Sadia Asad 06 Sep 2021

Stress is a response by your body both physical and psychological, for any tangible or incorporeal changes around you. The built-in response system, also known as the “fight or flight” response, of the autonomic nervous system, helps in facing the tense situations that can lead to stress.

Dr. Hans Selye, an endocrinologist known for his studies of the effects of stress on the human body, once said that it's not stress that kills us but our reaction to it. There are many factors, both profound and minor incidents, that can lead to stress, such as loss of a loved one, serious health concerns or illness. Occasionally even a small undesirable event can trigger the fight and flight response.

Stress Response

Your body’s emergency response system warns you in case of an immediate physical threat such as an animal attack and prepares you to fight for survival.

However, the stress that we face nowadays is primarily psychological, given the lifestyle, challenges, and conditions. These situations are ongoing and may trigger a stress response, leading to chronic stress which can leave an enormous impact on our health and wellbeing. For example, the stress hormone cortisol has been linked to increased visceral fat that is the fat around the organs. These fat cells actively secrete hormones that can damage the liver, pancreas, and brain functioning, resulting in inflammation, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndromes. It also weakens the immune system, leading to the early onset of age-related problems.

How To Respond to Stress

Whether or not the perceived stressor is valid, we are bound to respond to the pressures. Firstly, we need to question ourselves if a response is necessary in that situation. Understanding the situation and keeping a positive attitude is important. However, stress can be inevitable at times, especially in situations like loss of a loved one or grave illness. In such circumstances, it's best to accept and cope with the situation. We need to understand that stress is something beyond one's control. It is an internal response to any perceived uninformed threat; hence, one cannot control it.

Ways To Calm Your Mind

The stress response is generally short-lived. Research suggests methods that calm your psychological state as well as help to cope with the challenges in a more profound manner:

1. Adopting Self-Compassion: The ability to be conscious of your sentiments is self-compassion. It also involves the perception that we all make mistakes, and that it's part of human nature. It is about understanding and speaking to yourself as you would talk to a friend in distress.

2. Practice Deep Breathing Exercise: Meditation has been an effective practice for relieving stress and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Breathing exercises are one of the most potent relaxing techniques in a stressful situation. These deep breathing exercises activate the parasympathetic nervous system to bring the stress level down and calm your body. Proper breathing technique is normally taken for granted. There is no hard and fast rule to practice this breathing technique; you can perform it anywhere. All you need is a few minutes and a quiet place to stretch out.

How to do deep breathing

  • Sit on a chair comfortably with your back straight, one hand on your stomach, and the other on your chest.
  • Inhale deeply through your nose (count till 4), now the hand on your stomach must rise. Hold this breath.
  • Exhale through your mouth to an extent where you contract your abdominal muscles, pushing as much air out as possible (count twice as long, e.g., up to a count of 6 - 8). The hand on your stomach must move in this process of exhalation.
  • Continue to inhale and exhale in a similar pattern making sure that you pull and push the air out enough so that your stomach rises and falls. Slowly count as you exhale.

You may lie down if you are not comfortable doing this while sitting and place a book on your stomach instead of your hand while practicing deep breathing. Long exhales basically activate PNS (Parasympathetic Nervous System), reducing your blood pressure and heart rate.

4-7-8 Breath: This technique was developed to induce sleep in people with insomnia or sleep disorders and stress to relax the patient. It is based on the yoga breathing principles by Andrew Weil.

  • Place your tongue behind your upper teeth, make a whooshing sound while exhaling through your mouth.
  • Close your mouth and inhale through your nose on the count of four in your head.
  • Hold your breath for seven seconds.
  • Exhale through your mouth, making the same whooshing sound for eight seconds. Repeat the process three times.

3. Foster Authentic Relationships

After shelter and food, it is a human need to connect with people positively. For your well-being, you need an ear after you practice self-compassion and deep breathing to feel connected.

Use Of Mindful Meditation

"Mindfulness is the awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally," says Kabat-Zinn. "And then I sometimes add, in the service of self-understanding and wisdom."

Sometimes you get hung up in a busy life and cannot figure out what tasks are essential in your life and what not; mindful meditation provides relief against the stressors.

Mindfulness is the baseline practice to counter stress by being vigilant of the situation around and avoiding a reactive or overwhelming response. It is about switching your focus to the present instead of dwelling in the past or future. There are many different health benefits connected to mindfulness; one of them is improved sleep. A study in 2015 reported that the people taking the mindfulness training program had refined sleep with improved fatigue and stress.

Meditation is the most popular technique to relieve stress in people from all walks of life. It is focusing on a single repetitive action like breathing or some repeated words. In this way, you overcome the tensions and help yourself choose what thoughts to focus on and ignore in the future.

Basics Of Mindful Meditation:

  • Sit in a quiet place where you are neither disturbed nor distracted.
  • Keep your back straight on a chair.
  • Close your eyes and choose a focus point like breathing - feeling the sensation of inhalation through the nostrils and exhalation through the mouth during the rise and fall of the stomach - you can also choose a meaningful word that you can repeat throughout the process of meditation.
  • If negative distracting thoughts come through your mind, you can divert attention toward the focal point without judgment.

Every person experiences a different response to stress. It is important not to isolate oneself or let the feeling of despair or emptiness take roots. If none of the techniques or coping mechanisms work, it is advised to seek professional help.

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About the Author:
Sadia Asad is a certified Post Professional Doctor of Physiotherapy with hands on clinical experience. She has indulged herself into the field of medical freelancing focusing on content writing and research. It helps her gain more knowledge on new research in the medical field. She completed her graduation and post grad field studies from Pakistan



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