STRESS HEALTH LINK
The way in which brain interprets what is going on, how it responds to perceived threat and how it translates these perceptions into body responses is a vital factor in understanding the link between stress and health.
It is important to realize that whether there is an actual threat or it is only a perceived threat is of no consequence to the way the brain works. When the threat is present, the brain will sound the alert and the body will respond by mobilizing the defense system. This way, the brain induces numerous changes in vital life-sustaining functions like:
- Increased output from the pituitary gland
- Increased adrenal flow
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate.
All these changes are aimed at restoring balance towards homeostasis.
Effects of behavioral excesses
Smoking, sedentary lifestyle, overeating, improper diet, sheer neglect of the body, refusal to pay attention to many warning signals from the body, burying the signals under piles of drugs and lack of appropriate medical check ups. Improper lifestyle leads to an array of health disorders like high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, reduced cardiovascular fitness, increased risk of coronary failure, diabetes, lowered respiratory capacity, lowered muscle tone, fatigue and lowered resistance to illness.
Poor health increases physical stress to individual load. The stress of this type can either lead to an extreme form of anxiety or can itself be a strong motivation for seeking remedy. Certain counter forces at work can distort the normal tendency to avoid harming the body, first and secondly to seek remedies. This can be exemplified by a range of behaviors that enable a person to escape persistent stress. Stress may be “sought” to be reduced by smoking, anxiety by drinking and boredom by eating. Although this form of escape is not the most effective means of dealing with stress, the cycle of stressors, escape and strengthening of escape behaviors goes on and on and becomes an integral part of lifestyle.
The relationship between stress and health is a two-way relationship. Stress affects health and how we manage health affects the ability to deal with stress. Poor health, whatever may be the reason, puts more stress on the system. Positively speaking, adaptive coping and health behaviors conserve body’s defensive resources and increases resistance to stressors. The effect, overall, is one of enhanced personal functioning benefiting interpersonal, social and professional areas of life. The energy that was previously spent trying to stay on top is available for concentration on problem solving and creative expressions. The basic fact to be noted in lifestyle management is that the treatment of mind can be separated from the treatment of the body.
Positive lifestyle changes are the cornerstone of stress management. Positive changes in lifestyle like any other changes require planning and effort. Although there are numerous positive reasons for learning coping and individual health efforts, the persistence of individuals in sustaining a positive lifestyle change is always under challenge. Individual and social pressures may weaken the resolve. Internal pressures may also arise because learning new skills takes and may lead to discomfort. Old habits have to give way to new habits. External pressures include lack of positive support from the family or friends along with certain cultural values that frequently work against assuming individual responsibility.
The most difficult thing to counteract is the presence of a deeply entrenched living routine and living style. The living routines that show up our preferences for eating, sleeping, exercising, working, playing are called lifestyle. Changing the lifestyle that requires planning and effort also requires the rethinking of personal values. It may be easy to change but to remain changed is the test because of all those personal cues that prompt old behaviors to occur. In the positive lifestyle change, there is yet another area of challenge. When we are working towards a change in habit, we are working towards a situation that is so intangible. The principle working against our will, often putting our motivation to test is that we have a very low tolerance for delays in outcome or rewards.
- A tendency to suffer from frequent headaches.
- The feeling of being constantly under a strain.
- Being excessively tired most of the time, never feeling sufficiently rested and freshened by sleep.
- Sensations of pressure in the head, feeling tight bands around the head.
- A feeling of lacking energy, drive, having to summon up the reserves of energy to do ordinary things.
- Tremor, excessive perspiration and racing heart beat.
- Poor sleep, nightmares, restless sleep.
- Feeling generally strung up and tense without any real reason.
- Finding that things get on top of one too easily, making a heavy weather of everything.
- Finding that one’s feelings are too easily hurt, excessively sensitive when compared to others.
- Always seeming to find something to worry about.
- Sitting down to relax and finding oneself dwelling on the negative aspects of past and future.
- Overreacting to life’s small problems, making mountains out of molehill at home and at work.
- Expecting the worst to happen when the risk is very small; e.g. never feeling happy until all the family members are safely at home.
- Wanting to ring the office when on holiday to make sure everything is all right.
- Taking everything that goes wrong, personally.
- “Jumpiness” when telephone rings or some minor extraneous noise is heard.
- Unable to concentrate well at home or at work; being distracted by unwanted and irrelevant thoughts a good deal.
- Experiencing surges of fear, anxiety or panic sensations for no apparent reason.
- Feeling very indecisive, taking a long time to make decisions, putting things off that have to be done.
- Feeling that many things in one’s life are simply getting out of control and one is a helpless victim of circumstances.
Dr Sastry is a post graduate medical professional ( M.B.B.S.,D.L.O.,M.S.) and has been a program leader for organizations belonging to every key sector of industry. Consultant in Stress Prevention and Reduction,Work Life Balance, Wellness and Lifestyle related programs and other inputs to over 250 major organizations in the corporate sector active for over 27 years.