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
~ Loss of appetite
~ Lack of lustre on face
~ Tired eyes
~ Constant anger and irritation
~ Lack of vigor and energy
~ Choking and crying
~ Extreme situations: suicidal tendencies
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.
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