles, essays, meditations, columns, and critiques on a host of subjects, eight books on natural health, two coffee table tomes and an encyclopaedic treatise on Indian philosophy. He is Chief Wellness Officer, Docco360 — a mobile health application/platform connecting patients with Ayurveda, homeopathic and Unani physicians, and nutrition therapists, among others, from the comfort of their home — and, Editor-in-Chief, ThinkWellness360.

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