Keith Nathaniel Partington

Stress and its effects on mind and body. StralaTwo

Stress and its effects on
mind and body

It's probably impossible to remove stress entirely from our lives. However, as a former integrative counsellor, and as a current day stress management coach, I'm well aware of how living constantly under very high levels of stress severely threatens our mental and physical wellness.

Stress also adversely affects how long we live, because it creates damage to our cellular structure, increasing the chances of unwanted and dangerous cell transformations (such as cancer) to develop.

What happens to us when we're
actually under stress?

When we feel stressed it's because our brain has perceived that we feel threatened by one or more aspects of our life. This could be due to pressure at work, sexuality or relationship problems, fears / anxieties and insecurities, challenging family circumstances, psychological or physical health issues of oneself or others, personal trauma, income and other financial problems, employment worries, being competitive in life, or a million other possible causes. Because of this, the stress response (Sympathetic Nervous System) is activated, and this floods our bodies with extremely powerful chemicals such as adrenaline, cortisol and endorphins. Nature designed this "Fight -- Freeze -- or Flight" system to help us cope with, and survive, short-term desperate emergencies in our lives. Having all of these response chemicals flooding through our physical structure actually impedes other functions that are designed to help us function and live over the longer term. Because of this, living in this stress response state for weeks, months, or even decades at a time is not something that our health can cope with. Unfortunately, in Western culture, living almost continuously in this highly stressed state has become the norm, and at various points in life, our minds and bodies will suffer very seriously as a result of such stress being ignored.

What effects does this actually
have in our real everyday personal
and working lives?

In everyday terms, probably the most noticeable effects of stress -- noticed by ourselves, loved-ones, friends, and also by those we work with, or teach -- include irritability, aggression, anxiety, forgetfulness and depression, among many others. More perceptive individuals may notice other effects, such as changes in breathing (taking short, quick breaths instead of steady, soft long breaths), becoming easily fatigued, being unable to fall asleep and / or waking up during the night -- possibly with feelings of anxiety. Since emotions are often experienced as centred in the stomach area, other effects such as diarrhoea and / or acid reflux indigestion may also predominate. We, or those around us, may also notice a decline in learning and retention of new information or essential skills. Thus, educational progress and workplace performance may decline to below-acceptable levels. Even worse, possibly, is the way in which being under stress makes us distant, abrupt, dismissive and emotionally dis-connected with others around us, whether they are loved-ones, clients, or work colleagues. Even periods of psychological dissociation from one’s physical environment may be experienced, at varying levels of intensity.

Perhaps the most immediately impacting effect, though, is a decreased ability to make good decisions. Why? Well, the body's stress response chemically limits our ability to "see" all of the options that may be available to us in any life or work situation. This applies whether we are trying to help someone with their homework, ride a bike through traffic, fly a jet airliner, negotiate an international business contract, sit a university final exam, teach a class, or solve a deep personal or relationship issue. Under stress we, therefore, invariably make poor choices from the very limited range of options that we "see" at that stressful moment.

It's obvious, then, that stress doesn't do us any favours, or help us at all as a long-term companion through our lives. But what does the medical world think about stress?

A medical view of the seriousness of stress

Stress is a killer, and a severe impairment to us living happy and healthy lives. The following statement by Dr. Rudolph E. Tanzi, Harvard Professor of Neurology, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, USA, is a good summary of the medical world's view of stress:

"...we know more than ever that stress, both physical and emotional, is central to the ailments we struggle with most. It leads to faster aging, obesity, anxiety and depression, autoimmune and digestive disorders, chronic pain, heart disease, cancer, and neurological disorders. Stress also produces chronic inflammation, which compromises many of our body’s critical systems, and plays a key role in Alzheimer’s disease. Maybe most important in all this: we know that we are each in the driver’s seat of our own lives, in control of our personal destiny. We know we can change our own health, and our entire life experience — on chemical, neurological, and genetic levels — through the choices we make each day. Our lives are our own to create."
(Quote taken from Guiding Strala: The Yoga Training Manual, by Tara Stiles. Hay House UK, Ltd., 2017, pages xi-xii.)

It's all pretty clear, isn't it? Stress is, obviously, far too dangerous for us to live with. Doesn't it make sense to work on lowering and minimising your stress levels, using stress management coaching and other evidence-based strategies, including mind-body exercise such as Strala, to achieve this?

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