How to Handle Stress? – stress managemet,
Mental tension, emotional disturbances, stress and strain of life, etc. are the number one risk factor for heart diseases. Racing ambitions, hurry and worry of modern life directly affects man’s cardio-vascular system. Mind is like a jokky and heart is like a horse. If the jokky whips, the horse races fast. Similarly, when mind is tense, the heart over-functions. Modern man tends to run with time and, in turn, pays a very heavy price in the form of heart diseases.
Although modern man no longer faces physical threat to survival yet he responds to the day-to-day psychological stress by flight mechanism although it is not required. Stress abnormally disturbs one’s cardio-vascular functioning. This effect can be understood through several mechanisms of heart control.
The heart is well supplied by both sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves These nerves affect heart in two ways
1) by changing the heart rate and
2) By changing the strength of contraction of the heart.
The effect of sympathetic innervation is much more powerful than parasympathetic nerves In response to stress, sympathetic system is over activated which leads to increased heart rate, and blood pressure. This rise in blood pressure can be very damaging because of two primary effects
1) Increased work load on the heart and
2) Damage to the arteries themselves by the excessive pressure.
Heart muscles, like skeletal muscles, hypertrophy when its work-load increases. In hypertension, the very high pressure against which left ventricle must beat, causes it to increase in weight to as great as 300 to 400 gms. Instead of the usual weight of 150 gms. This increase is not accompanied by quite as much increase in coronary blood supply as there is increase in muscle tissue itself. Therefore, relative ischemia of the left ventricle develops. The hypertension which becomes serious enough that the person develops angina pectoris. Also, the very high pressure in the coronary arteries causes rapid development of coronary arteriosclerosis so that hyper-tensive patients tend to die of coronary occlusion at much earlier ages than do normal persons.
High pressure in the arteries not only causes coronary sclerosis but also sclerosis of blood vessels throughout the body. The arteriosclerotic process causes blood clots to develop in the vessels. Therefore these vessels frequently thrombose, or they rupture and bleed with resultant destruction of local areas of brain tissue.
Hemorrhage of the vessels which destroys large areas of the kidneys and, therefore, causes progressive deterioration of the kidneys and further exacerbation of the hypertension. Hence a vicious circle results. During severe emotional crisis, strong stimulation of sympathetic nervous system can cause very severe and acute elevation of arterial pressures, sometimes to diastolic level as high as 150 mm of Hg, and systolic pressure about 350 mm of Hg. If such state results more frequently, then this can cause great damage to one’s heart and other bodily organs.
The kidneys like most other tissues of the body are strongly supplied by sympathetic nerves to cause release of a
Vasoconstriction substance, called ‘angiotensin’. The angiotensin, in turn, increases total peripheral resistance and also increases aldosteron secretion by the adrenal cortex. Thus, renin, angiotensin can cause hypertension during emotional crisis.
Higher Nervous Control
In the reticular substance of the lower third of pons and upper two-thirds of the medulla, vasomotor centre is located laterally. These centres have powerful effect on the muscles of the heart .. The lateral portion of the vasomotor centre transmits exitatory impulses of the sympathetic nerve and the degree of sympathetic stimulation can alter the long term regulation of arterial pressure. For instance, experiments have shown that when the sympathetic nerves to the kidneys are stimulated continuously for several weeks, renal retention of fluid occurs and causes high arterial pressure as long as stympathetic stimulation of the kidney persists to cause chronic elevation of arterial pressure. During emotional crisis, the kidneys secrete the higher level of an enzyme, called Renin . The Renin, in turn, acts on the plasma protein fibre to the heart while the medical portion of the vasomotor centre transmits impulses through the parasympathetic fibre of the vague nerve to heart to decrease the heart activity. Emotional stress through vasomotor centre creates disturbances in the activity of the heart.
Usually, whenever any part of the sympathetic nervous system is stimulated, the entire system or at least major portions of it are stimulated at the same time. Hence, norepinephrine and epinephrine are almost always released by the adrenal medulla at the same time. The different organs are stimulated directly by the different nerves. Therefore, the organs are stimulated in two ways simultaneously. The two means of stimulation support each other and one can actually substitute the other, for example, destruction of the direct pathways to the organs does not abrogate existence of the organs because norepinephrine and epinephrine are still released into the circulating fluids and indirectly cause stimulation. Likewise, total loss of the two adrenal medulla usually has little significant effect on the sympathetic nervous system because direct pathways can still perform all the necessary duties. Thus the dual effect provides the safty factors; no mechanism substitutes for the other when the second is missing.
But unfortunately in the modern man, under symbolic stress, both the factors are operating which result into overtone of the sympathetic activity which increases the burden of cardio-vascular system.
If we take the practical levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine the normal resting rate of secretion by the adrenal medulla is about 0.2 microgram per kg per min. of epinephrine and about 0.07 microgram per kg per min. of norepinephrine. These quantities are considerable enough to maintain the blood pressure almost upto the normal level even if the direct pathways to cardio-vascular system are removed. Therefore, it is obvious that much of the overall tone of the sympathetic nervous system results from basal secretion of epinephrine and norepinephrine and, in addition, to that from sympathetic nervous system.
In mild, stable or in labile or essential hypertension, there is evidence of hyper kinetic circulation. Episodes of raised blood pressure in labile hypertension are intermittent and readily provoked by emotional and sympathetic nervous system arousal, in response to personally meaningful environmental stimuli eliciting an attitude of vigilance, uncertainty, anger, fear and physiological preparedness for fight or flight. Due to these effects, cardio-vascular system is very much susceptible to stress. Presently, there are more than 30 million Americans with essential hypertension.
How to Handle Stress?
Understanding the effects of stress on heart is one thing and doing something about stress is another. Conventional psychologists have suggested a number of stopgap measures to reduce stress, but none of them gets at the root cause of stress; they merely seek to ameliorate currently stressful circumstances. Some of these ideas have been to change jobs, to find more leisure, to find someone to talk to about one’s trouble, to take up a hobby, to change one’s lifestyle and so on. The more perceptive doctors counsel the making of deeper psychological changes; to be honest with oneself and others, to act with maturity and to make decisions firmly, to give up artificial crutches like alcohol and drugs and to increase one’s personal strength.
All of those goals may be good, yet the question remains how does one get the inner strength even to make those changes? And how does one get the peace and clarity of mind to realize what steps are really necessary and possible to effect those changes? And how does one get the flexibility to live even in what may be considered ‘stressful circumstances since it is not always possible to change external conditions without feeling distressed by them.
That is where the efficacy of Raja Yoga in treatment comes in. It is not based on changing anything external, but rather one’s internal responses to external demands. Thus, the treatment is useful to everyone in all circumstances. Moreover, just a few days of practice is sufficient to achieve mental and physical relaxation which in turn is enough to allow one to focus perception and venation towards understanding and curing the personality factors which enter into stress production. That understanding is increased further by application of the spiritual knowledge on which meditation is based.
The value of relaxation has also been documented medically. A neuropsychiatrist of California, Late Dr. David Fink, wrote thus in this connection : ‘Relaxation stops in emotions that prod the interbrain and forebrain into misbehaviour. Skill as well as good health depend upon relaxation’. Thus, relaxation is the first step towards good health.
External events themselves generally do not raise mental tension. Rather, it is the repeated thinking over of an event (‘1 can’t believe the boss said that to me what nerve he actually said that’) – the repetition going on both consciously and unconsciously, awake and asleep – which raises mental tension levels to dangerous heights.
The control over the mind achieved through Raja Yoga practice makes us able to halt this repeated brooding over stressful events. We become able to easily re-charge our mental energies into positive and even blissful directions, and to intuit solutions to stress-causing events which are life-enchancing for all concerned, rather than negative or destructive towards self or others.
Transformation of Attitudes
We know that under the same set of circumstances, one person, may become anxious while another can remain cheerful. The difference has to do with attitude towards the event and more with one’s general personality and understanding of life. By gaining spiritual insight into the laws of human actions and interactions, our attitudes towards life-situations naturally tend to become tolerant, positive and creative. This gives us the means to retain stability and peace of mind even under adverse conditions.
In the words of Dr. Fink (from his book, ‘Relief from Nervous Tension’) : “Your attitudes are the higher-ups, the big shots in your mental life. They are the habits that sit in the driver’s seat.. When you can boss them you are in the control of your life. You become invulnerable and nothing can hurt you”.
Or in words of the pioneer in stress research, Dr. Hans Selye : “Rather than relying on drugs and other techniques, I think there is a better way to handle stress. Attitude determines whether we perceive any experience as pleasant or unpleasant.”
“I have found the fundamentals of Raja Yoga Meditation extremely beneficial for developing the positive attitudes. For example, if someone gets angry or criticizes a Raja Yogi, he thinks, ‘We all are actors in the world drama, playing a definite role allotted to us. I should not worry about the activities of others. I must try to play the role given to me in the best manner. When he behaves according to his nature, I also should behave according to my original nature of being a peaceful and loving soul. I rerjain detached and peaceful because I am just an observer of various scenes of the world drama. Whatever percentage of truth lies in the criticism, I must accept and change myself. If a near relative dies, then, under stress, caused by bereavement he thinks, ‘This is an event, where the actor has just changed his costume (body) for playing another role. He has left the present body and will take another body to play his role. Indeed, the Soul is eternal, indestructible and immortal. Thus the soul whom I love is not dead. The soul still continues to play .
its role somewhere else. I must not feel sad about the event. On the contrary, I should send good wishes and vibrations of peace.”
IMPORTANCE OF POSITIVE THINKING
Nineteen hundred years ago, there lived a Roman Emperor named Marcus Aurelius. On his long marches and military campaigns, he sat by his camp-fire noting down his thoughts. These thoughts were gathered together in a book titled “The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius”. One of the greatest heritages from antiguity and one of the significant things that this wise man said is this, “Your life is what your thoughts make of it.”
The great thinker of United States of America, Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A man is what he thinks about all day long.” If you expect failure and think about diseases, you are going to get them. Transform your attitudes and thoughts and you will transform the quality of life you are living. Transform your negative thoughts into positive ones and every thing will change into inner peace, prosperity and positive health.
Dr. Frederic Tilney, one of the outstanding brain-specialists of France declares, “We will, by conscious command, evolve cerebral centres which will permit us to use powers that we now are not even capable of imagining.” The same truth is described, in a different way, by Dr. Jean Houston, president of the Association of Humanistic Psychology, “We are just beginning to discover the virtually limitless capacities of the mind.”
Power of positive thinking is amazing as the case of Mrs. Sunita illustrates, she was a 24 years old woman, suffering from severe tension. She had tensions after her husband had an irreparable brain-damage. For the following five years, he was completely bed-ridden. In the beginning, she selflessly cared for him, hoping that he would improve. But as many years passed by without any sign of improvement, she gradually became hopeless and tense. Thrice she had thought of committing suicide. Her mother-in-law brought her to the Local Brahma Kumaris Centre. At first, she was reluctant to come, but when the teacher there listened to her problems sympathetically, she continued her visits.
The teacher showed her how to give powerful spiritual vibrations with the help of positive thinking and Raja Yoga to help her husband. When the laws of action and reaction (karma) were explained to her in detail, her mind became very calm, peaceful and positive. The art of positive thinking completely recovered her out of the anxiety and tension. When the positive thinking based on the understanding of spiritual knowledge helped Mrs. Sunita to relieve the real severe stress, why can it not benefit millions of people suffering from imaginary fears, worries and anxiety?
In the modern world, millions of people are causing themselves one or the other heart disease through negative thinking. As one gets up in the morning, the first thought about failure and tensions occurs to one’s mind, “I’m not sure, I may fail. They might hurt me. They might not like me. I will not be able to express myself. I might lose my job. Something bad will probably happen if I do this. I know, I will feel awful if I say that. I won’t be able to live myself.” Generally, most people possess such mind as is always loaded with thoughts of failure and uncertainty. And little wonder that they suffer from what medical scientists call ‘free floating anxiety’. This is not a one day affair but many years of experience.