Stress: Causes and Effects

By Nadeem Ahmad

Stress can be defined as any state that causes people to loose equilibrium, whether it be mentally, or physically. Mild forms of stress can be beneficial; the stress of being immobile and unable to communicate effectively motivates babies to learn to walk and talk e.g peer pressure causes teenagers to learn and function within the basic rules of society.
Stress can be a powerful motivator. Stress can make you awaken before the alarm duck rings, refreshed and ready to tackle a job you are looking forward to, an accomplishment you want to achieve, a mountain you want, to climb. And then there is stress- the sinking feeling of being inadequate prepared, of being late, of being unable to alter circumstances that seem very much in need of alteration. A difficult family member, traffic jam, an overdue bill, an overly demanding boss, or an illness can all throw off your equilibrium and make you feel the negative effects of stress.
No one registers the effects of stress in exactly the same way as another, though there are typically indicators, including rising blood pressure, tension headaches and shallow breathing. A clenched jaw is a pretty good sign of being under stress.
Procrastination can be tremendously stressful. For everything you need or want to get done that you put off until later, your mental “to-do list” gets longer. The guilt of not returning a phone call get worse with each passing day. Even if you feel the time with something that otherwise would be cathartic, the end result is increased stress.
Even getting out of bed can be tough on the body. Several houses before you wake up each morning, a tiny region at the base of your cerebrum called the “hypothalamus” send a signal that ultimately alerts your adrenal glands, which sit on top of your kidneys, to start pumping out cortisol which acts as a wake up signal. Cortisol level continues to rise after you become conscious in what is sometimes referred to as the “oh’s – Its another day” response. His may help explain why so many heart attacks and strokes occur between 6 am and 8 am.

How to avoid stress
The toughest step to inernalise is probably hat ways and means to relieve stress or relax because when stress overwhelms the system, your choices often seem more limited than they are. Behavioral scientists have a name for this as psychological reaction. They call it learned helplessness and they have studied the phenomena closely in laboratory rodents, whose nervous system bears striking similarities to that of humans.
Some stress may be unavoidable, but these habits should help keep the damage to a minimum:

1.     Breathe deeply
Regular, slowed breathing- a common characteristics of meditation and prayer- alerts your brain that you are in a safe place far away from predators. It also releases your heart, decreases blood pressure and removes wastes from the blood stream.

2.     Take a vacation
A change of scenery clears the head, recharges the batteries and according to recent study sponsored by Air New-Zealand, improves reaction time 82% provided that you ignore your e-mail and allow a couple of weeks to disengage and unwind .

3.     Make friends
Social isolation increases the physiological damage caused by stress. A recent study/ survey found that Americans have only two close friends with whom they can confine their deepest concerns-down from three friends 20 years ago.

4.     Exercise regularly
It protects the heart, which is often the first to feel the effects of stress. Studies show exercise also helps maintain the brains situation to another.

5.    Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
The antioxidants and other ingredients they contain counter balance the inflammatory proteins the body produces under stress.

6.     Don’t stay up late
Irregular sleep increases the effects of stress on your body, setting you up for the metabolic imbalances that increase your risk of heart disease.

7.     Do what you love
Having a sense of mission about your job makes it easier o deal with inevitable setbacks (you still need to take those regular breaks from work). And if you can’t find meaning in your job, look for it in a hobby or through participation in religious or community organization.

8.     Humour as a stress buster
Many people react with disbelief when it is suggested that they should add generous doses of humourto their work life. According to psychologists laughter is the best medicine for stress. While stress builds up tension, humour releases tension.

The writer is working as Assistant Director in University of Kashmir’s Directorate of Physical Education and Sports.