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Decoding Stress

The nature of life and work is chang­ing in this world and if there is one that seems to con­nect every­one, it is stress! Ask a school goer and she would say she is stressed out! Stress can be looked at as phys­i­cal and emo­tion­al strain that could be trig­gered by an exter­nal or inter­nal event. The mind-body con­nect is evi­dent when one looks deep­er into stress. A stressed out body impacts emo­tions and a stressed out mind affects the body. It is dif­fi­cult to define stress and it is a sub­jec­tive phe­nom­e­na. Though there are mea­sur­able bio­chem­i­cal para­me­ters with­in the body, each per­son expe­ri­ences it in a dif­fer­ent way. Changes in the exter­nal envi­ron­ment impact the bio­chem­i­cal process with­in the body and changes the way we can respond to sit­u­a­tions.

Peo­ple get stressed out not just due to per­son­al rea­sons but can also be affect­ed by glob­al events. Think­ing about the future of the world ‑pan­demics or cli­mate change, nation’s eco­nom­ic con­di­tions or polit­i­cal direc­tions can cause stress in a large num­ber of peo­ple. Social media adds to this stress. Gad­gets can fur­ther this. There are just too many dimen­sions to this stress and hence needs a holis­tic approach to solv­ing. One can­not just look at a sin­gle cause and try to elim­i­nate that. What is pos­si­ble is an inter­nal trans­for­ma­tion and the way we han­dle stress.

Symp­toms of Stress The lev­el of stress that one expe­ri­ences varies with sit­u­a­tions. It could be mild, high or very high. Emo­tion­al pres­sure expe­ri­enced for a long peri­od of time can result in chron­ic stress. Those stressed out show phys­i­cal and emo­tion­al symp­toms. Some of them include: ~ Tired­ness and Fatigue ~ Headache ~ Indi­ges­tion ~ Loss of appetite ~ Dizzi­ness ~ Lack of lus­tre on face ~ Tired eyes ~ Nau­sea ~ Con­stant anger and irri­ta­tion ~ Lack of vig­or and ener­gy ~ Chok­ing and cry­ing ~ Ner­vous­ness ~ Extreme sit­u­a­tions: sui­ci­dal ten­den­cies

Body’s Mechanism

In the ear­ly 1900s, as a prac­tic­ing physi­cian, Hans Selye observed that peo­ple who came for con­sul­ta­tion showed com­mon signs. He dis­cov­ered the Gen­er­al Adap­ta­tion Syn­drome. He high­light­ed how hor­mon­al changes due to the demands on the body impact­ed diges­tion and vital signs of the body includ­ing blood pres­sure.

The sym­pa­thet­ic and parasym­pa­thet­ic ner­vous sys­tem keep our body in bal­ance. When there is an exter­nal stim­uli, the sym­pa­thet­ic sys­tem kicks-in the fight or flight response. This is then bal­anced by the parasym­pa­thet­ic sys­tem which brings the body back to rest state. This com­mu­ni­ca­tion hap­pens through a vari­ety of neu­ro­trans­mit­ters that make the body release chem­i­cals that change the heart rate, blood pres­sure and oth­er phys­i­o­log­i­cal para­me­ters.

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The amyg­dala is the key area in the brain that process­es emo­tions. When this receives any sig­nal of stress or dan­ger it pass­es it on to the rel­e­vant cen­ters of the brain. Stress increas­es the release of neu­ro­trans­mit­ters includ­ing glu­ta­mate, GABA, sero­tonin etc. The hypo­thal­a­mus then pass­es this sig­nal to the oth­er parts of the body through the sym­pa­thet­ic sys­tem result­ing in release of adren­a­lin. This caus­es the body to exhib­it symp­toms of stress.

The parasym­pa­thet­ic sys­tem has to kick-in to bring the sys­tem back to nor­mal­cy. If it fails to kick-in then the Hypo­thal­a­m­ic-pitu­itary-adren­a­lin axis starts respond­ing to the stress. Cor­ti­sol is secret­ed which per­vades the body. Actu­al­ly cor­ti­sol should help to restore bal­ance in the sys­tem but with chron­ic stress and too much cor­ti­sol being released, a lot of dam­age is caused to the sys­tem.

Yoga can help

Based on the bio­chem­i­cal reac­tions that hap­pen in the body due to stress we under­stand that reg­u­lat­ing the cor­ti­sol lev­els in the body is one way to man­age the stress. Sev­er­al sci­en­tif­ic stud­ies point to the impact of Yoga on the sym­pa­thet­ic and parasym­pa­thet­ic sys­tems. Suryana­maskar, a prac­tice with 12 steps, has been found to reduce somat­ic stress. Pranaya­ma has had pro­found impact on patients with depres­sion. It sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduces the cor­ti­sol lev­els in patients with depres­sion and brought anti-depres­sant impact.

Yoga asanas lead to reduced wak­ing cor­ti­sol, evening cor­ti­sol, sys­tolic blood pres­sure, rest­ing heart rate, and high­er heart rate vari­abil­i­ty and oth­er phys­i­o­log­i­cal mea­sures, com­pared to con­trols. Asanas are also asso­ci­at­ed with bet­ter reg­u­la­tion of the sym­pa­thet­ic ner­vous sys­tem and hypo­thal­a­m­ic-pitu­itary-adren­al sys­tem in dif­fer­ent pop­u­la­tions. Even a sin­gle ses­sion of Hatha yoga can decrease stress and improve stress reac­tiv­i­ty and recov­ery





Asana, Pranaya­ma, Dhyana and mind­ful­ness prac­tices have been found to impact: neu­ro­trans­mit­ters, brain wave reg­u­la­tion indi­cat­ing calm­ness, reduc­tion in PTSD, reduc­tion in obses­sive-com­pul­sive behav­ior and enhanced brain con­nec­tiv­i­ty.

What can you do combat stress?

  1. Have mean­ing­ful and hap­py con­ver­sa­tions with friends and fam­i­ly

  2. Observe every sit­u­a­tion keen­ly with­out being car­ried away by emo­tions

  3. When you feel the symp­toms of stress are being trig­gered, take steps to calm your­self down

  4. Deep breath­ing relieves stress. Take up a Pranaya­ma rou­tine

  5. Asana bring the body back to nor­mal­cy after stress­ful sit­u­a­tions. They help to reg­u­late metab­o­lism which goes hay­wire with stress.

  6. Dhyana and oth­er con­tem­pla­tive prac­tices bring about calm­ness as they work on the har­mones and reg­u­late them. Set aside some time for Dhyana as well

  7. Keep a sched­ule for holis­tic health prac­tices. A dai­ly 20 minute rou­tine or alter­nate days of longer dura­tion prac­tices can real­ly help

  8. If you are already into Yog­ic prac­tices and would like to go deep­er, adopt­ing a silence rou­tine cleans­es the entire sys­tem. 3 hrs in the morn­ing and 3 hrs in the evening for month­ly 1 week­end can bring about amaz­ing trans­for­ma­tion.

  9. If you feel that the symp­toms of stress are pro­longed then do take a vaidya’s help


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