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Living With Stress

'The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.'
-William James

Stress who has ever escaped its clutches? Even fetuses in wombs experience stress! Stress can stem from a variety of causes-relationships, job, school and daily activities-just about anything.

Stress is a demand on the physical and mental energies of an individual. It is, in effect, a response to one or more conditions.

Stress is not all bad! The condition or circumstance that causes stress may not be necessarily adverse. In fact, experts say that some stress from time to time is good. It stimulates us to do better. Some children perform better in exams and score excellent grades when they are under academic stress; brilliant solutions to the toughest problems have arisen under the most stressful condition; spectacular works of art and literature have been produced when individuals have been emotionally stressed.

Havent each one of us experienced more alertness and a sharpening of senses when confronted with a dangerous situation? Thats because, our defence mechanism goes on an all high alert. And what causes this? Our stress response - that activates the release of stress hormones into our blood stream!

It is only when extreme stress begins to affect an individual-physically or psychologically- that it becomes a cause for concern. Nevertheless, in the present time, stress has a negative connotation and is undeniably an urban malaise.

Stress through the ages

At the core of all survival lies a series of confrontation with stress and adaptations to live with it.

Homo sapiens, today, is an evolved species. Can you fathom how much stress our predecessors should have endured? Or, for that matter, the ancestors of every living thing on this earth?

'It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.'
- Charles Darwin

To survive the harshest conditions and cope with them to ensure continued survival was living with stress one caused by ever - changing conditions. Our lives, through the portals of evolution, are a constant reminder of an innate ability to battle and overpower stress.

Stress can even induce genetic changes in living forms, especially when a species or population faces a genetic bottleneck. Evidence of such natural occurrences comes from the Nobel Prize winning scientist, Barbara McClintocks research on 'the significance of responses of the genome to challenges. These challenges or stress factors may be temperature changes, DNA damage, irradiation, virus or others. Genetic variations significantly alter the population giving rise to newer, evolved forms.

Genetic bottleneck or population bottleneck is an evolutionary event where 50% or more of a species or population is killed or prevented from reproducing.

The lesson learnt is, we can allow stress to either serve us or master us. It all boils down to how we handle stress.

Handling stress

'Nothing can be meaner than the anxiety to live on, to live on anyhow and in any shape.'
-George Santayana

Our brain is naturally programmed to handle challenging situations. Under stress, it simply fires out orders and the fight or flight response kicks in. Stress hormones adrenaline and cortisone spring into action. Blood pressure rises and the body prepares to react to the stress. An appr opriate defensive action (fight response) uses up the hormones in the blood leading to lessening of stress or anxiety symptoms. On the other hand, when we fail to raise our defences (flight response), these hormones continue to remain in the blood stream for a longer time. This causes physical symptoms such as tense muscles, anxiety, dizziness and palpitation.

Each day, all of us are exposed to various stressors (stress factors). If not combatted and overcome, stress continues to accumulate, putting the body and mind in a constant state of alarm-fight or flee. This weakens the immunity system and paves the way for acute and chronic psychosomatic illnesses such as:

Headaches and Backaches
Eating disorders and Irritable bowels
Asthma and Allergies
Sleeplessness and Fatigue
Heart problems

Stress related problems and disorders are on the rise, as is evident from the increasing number of patients visiting psychologists. Reaction to stress depends on the individual-different people react to stress differently. What matters is how efficiently one can cope with it.

And cope with it you can -a plethora of ways exist! To help you amble along the path of low stress, here are a few pointers

Lifestyle changes: Most important ammunition, if you want to shoot stress right out of your life!

Switch over to a nutritional diet and supplements-eat healthy food
Manage, plan and organize your time and work-set your own limitations
Change your attitude -be positive
Never pass up on your sleep-get sufficient hours of snooze

Relaxation techniques: Great stress busters of the non-invasive kind to give you the calm and peace you seek!

Physical and mental exercises
Music therapy
Breathing exercises

Danzae Pace says, 'Stress is the trash of modern life - we all generate it but if you don't dispose of it properly, it will pile up and overtake your life.'

The choice is yours after all, its your life.


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