Among the many maladies of modern life, stress is a matter of serious concern because of the potential risk factors associated with it. If the causes of stress remain undiagnosed and unaddressed, it can lead to several health issues.
While some people can cope with stresses effectively, others simply lose balance in their lives. That’s why it’s critical to know your limits and address the issues before they become severe and cause major damage to your health.
Hungarian endocrinologist Hans Selye coined the term stress to refer to the brain’s response to any demand. “Stress is the non-specific response to the body to any demand, whether it is caused by, or results in, pleasant or unpleasant conditions,” he said. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, many things can trigger this response, including change. Changes can be positive or negative, as well as real or perceived.
“Create awareness of the causes of stress to prevent and differentiate between dangerous and healthy stress. Addressing areas of stress not only benefits the individual, but also their loved ones, employers and the economy,” says Francesca Rodgers, Therapeutic Counselling Practitioner at RAK Hospital.
We focus on some health problems that are caused or exacerbated by stress:
Though the exact link between fertility and stress is yet to be established, studies highlight that stress can interfere with conception. “Some think that stress can affect proteins inside the uterine lining that are involved with implantation [of the embryo] and also blood flow to the uterus,” says Dr Dolores Kent, Consultant Gynaecologist, Top Medical Center, Dubai Marina.
Dr Kent adds, “Recent studies have also identified a biological marker, which correlates with increased levels of stress. Women with the highest concentrations of this marker, called alpha-amylase, are 12 per cent less likely to become pregnant.
“Besides, chronic stress also elevates levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol and epinephrine, which probably play a role in decreasing conception Pregnancy is much more likely to occur when couples are feeling happy and relaxed.”
Stress reduction techniques and stress relief training can help in conception. Psychotherapy is sometimes helpful for stress management, says Dr Kent.
Diabetes can strike anybody and at any age. Hundreds and thousands of people across the world are diagnosed with diabetes every year. Stress, emotional and physical, can substantially disrupt the level of blood sugar in our body. “When you are under stress, you begin to release glucose from your liver, muscles and stored fat reserves. These increased levels of blood glucose in your system owing to chronic stress over a long period of time can be a precursor to diabetes. Stress also reduces the effects of insulin on the muscles and other organs, which subsequently raises the blood glucose levels,” explains Dr Atul Aundhekar, GM/Chief Medical Director, iCARE Clinics, Landmark Group. Stress also contributes to other diabetes risk factors, including depression, bad diet and sleep disorders.
It is important to understand how stress affects you as an individual, as this will help you to decide what coping techniques work best for you. “It will also enable you to avoid resorting to unhealthy habits, such as smoking and comfort eating,” says Rodgers of RAK Hospital.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) causes a lot of discomfort to people suffering from it: cramps, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation are the main symptoms of IBS. Though scientists are yet to determine the underlying cause of IBS, many believe stress and anxiety can trigger symptoms of IBS. Along with dietary modifications, stress management is always considered important for the treatment of IBS.
“Most of the issues of body and mind can be resolved by adopting a healthy diet, regular exercise and therapies. Also, consistent practice of simple yoga postures relieves tension and pain in the body by soothing the nervous system, and integrating the mind, body and spirit,” says Chandy George, Ayurvedic Lifestyle Consultant, Balance Wellbeing 360.
Psychosocial factors are on par with smoking, high blood pressure, obesity and cholesterol problems in terms of their contribution to heart attacks, says the Harvard Heart Letter, the health publication of Harvard Medical School. It also points out that stress hormones constrict blood vessels, speed up the heartbeat and make the heart and blood vessels especially reactive to further stress.
“Excessive stress can manifest as cardiac symptoms such as chest pain, palpitation, irregular heart beats, dizziness or breathlessness,” says Dr Ajay Kumar Kanojia, Director Cardiac Services, RAK Hospital. “It can also cause acceleration or precipitation of actual heart disease such as heart attacks, sudden cardiac death, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels.”
Dr Kanojia also talks about the broken heart syndrome, which is a well-known clinical reality where an apparently normal person gets a heart attack without any underlying heart disease. The only trigger in this condition is the inability to cope with excessive stress in life.
• It is crucial for every individual to take some time off from their hectic lifestyles and collect their thoughts. “Allocating 20-30 minutes to meditation on a regular basis can give your mind a much needed break from the pressures of everyday life,” explains Chandy George of Balance Wellbeing 360.
• Practise shavasana and anulom vilom pranayama to manage stress, says Deepali Dandekar, Yoga Instructor, Balance Wellness Club. “Shavasana is the complete and conscious relaxation of the body. Alternate nostril breathing (anulom vilom pranayama) balances the right and left hemispheres of the brain and gives an optimum supply of oxygen to the body.”
• Exercise regularly to lower secretion of stress hormones and boost immunity. It can also lift your mood.
• Include food such as walnuts, asparagus, crispy rice cereals and dairy products in diet for stress relief. Limit intake of caffeinated beverages. Eat small amounts of dark chocolate every day to lower effects of stress hormones.
• Get adequate sleep to reduce stress. If you are suffering from sleep disorders, try simple breathing exercises every day before you go to bed. Adequate sleep helps in achieving effective metabolic function.