Stress, the root of most illnesses: research

  • Vibha Kumar, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jun 03, 2014 16:36 IST

Your mind is in constant communication with your respiratory, digestive, reproductive and central nervous systems, and fully controls the entire health and functioning of your body. We automatically associate the term ‘health’ with physical well-being. Somehow, we skip the most crucial link: the mind.

The fact that most health-related issues are psychosomatic in nature is not dismissed anymore, with neuroscience providing data of sufferers’ astounding recoveries from diseases as deadly as cancer and heart diseases. Other disorders such as depression, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), insomnia, migraines, asthma, ulcers, digestive and sexual disorders also have a mental connect.

Another alarming aspect is that the stress of suffering from any of these ailments often leads to alcohol and substance dependency as a coping mechanism. It’s a vicious circle and there is only one way to break it — get working on your mind.

The number of people affected by stress today is staggering; few of them do anything to cope with it. At the most, we talk to a friend or go for a walk, which temporarily helps, but only at the surface level. Many take to binge eating, drinking and smoking in the face of stress. More load on the digestive system, liver and the lungs will only put your body under chronic stress.

We tell you how stress is affecting your health every day and how you can manage it in healthy and simple ways.

Stress is the foundation in the pyramid of all illnesses
“A typical stress reaction, which most of us experience countless times each day, begins with an avalanche of endless biochemical reactions in your body," says Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic, MIT, Boston, USA. He adds that when left unchecked, these reactions turn into illnesses, premature aging, and impaired cognitive functioning. "It drains our energy and robs us of our clarity and effectiveness,” says Kabat-Zinn.

* Stress can turn smart cookies into dumb automatons
* Stress can also make smart people do dumb things.
* It causes what brain researchers call “cortical inhibition”. Simply said, stress arrests a small but very important part of your brain, and one can’t function at their best.

We’ve adapted to stress in a way that it has become a normal state of being
* A common scenario is that our body can be experiencing stress physically, but because we’ve become so used to being in that state, we are oblivious of it on a mental level.
* Stress emanating from tiny everyday issues gains momentum over time and deters our ability to have clarity vis-à-vis our emotional and mental lives in the long run.
* Stress is bound to end up as a bad decision, or an unanticipated illness.
* Managing stress will help you get a handle on many physical health problems such as chronic pain and gastrointestinal disorders as well.

How To Handle It All

We cannot control the myriad issues that come our way, but what we can control is how we respond to them. To reqire your stress response, the first and the most important step is to recognise you are about to be stressed. Follow these tips.

1Breathe: Take long and deep breaths for about two-three minutes, and breathe right. Your belly should expand as you inhale and retract as you exhale. This simple technique relaxes your body, thereby calming your mind as a by-product.

2 Music therapy: Pick a soothing track, and tune out of the stress and into your inner calm. Soothing music is known to relax the neurocircuitry.

3 Pet-love: Hug and cuddle your beloved dog or cat. Having physical contact with your pet not only lowers your blood pressure, but also makes you feel loved, and calms your mind.

4 run: So, you’re going to have a tough meeting with your boss, or break up with your partner in a few hours. Put on those running shoes and prepare your body. We know endorphins released post physical activity make your body happy, thereby giving you a happy and calm mind.

5 Live in the moment: While all of the above are ways to get ready for the oncoming train, here’s what you do when stress hits you: We’ve heard it a million times, ‘live in the moment’, but brushed it aside as a clichéd adage. The best way to combat all physical health issues is to deal with stress when it’s at a nascent stage, with a Zen mind. More often than not, we stress crazily in anticipation of bad situations that never even end up taking place. Also, millions of people across the world use the binge-and-purge method in dealing with stress. They stress out all day, thinking they can wait until evening to release it upon hitting the gym or going for that yoga class. Wrong. ‘Repressing until later’ is the root ofall diseases. “Unfortunately, when we delay going for our inner balance, our body has already activated the stress response — our health suffers at all levels, no doubt,” says Dr Balraj Gupta, general physician, Fortis Hospital, Delhi.

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