By Clifford Sawhney February 2001 Stress is a handmaiden of modern life. But it is possible to convert stress-building thoughts into stress-busting ones EAT RIGHT TO BEAT STRESSStress affects your body’s ability to handle various kinds of foods because it causes a sudden constriction of your blood vessels. This raises blood pressure and reduces the amount of blood flowing to the stomach and intestines. The flow of enzymes is slowed as well so that much of the food you eat, particularly if it has a high fat content, is poorly digested. Instead of being broken down properly, it ferments in the intestine, causing gas and distention. Another thing that happens right away in a stress reaction is a hormonal alert that your blood needs more glucose. In other words, you feel hungry all the time. This may prompt you to eat a lot of carbohydrates, either in the form of sugar or starch. The reaction is an appropriate one if you are facing strenuous physical exertion, but it gives you only surplus calories if the stress is psychological. There are some helpful pointers you can follow for an anti-stress diet:• Cut down on table salt and other sources of sodium because of their link with high blood pressure. Remember that preservatives may also contain sodium.• Drink only moderate amounts of coffee and tea and remember that caffeine is present in both. Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol are stress-stimulants.• You should have eight big glasses of fluids every day. This helps to flush waste products out of the body.• Eat foods rich in potassium, like oranges and bananas. Potassium is essential for maintaining the balance of minerals within body fluids and plays a key role in muscle contraction.• Be sure to get enough calcium, as you tend to lose it when you are stressed. Try to have at least two glasses of skimmed milk a day. Teenagers want independence and parents are forever wavering between treating them as adults and/or children. A typical stress in such a situation is, as my daughter tells me: ‘I am scared Papa will get angry.’Sometimes teenagers feel that their parents are imposing the personality traits they do not have or do not want to have, upon them. For instance, you must have noticed that professionals like doctors and architects want their children to follow in their footsteps. Sometimes the reason might be practical, for instance a parent owning a hospital would naturally expect his child to become a doctor and run the hospital.But the child may not have the aptitude for the same profession, and may want to do something totally different in life, and parental or family pressures may be such that s/he may succumb. This causes acute stress and worsens the already existing identity crisis.Take the case of Sangita, the daughter of a doctor couple. A bright student, Sangita grew up believing that her parents’ profession was the best profession in the world. Naturally, she took up science in school and started preparing for entrance examinations to various medical colleges. That was the time she realized that she could not handle the subjects, but it was too late. She appeared for all the entrance tests and failed each one.Her parents were shattered. They visited holy shrines and organized private coaching classes for her. She was made to appear for the entrance tests again. By this time Sangita was absolutely certain that the medical profession was not for her and wanted to try her hand at business management, but her parents would hear nothing of it. Sangita failed yet again.Now their relatives stepped in. Her father’s elder brother finally managed to convince them that it was not at all mandatory for the child to follow her parents’ footsteps. Sangita did her MBA and joined a multinational bank, subsequently settling down happily in life. The four years of her life wasted in studying subjects she had no aptitude for were lost, but fortunately they were only four years. In some cases a lot more time is wasted.What about those teenagers, who get the subjects they want, yet lack the clarity to achieve their goal? Parents play a key role in developing their teenager’s self-esteem. Parental indifference to their child’s success or failure results in a lack of initiative in the child. Such teenagers are not motivated to try anything new or challenging, including making new friends.On the other hand, some parents are overprotective and end up stifling their child’s efforts to grow up. If parents set high but achievable standards and express support for their teenager’s abilities, children would be quite confident of succeeding.Friends also play an important role in a teenager’s life, as they can learn more about their identity away from the family. And conforming to the customs of a group can make a teen feel like s/he fits in. This sense of belonging is an important need as teens traverse the difficult years of being no longer children but not yet adults. The crucial thing is communication, both with their peers and parents. After all, parents need to keep in mind that they too were adolescents once, going through the same stresses.By Sunita Pant Bansal In one of his masterpieces on shikar, hunting, the legend of Kumaon, Jim Corbett, narrates the account of a day-long excursion in the neighboring hills with a guest. They departed before the break of dawn, caught a breathtaking glimpse of the sun rising over the Himalayas, were entertained by birdsong throughout the day, and encountered quite a few denizens of the jungle.Returning home at nightfall, they were asked how the day went. Before Corbett could wax eloquent, his companion broke into a litany of complaints of how hard the going had been, plodding uphill and downhill, getting pricked by thorns, with pesky flies and frightening jungle noises to contend with, besides close encounters with wild creatures. In short, it was a sheer waste of time, cribbed Corbett’s stressed-out companion. What to the nature lover was a wonderful outing in the jungles happened to be a day of fear, worry and apprehension for the city slicker! Stress, in a way, lies in the eye of the beholder. And with stress-related cases growing phenomenally, it’s no coincidence that stress has been termed a 20th century disease. ‘The number of stress-related cases is about thousand times more now than it was ten years ago,’ reveals Dr Sanjay Chugh, a consultant psychiatrist.The ‘disease’ goes back a long way in time, however. A complex concept, it has both mental and physiological components. Though some forms of stress are predominantly psychological, they trigger a variety of physiological changes, including ones in the immune function, indicating a link between the nervous and immune systems.DEFINING STRESSIn the days when prehistoric man had not yet attained self-consciousness, he reacted to any signs of danger in two ways: he fought or he fled. This is the ‘fight-or-flight’ response—a term coined by W.B. Cannon in 1914. During this, the body reacts with alarm to the threat: there is a rapid increase in metabolism, with hormonal, physiological and biochemical changes taking place instantly.The body muscles become tense and the hypothalamus activates the pituitary gland, which secretes hormones that then activate other hormone-producing centers like the adrenal glands. The release of adrenaline and other hormones sustains the alarm reaction and physiological changes occur in response to the stress stimulus. The body now needs glucose for the muscles to function properly. The liver responds by releasing some into the bloodstream. For the glucose to be transformed into energy, extra oxygen is required. The heart begins pumping blood faster to carry this extra supply, leading to a rise in blood pressure.The amount of blood available in the body is, however, limited. In order to deliver extra blood to select areas—the muscles, heart, lungs, kidneys and the brain—there is a temporary cutoff in blood supply to non-priority areas. Consequently, the digestive system slows or stops altogether, the salivary glands stop secreting, blood vessels in the kidneys and the abdomen constrict and the immune system slows down.These physiological effects are categorized as ‘arousal’. Concomitant emotional manifestations like fear, apprehension and worry are termed ‘anxiety’.Once the Neanderthal dealt with the threat-usually an animal, which he fought off or fled from—the body’s reactions quickly returned to normal. All of which was fine in the good old days of yore. ‘Unfortunately,’ says corporate consultant Santhosh Babu, ‘this wonderful survival tool hasn’t adapted to modern forms of stress. Today we react the same way with the boss as our ancestors reacted to a tiger-despite the fact that we have choices other than fighting or fleeing!’If this stressful situation is not resolved (the Neanderthal could be up a tree with a saber-toothed tiger snarling below all day long!), the body goes into a second stage, the adaptation stage. This also happens when you aren’t able to resolve the conflict with your boss. The changes that have occurred become chronic, that is, they take place all the time. This is the stage when the body is most prone to illness.The third stage, according to Hans Selye (1956), was the ‘stage of exhaustion’ which came about if the stress was constant and prolonged. Here, the body’s resistance finally crumbles and death is usually the consequence.Medically, stress is defined as a perturbation of the body’s homeostasis. The common indices of stress include changes in:(i) biochemical parameters such as epinephrine and adrenal steroids,(ii) physiological parameters such as heart rate and blood
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