April 1, 2004      

From the Desk of Coordinator, Bioinformatics Centre

Stress: The Mind – body connection

Outer circumstances and events don’t create stress
It is our response to them which creates stress

- Phil Nuernberger

A degree of stress is necessary in life. A Sitar can not be played unless the strings are stretched tight to an extent. Stress adds zest to life, but too much of it can break us down. Whenever the mind feels uneasy, restless, disturbed, agitated and tense, one is said to be under stress. When the mind is feeling light, easy, cheerful, calm and quiet, one is said to be in relaxed state.

As a response to external stimuli, fight or flight response arouses sympathetic component of autonomous nervous system thus elevating Cortisol to provide sugar for instant energy, faster breathing to provide more oxygen, release of adrenaline and nor-adrenaline to produce a surge of energy in the body, increased heart beat, muscular tension etc. to meet the impending challenge. When one is peaceful and relaxed, parasympathetic nervous system takes over and helps in body chemistry return to normal.

Every sympathetic arousal is not stress. Stress occurs only when there is excessive or prolonged sympathetic arousal (due to worries, concerns, fears etc.) without relaxation thus resulting in autonomic imbalance. Symptoms of stress at earlier and reversible stage are anger, frustration, irritability, depressed mood, fear and anxiety, negative thoughts, lack of confidence, tension, headache, backache, sleep disturbance, reduced activity level, difficulty in concentrating etc. The stress induced disorders are anxiety neurosis, hyper tension and Ischemic heart disease, hyperglycemia & diabetic mellitus, peptic ulcer, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, arthritis, obesity etc.

Stress is increasing due to competitive, fast moving and modern life style with ever-growing consumerism and ambition. Stress is man made health problem that too self made and individualistic. In other words the same situation may cause stress in one individual but not in the other. Stress is a result of combination of environmental and individual factors and how the individual reacts to them.

Stress can be successfully managed by looking positively, identifying and analyzing the problem with cool mind, being less ambitious, more realistic to one’s capacity and learn to relax with exercise, yoga and meditation. No wonder considerable research is being done on the beneficial effects of life style change, yoga and meditation for stress free life. Transcendental meditation (TM) has shown significant decrease in the levels of nonepinephrine and epinephrine in TM group compared to control subjects (Infante JR et al).  Assay of Cortisol, the “Stress hormone” which is released in the body during stressed states has been used for monitoring stress and found beneficial effects of MRT – Music compared to hormone drugs in pregnant women under threat of miscarriage.  Relaxation or biofeed back techniques were found to lower elevated blood pressure, playing an important role in the development and course of essential hypertension (Hermann JM). Mind-body therapy (Yoga practice) has been found to be valuable in preventing adverse outcomes of coronary disease (Pandya DP). Nowadays there is considerable interest to study Alternate medicine in particular ‘Yoga and meditation’ for their beneficial effects in Stress management.