Stress

by Satyanarayana Dasa

The mind is the fountainhead of desires and emotions. It appears that it cannot survive without them. Desires appear in the mind incessantly like waves in an ocean. Even while dreaming we have desires. When a desire is fulfilled we feel a sense of satisfaction albeit temporarily. But if we foresee a sense of failure there is an uneasy feeling in the mind. Any feeling of mingled dread and apprehension about the future with or without any specific cause makes our mind disturbed. The mind becomes distressed if it perceives  strong obstacles in the achievement of its goals. Stress originates in the mind but it spreads its influence all over the body.

Clinical studies have shown that stress is the root cause of more diseases than previously thought. When danger is perceived a chain reaction of signals releases hormones like epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine and cortisol from the adrenal glands. These hormones raise the heart rate, increase respiration, and shoot up the glucose levels in the blood. This enables the person to engage in fight or flight. As these responses take a lot of energy, cortisol tells other physical processes including digestion, reproduction, physical growth and some aspects of the immune system to shut or slow down.

When the threat passes, the body’s stress thermostat adjusts accordingly. Cortisol levels return to normal and the body resumes its usual functions. But the problem occurs when stress is not released or somehow the mind still perceives threat even when it is not really there. This causes prolonged exposure to cortisol, which inhibits the growth of new neurons and can cause increased growth of the amygdala, the portion of the brain that controls fear and other emotional responses. It also affects the hippocampus, an area that helps form new memories. It is a common experience that people in stress forget even ordinary things, such as the name of a relative. Stress leads to depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), heart disease, intestinal problems, gum disease, erectile dysfunction, adult onset diabetes, growth problems and even cancer. The effect of stress which enables a person to take to fight or flight was necessary for survival in primitive times when human beings were in constant danger from ferocious animals. But our society has evolved from such a dangerous situation and such a response is not needed now. However our body has not evolved to match the new social conditions and thus most people suffer from stress. This is posing a great threat to human life.

The World Health Organisation predicts that stress will be the number one killer in the world by 2020. This news itself is cause of stress and distress. We need to learn how to de-stress.

Lord Shri Krishna gives a golden formula to combat stress. He says do not worry about things which are inevitable— tasmad apriharye’rthe na tvam shochitum arhasi. Most of the time the stress is just an outcome of our own stupidity and therefore the solution also lies in proper use of our discriminating faculty. We fear something which may happen to us in future, such as failing in our final examinations or not achieving the desired grades. Anticipating the failure we start worrying in the mind. Such worry is futile and serves no purpose. Rather it harms and can lead to failure. It can act as a self-fulfilling prophecy. We should stop for a moment and think if worry will really help me in achieving my goal or in transcending the imagined/real obstacles. Mostly the answer is categorical ‘no’. Then why worry and be stressful? Lord Krishna’s advice is to remain balanced in the face of all adversities which are bound to come in everyone’s life.
With advancement of technology life has become more unpredictable and thus prone to stress.

At present one’s economic situation is one of the biggest causes of worry, even in the most advanced countries. Survival seems to be the biggest concern and that depends on one’s economic stability. Everybody has to compete in the rat race. A common person spends most his active life in pursuing careers and climbing the professional ladder. When they reach the top however, most may realise, if they are wise, that it was not worthwhile. They discover that their so called success is hollow and achieving it cost their health, family relation and peace of mind. In the process they have suffered obesity, heart disease and fatigue on the physiological front, separated spouse, estranged children, and uncared for parents on the familial front and frustration, depression, and stress on the physio-psychological front. Thus one may feel victorious in the rat race but is a loser on all other fronts. And even if one has won one still remains a rat.

I do not advise that we should not strive for a stable economic life. But we should lead a balanced life. We should not devote all our time only for earning wealth but also care for our health, family relations and mental peace. After all we want money so that we can live happy, healthy and peaceful life. Earning money should not destroy these very goals. That would be considered as unwise, to put it mildly. Our life is priceless. In the US, compensation for an injured knee is approximately $200,000. Then consider the value of say a damaged brain, injured eye, back with ache, broken marriage or mental breakdown. We should make a balance sheet of all these along with our economic success and see if it is balanced or we are in debt.

Lord Krishna repeatedly advises to lead a moderate life and in fact according to him Yoga is nothing but balanced life in the face of all successes and adversities—siddhyasiddhyoh samo bhutva samatvam yoga ucyate. His advice is as much or even more needed as was when He gave it 5200 years ago.

We have to manage our own stress. We cannot cure it by popping a pill though we may very much desire that. One of the easiest ways to get relief from stress is meditation. It is a clinical proven fact. Even closing the eyes, taking deep breaths and observing it flowing in and out through the nostrils will give one relief. This should be practiced everyday to remember it when in need.

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