The term stress has been borrowed by biology from engineering, where it implies an ability to withstand a defined amount of strain. Dr. Hans Selye, a great medical genius and noted world authority on stress has described stress as" a state manifested by a specific syndrome which consists of all the non-specifically induced changes within a biological system."
The term implies any condition that harms the body or damages or causes the death of a few or many cells. The body immediately tries to repair the damaged cells but it can do so only if the diet is adequate, providing a generous supply of all the essential nutrients. If, however, rebuilding of cells is not able to keep pace with their destruction, the condition will result in disease. The most common diseases associated with stress are heart disease, diabetes, headache and peptic ulcer. Other diseases resulting from stress are ulcerative colitis, chronic dyspepsia, asthma, psoriasis and sexual disorders.
Reactions to stress are manifold. No one situation is stressful to all the people all the time. Some of the factors that can produce stress are children or the lack of them, the boss or the subordinate, the traffic, the telephone or the lack of it, overwork or not enough work to do , too much money or too little of it, making decisions , dull routine jobs, lack of authority and apprehensions about the future.
The body and the mind react to any stress factor. A large number of physical changes take place at the time of stress-induced arousal. The brain and nervous system becomes intensely active, the pupils of the eye dilate, digestion slows down,muscles become tense, the heart starts pumping blood harder and faster, blood pressure increases, breathing becomes faster, hormones such as adrenalie are released into the system along with glucose from the liver and sweating starts. All these changes take place in a split second under the direction of the nervous system. If the stress factors are immediately removed all the changes are reversed.
Stress in its earlier and reversible stage leads to poor sleep, bad temper, continual grumbling, longer hours of work with less achievement, domestic conflict with wife and children, repeated minor sickness, absenteeism and prolonged absence for each spell of sickness, accident proneness, feeling of frustration and persecution by collea- gues and complaints of lack of cooperation and increase in alcoholic intake.
It is essential that these symptoms are recognised early by the patients or their well-wishers and remedial measures taken to overcome them. If , however, stress is continuous or repeated frequently, a variety of symptoms appear such as dizziness, stiff muscles, headache, vision problems, breathing difficulties, asthma, allergies, palpitation, digestive disorders, blood sugar irregularities, backache, skin disorders, bowel disorders and sexual difficulties.
Stress may be caused by a variety of factors both outside the body and within. External factors include loud noises, blinding lights, extreme heat or cold, X-rays and other forms of radiation, drugs, chemical, bacterial and various toxic substances, pain and inadequate nutrition. The factors from within the body include hate, envy, fear or jealousy.
In dealing with stress, the life style of the patient needs a complete overhaul,. He should be placed on an optimum diet and be encouraged to take regular exercise and adequate rest. If this is done, many diseases caused by stress can be eliminated.
Diet plays an important role in the prevention and healing of stress-induced diseases. Certain foods associated with stress and anxiety should be scrupulously avoided. These foods are caffeine in coffee and many soft drinks, which causes nervousness, irritability and palpitation, ; cigarettes which causes tension, irritability and sleeplessness and which have been linked with cancer and alcohol which depletes vitamins of the B group considered essential for reducing stress.
Certain nutrients are beneficial in relieving stress. These are vitamins A and B, minerals such as calcium, potassium and magnesium which reduce the feeling of irritability and anxiety. Vitamin A is found in green and yellow vegetables. Some of the valuable sources of vitamin B are cashews, green leafy vegetables, yeast, sprouts and bananas.
An element of vitamin B-complex, pantothenic acid is especially important in preventing stress. It has a strong effect on the adrenal glands and the immune system and adequate amounts of this vitamin along with vitamin A can help prevent many of the changes caused by the stress.
Potassium deficiencies are associated with breathlessness, fatigue, insomnia and low blood sugar. Potassium is essential for healthy heart muscles. Nuts and whole grains are good sources of potassium. Calcium is a natural sedative. Deficiencies can cause fatigue, nervousness and tension. Dairy products, eggs, almonds and soyabeans are rich sources of calcium. Magnesium is known as nature’s tranquilliser and is associated with the prevention of heart attacks. Deficiencies may lead to excitability, irritability, apprehension and emotional disorders. Magnesium is also necessary for absorption of calcium and potassium and is found in many fruits, vegetables , seeds, dates and prunes.
There are many foods which help in meeting the demands of stress and should be taken regularly by the patients. These include yogurt, blackstrap molasses, seeds and sprouts. Yogurt is rich in vitamin A, D and B-complex. It relieves migraine, insomnia and cramps associated with menstruation. Blackstrap molasses, a by-product of the sugar refining process, is rich in iron and B vitamins. It guards against anaemia and is good for heart diseases. Seeds such as alfalfa, sunflower and pumpkins and sprouts are rich in calcium and quite effective as deterrents of listlessness and anxiety. Steam cooked vegetables are best, as boiling causes many vitamins and minerals to be dispelled into the water.
Regular physical exercise plays an important role in the fight against stress. Exercise not only keeps the body physically and mentally fit, it also provides recreation and mental relaxation. Recreation and rest are also important. The patient should get a definite time for recreation activities. He should take a holiday at regular intervals. And above all, he should simplify his style of living to eliminate unnecessary stresses.