How Spirituality Can Reduce Stress And Prolong Lifespan
“The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and the acceptance of love.” -Marianne Williamson
Stress is a positive force that enables you to survive. A small amount of stress may be desired, beneficial, and even healthy. Positive stress helps improve athletic performance. When you are waiting to cross a busy road you need to be temporarily stressed. Because you are alert, vigilant, and aware of danger, you are more likely to cross safely. Like an electric current, stress gives you energy and improves your performance. However, if the current is turned up too high, stress can produce unpleasant effects and cause your performance to deteriorate. Conversely, too little stress can cause you to feel listless and unstimulated, and you are likely to perform slowly and inefficiently. A definition of too much stress might be when you see your environment as taxing or exceeding your ability to cope, endangering your well-being.
Stress is a state of physical, mental, emotional or other strain. It is the pressure exerted on a person by his environment. It is a shortening of distress, which means extreme anxiety or suffering. Man feels stress when he feels that his ability to cope with the demands is not enough. You have to be stress-free. Dr. Benson of Mind and Bony Medical School of Boston, USA says that 60 to 80 percent of visits to health care professionals are stress-related. I have observed at the Apollo Clinic, Gurgaon, Haryana, India, that most of the persons coming for annual health checkups are found suffering from stress-related sicknesses and I have also observed the increasing level of stress among youngsters nowadays.
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Stress is the negative response of the body and the mind to external stimuli, so if we change our response to external stimuli we can reduce the stress or even we can convert the negative situation to a positive one.
Scientific studies have proved that most heart attacks are caused by anger and emotional stress. It is observed that quite a good percentage of heart attacks are caused during a time of anger or emotional outburst. Mr. Kumar, a patient, got a heart attack while he was shouting at his subordinate. He was immediately shifted to ICCU and angiography revealed advanced coronary artery disease, to everybody’s surprise. He is 42 years old and physically very active and healthy, and his annual health checkup done recently showed everything in normal limit except the lipid levels which were at upper limit of normal value. So obviously his anger and eating habits were responsible for his condition.
When a patient comes to me and starts describing their ailments, I ask a few questions about their job, family life, and social life. My talks with them give me an idea about the level of stress they have and whether they belong to a high-risk group of future heart attacks or not. I always advise them to go slow in life, change their attitude, and practice yoga and meditation.
When you feel stressed, leave whatever you’re doing and take 15 minutes off, go to a good restaurant and sit there, order a herbal tea or light mint tea or earl gray tea and sit silently, observe people around you. You can also just sit and close your eyes and do a few deep breathing exercises.
“Relax. Calm down. Stop rushing around and take hold of your life. You must be able to handle tension, not let it manhandle you.” – George Shinn
Spirituality and stress
Spirituality gives a sense of connection to higher and bigger entity or God. Spirituality helps in improving mental health and reducing stress. It helps by shifting our concentration to a spiritual goal rather than worrying about what will happen. Scientifically speaking, spiritual people deal with stress better than nonspiritual individuals. Prayer can reduce stress, and anxiety and heal. Praying for oneself is delineating a helpful practice but even praying about stress or intercessory prayer, is beneficial. Regular prayer improves confidence and self-esteem and thus reduces negative thoughts and its resultant stress. Spirituality may include prayer, chanting of mantras, meditation, ritual etc. Spirituality teaches kindness, helping and loving others and caring for everybody, even animals.
Spiritual practices can break the stressor-response stress cycle and stress-induced symptoms like headaches, anxiety, and sleeplessness.
How stress works
The connecting link between the body and the mind was not clear for ages. The supply of this missing link was the work of the Canadian endocrinologist Hans Selye. In his classic work “The Stress of Life” Selye showed that mental stress was the root cause of several types of common illness such as hypertension, peptic ulcer, etc. The original source of stress, the ‘stressor’, excites the hypothalamus in the brain (through pathways not yet fully understood). This vital organ that controls the autonomic nervous system activates the pituitary to secrete the ‘stress hormone’ (known technically as ACTH) which stimulates the secretion of several hormones and steroids (including the well-known adrenaline or epinephrine). The final result of these changes is the release of more sugar into the blood, an increase of blood pressure, and various other inner and outer changes in the body, which prepares it to face danger. According to Selye, stress is unavoidable in life and is even necessary for healthy growth. But when it goes beyond a certain tolerance level (which varies from person to person) the system breaks down resulting in illness.
Hans Selye, the father of “Stress Phenomenon” first described the effects of stress. He said,
“Every stress leaves an indelible scar, and the organism pays for its survival after a stressful situation by becoming a little older…..mental tensions, frustrations, insecurity, aimlessness are among the most damaging stressors, and psychosomatic studies have shown how often they cause migraine headaches, peptic ulcers, heart attacks, hypertension, mental disease, suicide, or just hopelessness, unhappiness”.
Over half of U.S. medical schools now include in their curricula courses on religion, spirituality, and health.
Some startling facts
- Repeated and frequent episodes of anger increase the chances of a heart attack.
- Discussing problems with one’s life partner relieves stress.
- 50 percent of single middle-aged people have a chance of dying within 15 years, compared to 17 percent for a married man with many friends.
- Tension stresses and depresses the immune system (bone marrow, spleen, thymus and lymph nodes), leading to an increased risk of infection.
- Cancer is commonly seen in patients with depression but a strong will and desire to survive reduces the risk of relapse.
- Stress diminishes white blood cell formation and function and causes the thymus gland to shrink.
Hans Selye, “Father of stress”, states that it transforms mental suffering into physical illness, by involving the nervous system and hormones. New researches have demonstrated the importance of genetic factors in our susceptibilities to stress.
Stress is the main troublemaker of today’s life. “Stress is a situation, which produces a negative body response.” Though stress is good for the human body if it occurs in small amounts, recurrent heavy stress can lead to psychological problems as well as physical illness. According to Philip T. Hagan, MD, Mayo Clinic, USA, technique like guided imagery, meditation, muscle relaxation, and relaxed breathing can help in relaxation. It lowers heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension.
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