It is often said that only a healthy body can be the seat of a healthy mind. But the vice versa is equally true. A healthy mind is extremely important to keep the body healthy. Stress, the most potent representative of an unhealthy mind, can play havoc with our physical health. Who is not familiar with the physiological repercussions of stress which are manifested in the form of hypertension, heart problem, peptic ulcers, bronchial asthma, tension headaches, muscle paralysis, fainting and sometimes even complete collapse.
Stress does not affect our physical health only. It ruins our psychological and emotional health as well. Most often, stress is characterized by a persistent and high level of experienced anxiety and tension. It can also include negatively toned emotions such as fear, anger, depression, despair, hopelessness, guilt and overt emotional responses like stuttering, tremors, exaggerated speech characteristics etc. Similarly emotional exhaustion, irritation, alienation, frustration, ineffectiveness etc, are some of the other symptoms manifested by the organism under stress.
Now, what do we actually mean by stress? Stress refers to a position of distress or difficulty in which an organism finds itself when excessive or prolonged obstacles interfere with the satisfaction of its biological and/or psychological needs. These obstacles may emanate from the environment or from the organism itself.
The obstacles related to the environment may be in the form of rising inflation, group prejudice or discrimination, death of loved ones, parental or social pressures to perform beyond one’s capacity, marital discord, separation, divorce, lowering of financial status and rapid social and environmental changes like urbanization, industrialization changing family system, technological development etc.
Personal obstacles, as the name suggests, are related to the organism itself. Physical handicaps, personal injury or illness, lack of needed competencies, inadequate self-control, psychological barriers in the form of moral and ethical restraints, conflicting goals etc. fall in this category.
The more prolonged and severe these obstacles, the more seriously they will tax the adjusting capacity of the organism. In such a situation the organism may start manifesting various psychological, emotional and physiological reactions to the stressful situation.
It has, however, been found that the degree and severity of stress experienced by the individual depends partly on the individual, partly on the characteristics of the stressful situation and partly on the cultural and situational context in which the stress occurs.
Serious stressful situations like the death of a loved one, divorce, prolonged personal illness etc. are very stressful for most of the people and may lead to the development of various psychological and physiological symptoms.
Similarly, encountering a number of stressful situations like having a heart attack, losing a job, hearing a distressing news about some loved one-all at the same time-may result in stress which will be much more severe than if these events occurred separately.
Often the stressful events that take the individual so much by surprise that he finds it difficult to tackle them, place the individual under severe stress. By contrast, a stressful event, even if it is potentially dangerous, loses some of its severity if the individual is mentally and physically trained to handle it. That is the reason that fire fighters, police officers and soldiers are able to function more effectively even under extreme degrees of stress.
The biological and psychological characteristics of the individual under stress also determine the severity of stress experienced by him or her. It has often been found that the situation that seems very stressful to one person may seem only mildly stressful to another. It means our perception and evaluation of the situation, which is mediated by our biological and psychological characteristics, determines our reaction to stressful situation.
Similarly, a well adjusted person can tolerate stress better than a marginally adjusted person. For the latter, the slightest frustration or pressure may be highly stressful. However, availability of external support- personal or material- makes the given stress less severe and helps the individual cope better with it. The death of one’s mate or divorce will be less stressful if one has caring and considerate people around.
Often our culture, through various rituals and traditions, also provides support to the individual in dealing with certain types of stress.
The most significant stress-coping strategies, however, are provided by yoga through its techniques like Pranayam, Dhyan, Meditation, etc. These techniques, if regularly practiced, not only remove stress but also prevent stress and help the individual lead a peaceful and relaxed life.