Stressors stressors all around!

Stress is nothing but our own body’s response to an external trigger or ‘stressor’. We have looked at how stress can lead to heart problems with a real patient example in an earlier post


In fact, we are aware that almost all the parts of the body including blood vessels, skin, nerves, muscles, joints and all internal organs can start to dysfunction as a result of too much stress. So, let us take an in-depth look at stress and what causes it in this post.

The word ‘stress’ has been used for centuries to explain the concept of elasticity in Physics. It was only in the middle of the 20th century that the term stress got associated with biological stress by the Hungarian endocrinologist Hans Selye. And the term ‘stressor’ was also born at around the same time to refer to any external stimulus or environmental condition that causes stress in an organism.

In today’s modern world, stressors are all around us. Mounting stress in the system is more the norm than the exception. Stress has become the most difficult piece to solve the puzzle of skyrocketing lifestyle disorders.

There are only 2 ways to deal with this health crisis called stress:

  1. To prevent our body’s response to stressors
  2. To counter our body’s stress response effectively

If and only if the mind does not perceive the stressor as a stressor is it possible to prevent the body’s stress response. With a basic instinct to preserve and propagate our species, and with our inherent stress response as the most reliable resource to meeting that end from our cave-dwelling days, stress has become a double-edged sword in the modern world.

We know that every time our ancestors faced a threat to their lives in the past, stress hormones like adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol have helped them mount a “fight, fright and flight response” and survive the acute crisis. However, today, humans have gained such supreme powers on this planet that there is no threat to life on a daily basis but a myriad of stressors all around us that are perceived as serious threats instead. The acronym ‘NUTS’ is often used to describe the stressors faced by humankind today.

N – Novelty (eg. Any new situation like a change in a job or a new baby)

U – Unpredictability (eg. Inability to predict boss’s response or the weather)

T – Threat to ego (eg. When someone makes us feel incompetent or unreliable)

S – Sense of low control (eg. Lacking the power to change a difficult situation like job dissatisfaction)

Coming back to the 2 ways to deal with stress, we can either train our minds to not perceive everyday situations as serious threats, or build a capability to effectively overcome the mounting stress response, or both. The proven path to acquiring one or both of these defence mechanisms is to take the help of professionals who have expertise in dealing with psychological problems. Just like physicians diagnosing your physical health problems and giving you treatment, psychologists will be able to assess the seriousness of the emotional problem and suggest appropriate coping strategies.

Let us take the example of a young woman diagnosed with diabetes. She is 36 years old, has a full-time job and a family with 2 kids aged 10 and 7 years. This is a new and a definitely unpleasant situation for her to be in when things were going smoothly. She is unsure of how she is going to cope with the disease, the medications and the doctor visits and is especially concerned about the complications that it can lead to. She also feels she has no control over her health condition and is grappling with thoughts like “how did I get diabetes?”, “should I have taken better care of myself?” etc.

In our experience providing holistic healthcare solutions for individuals with chronic cardiorespiratory and metabolic diseases, psychosocial counselling is as important as anti-diabetic medications in this young person. This approach has not only helped people deal with the stress of their disease better but has also aided in reversing and completely curing the disease in many instances.





Psychosocial counseling can reverse heart disease

Psychosocial counseling simply means getting individual or group sessions with a healthcare professional experienced in ‘mind matters’. You might be taking your medicines regularly, getting your parameters checked and visiting your doctor periodically, but these measures will only help you monitor your health. It takes a little more effort to reverse heart disease!

You need to strike at the root cause of the problem if you would like to see the end of it. As psychosocial issues like chronic stress, depression and anxiety play a major role in causing coronary artery blocks and are often hidden or unnoticed, it takes an expert to address these issues of the mind. We have already seen in an earlier post that poorly managed stress can repeatedly attack the coronaries and ruin your heart as well as your overall health.

It is for this reason that a psychosocial counselor has become an integral part of the cardiac rehab team. A comprehensive cardiac rehab program like the one we provide at Cardiac Wellness Institute includes supervised exercise, dietary modification and psychosocial counseling in addition to health education and targeted behavior change. The counselor helps individuals understand the concepts of feelings, emotions and habits and paves the way for unraveling the stress triggers. Stress management techniques, non-pharmacologic treatment of depression, anger reduction methods, coping skills after a cardiac procedure,  ways to overcome anxiety, sleep problems and addiction are just a few things that a counselor can help you with. The image you see here is from one of the group counseling sessions at our centre where our counselor made participants do role-play (something like a mini-drama) to help them understand everyday stress triggers and coping strategies.

As counseling is defined as listening to someone and providing advice to overcome his/her problems, the counselor should not be the sole person providing counseling. Members of our team, for instance, take time to listen to what our patients have to say and work together with them in finding an effective solution to their physical and mental health problems. We are all counselors in our own little ways! But we know our limitations and acknowledge and appreciate the role of the psychosocial counselor in solving the deeply ingrained emotional problems faced by our patients.

With strong scientific evidence becoming available on the complete regression of coronary blocks with intensive lifestyle modification, there is no reason to ignore or neglect the psychological distress you are going through. It is not something to be ashamed or embarrassed about, we all have feelings and there are experts to help us feel better.

If you or your loved ones are going through a rough patch or if you would like to know how an experienced counselor can help you, please get in touch with us and we will guide you in the right direction.