Dr. Ted*, a surgeon five feet nine, weighs 150 pounds, plays
tennis, a slim healthy doctor who maintained his cholesterol, had by pass
surgery in 1998 at the age of 57. Dr.
Bal*, a scientist, who had less than 200 cholesterol level had by pass
surgery in 2002 at the age of 69. While
Dr. Amar*, a sociology professor five feet seven, weighs 200 pounds, and
Jit* an anthropologist five feet nine, weighs 220 pounds, both in their
sixties had no heart problem so far. What
is common between Drs. Ted and Bal: the stress of job, no social security
pension (because Bal moved to USA very late and had not contributed),
family dealings, divorce in a family, all had stressed both of them.
Ted retired early at age 60. (*Real names withheld to protect
Dr. Amar and Jit had regular university jobs, had happy go lucky
attitude and show no signs of stress.
Dr. Amar retired as department head with good retirement benefits.
Jit continues to work.
The above examples are not to suggest that we should be over-weight
and not bother about cholesterol and other common sense health approaches
such as good nutrition and exercise, but suggest stress and life attitude
cannot be ignored.
Frustration at the work place, niggling issues at home and strained
inter-personal relationships have become common in today's lifestyle of
most people. A steadily rising workload and an intense competitive
ambience have left people with very little time to nurture and cultivate
their relationships and for regular introspection. In such a stressful
milieu, stress-management techniques from the East and West have gained
gradual importance and some of them are proving to be quite
Stress management, which is the foundation of the stress business,
is a wide open field. The term encompasses a wide variety of lectures,
seminars and other programs offered in physicians' offices, corporate
headquarters, spas, schools and centers for elderly people and on cruise
ships. Programs typically incorporate biofeedback training, relaxation
therapy, mental imagery, behavior modification and exercise, either alone
or in combination. Also on the market are books, videotapes, computer
programs, vitamins and cosmetics that promise relief from stress.
There is increasing interest in job stress as a major health
problem. Many corporations are increasingly under pressure to have
stress-management programs because of the tremendous rise in workers'
compensation claims for stress-induced illnesses.
Here’s some data on “The High Cost of Stress.” in terms of
wealth as well as health.
$200 billion a year is lost to industry from stress related
George Pfeiffer, Work Care Group
75-90% of employee visits to hospitals are for ailments linked to
American Institute of Stress
Chronic pain, hypertension, and headaches account for 54% of all
job absences-all stress related ailments.
Alternative Therapies Journal, 1996
30% of adults report high job stress nearly every day. One study
reported that more than a third of respondents were considering changing
work because of job stress.
Northwestern National Life Insurance, 1991
Those who reported a history of workplace stress over the past 10
years developed colon and rectal cancers at 5.5 times the rate of the
Joseph Courtney, UCLA School of Public Health, Epidemiology,
Stress is more powerful than diet in influencing cholesterol
levels. Several studies, including one of medical students around exam
time and another of accountants during tax season, have shown significant
increases in cholesterol levels during stressful events, when there was
little change in diet.
Dr. Paul Rosch, Professor of Medicine, New York Medical College
Stress is linked to the following illnesses: hypertension, heart
attacks, diabetes, asthma, chronic pain, allergies, headache, backache,
various skin disorders, cancer, immune system weakness, and decreases in
the number of white blood cells and changes in their function.
Nation's Business, December, 1994
High levels of stress cause nerve factor growth, which hinders the
ability of diseasefighting cells to ward off infections, suppressing the
Reported in Psychology Today, January, 1996
Four hundred people were intentionally exposed to common-cold
viruses. Those who scored highest on a test of stressful life events were
more than twice as likely to develop colds after exposure than people who
Dr. Sheldon Cohen, Carnegie Mellon University, National Institute
of Health Conference
Severe stress is one of the most potent risk factors for stroke--more so
than high blood pressure--even 50 years after the initial trauma. In a
study of 556 veterans of World War II, the rate of stroke among those who
had been prisoners of war was 8 times higher than among those not
Lawrence Brass, M.D. Yale Medical School
Those already suffering from high levels of atherosclerotic
plaque/coronary heart disease will experience even more constriction of
blood vessels when under stress. On average, the most clogged arteries
constricted an additional 24% when the subject was experiencing stress,
while the healthy vessels (in the same subject) remained unchanged.
Healthy vessels can handle the stress, but the damaged ones have lost
their capacity to adapt.
Alan Young, M.D. Cardiologist, Harvard Medical
Epinephrine, released by adrenal glands in response to stress, triggers
blood platelets (the cells responsible for repairing blood vessels) to
secrete large amounts of a substance called ATP. In large amounts, ATP can
trigger a heart attack or stroke by causing blood vessels to rapidly
narrow, thus cutting off the blood flow.
Thomas Pickering, M.D. Cardiologist, New York Hospital, Cornell
In a study of 100 people with rheumatoid arthritis, levels of prolactin
were twice as high among those reporting high degrees of inter personal
stress than among those not stressed. Prolactin migrates to joints where
it initiates a cascade of events leading to swelling and pain.
Kathleen Matt, M.D., Arizona State University
Stress, tension, and anxiety, however, are part of everyone's
lives. Stress is simply the way our body gets ready for action, which is
good. But too much stress can harm us physically, emotionally, and
socially; all through its effect on our mental state.
One's mental state can have discernible, measurable effects on such
physiological processes as blood pressure, body temperature, and
respiration. This fact has been recognized for centuries by faith healers
and meditators and is now accepted by supporters of behavior medicine. The
proponents of behavioral medicine, including Dr. H. Benson of Harvard
medical school, estimate that as many as 75 percent of patients who visit
doctors have complaints that cannot be treated by traditional western
medical techniques. If those patients get better, it is not because of a
prescribed drug or a surgical procedure or specific medical therapy, but
due to something that happened in the patient's mind.
You don’t need to be a yogi living in a cave far away from the
civilized world to practice relaxation techniques of the East. Most of us
have homes, mouths to feed, bills to pay--we live in the temporal world.
Here’s a temporal metaphor to explain how the daily practices enhance
our lives: "Our bodies are like a car; they carry our soul around;
they're a vehicle for our consciousness. And if you take good care of
yourself, your ride becomes less bumpy, your human experience becomes a
little more enjoyable, and you avoid many of those stresses that take you
down the road to ill-health.” You
don’t need to go to some ashram in India or expensive yoga and
meditation centers either, because the information
is available for various relaxation techniques.
The techniques that you should be able to follow yourself.
There is a deep
relationship between the pattern of our breathing and our internal
emotions. When we are angry, we breathe faster and when we are happy our
breath is lighter. The Specific Breathing Techniques open up the locks
within the people, which is the source of all emotional and physical
What is called “Sudarshan Kriya” by new age gurus
is a cycle of breaths—long, medium and short. Since the mind oscillates
wildly between the past and the future, the breath, which is by definition
necessarily in the present, is used to "rope in the wandering
mind". Like Zen masters who teach that the present moment is a chink
opening into eternity, Ravi
Shankar (who introduced the art of living) also hauls his audience
back to the here and now with posers like, "Where are you?"
The various approaches of meditation and other stress-relieving techniques teaches how to observe the mind, to live in gratitude and to discard expectations. These provide a value-based framework to life and tools with which to build the superstructure. The benefits of the learning these approaches include stress reduction, increased production, a resurgence of vitality, mental clarity and joy of living. Those who follow various techniques will realize relief in respiratory and spinal disorders, diabetes and heart problems.
There is the positive (pre-distresss) aspects of stress, says Dr. Dhillon in "Art of Stress-Free Living.".
"The language of the head is words.
The language of the heart is love.
The language of the soul is silence."
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