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Topic of the Month

Stress

There are many different definitions of stress. One of the most useful definitions of stress is as follows: Stress is an internal process that occurs when a person is faced with a demand that is perceived to exceed the resources available to effectively respond to it, and where failure to effectively deal with the demand has important undesirable consequences. In other words, stress is experienced when there is an awareness of a substantial imbalance between demand and capability, under conditions where failure to meet the demand is perceived to have unwanted consequences.

Related Concepts

Perception and awareness of the imbalance between demand and capability and the negative consequences of not meeting the demand is needed in order for the person to experience stress. The perception does not have to be accurate, however. A false belief can cause significant stress.
Stressors are the events and thoughts that lead the person to perceive that a threatening demand is being made. Strain is the negative effect of stress. Strain may appear as fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, medical and physical problems, insomnia, depression, anxiety, over eating, drug and alcohol abuse, risk taking, or diminished functioning, to name a few of the possibilities.
Stress can be positive and negative. On the positive side it alerts us to a threat and increases our level of arousal and activation which can help us be more effective in coping with the threat. It is mismanaged stress or an over-abundance of stress which causes strain and can be devastating for the person or the system.

Stress Management

There is no absolute right way to manage stress. The best approach is to assess the specific situation, tailor the method to the particulars of the situation, and then monitor its effectiveness. Stress management is directed at one or more of the five interacting components involved in the stress process: 1) demand, 2) awareness, 3) arousal, 4) capability, and 5) the negative consequences.

Here are some examples:

Identify and lessen the demands or increase capability by setting limits, i.e. saying "no", and by not taking on additional responsibilities before the existing ones are met or under control. Get more time or get extra help, or increase your effectiveness by utilizing better tools or by acquiring additional training.

Awareness, perception or the cognitive component, is likely the most important aspect. We need to be aware of all of the relevant issues concerning the demands, our capabilities, resources, and the potential consequences. We need to see these things accurately and clearly and plan accordingly. Our beliefs will determine how we handle the issues and how we feel. We could cause ourselves unnecessary stress by having false beliefs, or by being catastrophic in our thinking and believing something is awful or terrible when it is only difficult or unpleasant. We could also put ourselves in danger by having false beliefs, by using denial and avoidance and by not being aware of or perceiving a real threat.

Do something to reduce the arousal and tension and lower the level of activation. Take a break and stop thinking about the demands and consequences, relax and refocus on pleasant events. Work off the extra tension by exercising or participating in recreation and play. Get a massage, or take a vacation. The use of chemical and drugs should be avoided or used only as a temporary last resort, because something needs to be changed not just tolerated. Herbal supplements are safe and effective.

Eliminate or lessen the effect of the negative consequences by preparing for them, changing the circumstances, or changing your thinking. Examples include putting money in an emergency savings account, buying insurance, changing jobs, crime prevention, earthquake preparedness, accepting what can't be changed and refocusing your thinking and energy into the what can be done to overcome the negative and make things better. Professional treatment can help minimize or eliminate any physical or psychological problems that have developed because of the stress.

Everyone experiences stress and is vulnerable to it. We do not, however, have to be helpless victims to it. We can manage it, reduce and control it, and can minimize or prevent the negative consequences.

Stress can be Harmful to Your Health

Inappropriately handled stress can be devastating. It lowers our resistance and makes us more vulnerable to illness and disease. The increased inner pressure can cause our health to deteriorate resulting in a variety of serious physical problems. Stress victims can become emotional cripples and physiologically old and run down long before their time. Stress can cause a loss of not only health, but also loss of jobs, loss of families, even loss of life.

Stress can be Harmful to Others

People under stress also make more mistakes, and these mistakes can cause others to be secondary victims to someone else’s stress. I would not want to have surgery by a stressed surgeon or be cared for by a stressed nursing staff. Nor would I want to be a passenger on a plane maintained by a stressed maintenance crew or flown by a stressed pilot.

Common Symptoms of Stress

Symptoms:

The body and the mind react to any stress factor. A large number of physical changes take place when a person is under stress. The brain and nervous system become intensely active, the pupils of the eye dilate, digestion slows down, muscles become tense, the heart starts pumping blood harder and faster, blood pressure increases, breathing becomes faster, hormones such as adrenaline are released into the system along with glucose from the liver, and sweating starts. All these changes take place in a split second under the direction of the nervous system. If the stress factors are removed immediately, no harm occurs and all the changes are reversed. Stress in its earlier and reversible stage leads to poor sleep, bad temper, continual grumbling, domestic conflict, repeated minor sickness, accident proneness, a feeling of frustration, and increase in alcoholic intake.

Causes:

Stress may be caused by variety of factors both outside the body and within. External factors include loud noises, blinding lights, extreme heat or cold, X Rays and other forms of radiation, drugs, chemicals, bacterial and various toxic substances, pain and inadequate nutrition. The factors from within the body include hate, envy, fear or jealousy.


Herbs that are useful in Stress:

Ashwagandha (Whithania somnifera):

Ashwagandha has many significant benefits, but is best known for its powerful adaptogenic properties, meaning that it helps mind and body adapt better to stress. It nourishes the nerves and improves nerve function to help you maintain calm during stressful situations. It is also good for people who do physical labor or exercise a lot, to help the body adapt to physical stress. It nourishes all the bodily tissues (Dhatus), including the joints and nerves.

It is also a powerful Madhya Rasayana, which means that it enhances all three aspects of mind power (Dhi -- comprehension; Dhriti -- memory; and Smriti -- recollection).

Jatamansi (Nardostachys jatamansi):

Jatamansi is nervine, tonic, sedative to the spinal cord, antiseptic, appetiser, carminative, diuretic, emmenagogue, expectorant and vermifuge. It is useful in stress, high blood pressure, diabetes insipidus, digestive and respiratory disorders, heart palpitations, cardio vascular disorders, dysmenorrhoea, cough, cold, bronchitis, jaundice, constipation, flatulence, parasites (especially thread worms), general debility, impotency, poisoning and liver disorders.
It is a prominent and very effective herb for psychological, nervous and convulsive disorders. It is very nourishing and strengthening to the nervous system and the mind.

Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri): 

Brahmi is nervine, rasayana, alterative, febrifuge and cardiac tonic. It is considered one of the best rejuvenatives for the brain, strenghtening the nerves and brain cells. It is excellent for promoting strength of memory and mental faculties. The leaves and whole plant are used in various nervine and psychological disorders. They are also useful for students or those who engage in mental activities. Taken as a milk decoction brahmi is an excellent tonic for the nerves.

Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum): 

The leaves of holy basil have been found beneficial in treatment of stress. They are regarded as an anti-stress agent. Recent studies have shown that the leaves protect against stress significantly. It has been suggested that even healthy persons should chew twelve basil leaves twice a day, in morning and evening, for preventing stress.

 

Sage (Salvia officinalis):

The herb sage is considered valuable in stress. A tea prepared from the leaves of this plant should be given in the treatment of this condition. This tea is prepared by pouring a cup of boiling water over one teaspoon of dried sage leaves. The water should be covered and infused for several minutes. It should then be strained and sweetened with honey, if desired. In the case of fresh leaves, a tablespoon of coarsely chopped sage leaves should be used and tea prepared in the same way.
 

Dietary considerations and Lifestyle:

In dealing with stress, the lifestyle of the patient needs a complete overhaul. He should be placed in an optimum diet, and be encouraged to take regular exercise and adequate rest. If this is done, many diseases caused by stress can be eliminated. Diet plays an important role in the prevention and healing of stress included diseases.

Foods to eat:

Whole grains promote the production of the brain neurotransmitter serotonin, which increases your sense of well-being. Green, yellow, and orange vegetables are all rich in minerals, vitamins, and phyto-chemicals, which boost immune response and protect against disease.
There are many foods, which help in meeting the demands of stress and should be taken regularly by the patients. These include yoghurt, blackstrap molasses, seeds and sprouts. Yoghurt is rich in vitamins A, D, and the B complex group. Seeds such as alfalfa, sunflower, pumpkins and sprouts are rich in calcium and quite effective as deterrents of listlessness and anxiety.
   

Foods to avoid:

Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, chocolate, Coke, etc. It causes the release of adrenaline, thus increasing the level of stress. Many people use cigarettes as a coping mechanism. In the short term, smoking seems to relieve stress. But in the long term smoking is very harmful. Its disadvantages far outweigh its short-term benefits. Sugar has no essential nutrients. It provides a short-term boost of energy through the body, resulting possibly in the exhaustion of the adrenal glands. This can result in irritability, poor concentration, and depression. Salt increases the blood pressure, deplete adrenal glands, and causes emotional instability. Use a salt substitute that has potassium rather than sodium. Avoid junk foods high in salt such as bacon, ham, pickles, sausage, etc. Reduce animal foods. High-protein foods elevate brain levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, both of which are associated with higher levels of anxiety and stress.
   

Other measures:

Regular light physical exercises and Yoga plays an important role to fight stress. It not only keeps the body physically and mentally fit, but also provides recreation and mental relaxation. Recreation and rest are also important. The patient should set a definite time for recreational activities, and should take a holiday at regular intervals. Above all he should simplify his lifestyle to eliminate unnecessary stress.
   

Yoga exercises to relief stress:


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