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Physiological effects of stress

Doctors have found that major traumas in life such as death of a loved one, loss of job and even transfers in job and moving houses can be serious stress factors that can lead to heart attacks. Unless the underlying cause is removed, no medicine can be effective in permanently curing the ailment.


We have looked at what the scriptures say and what I think about why stress is created. Let us now look at what science says.

We all have a part of our brain that controls our actions such as breathing, digestion and such activities that the body does automatically, involuntarily. Nature has designed a fail-safe system in a part of our brain called hypothalamus. This part of the brain also includes what biologists refer to as the reptilian brain.

..even before we consciously become aware of danger, we instinctively become alert.

Behavioral scientists often talk about the fight or flight response. When the body mind system perceives a danger to our survival the hypothalamus is alerted by our unconscious mind. The unconscious mind functions at speeds a million times faster than the conscious mind. So even before we consciously become aware of danger, we instinctively become alert. The hypothalamus activates the pituitary gland, the master gland, which then activates the adrenalin glands that secrete the adrenalin hormone, which is pumped into our extremities, the hands and legs. We then get ready for the ‘fight or flight’ reaction – either the energy prepares us to fight the threat or to run away from the threat.

The unconscious reptilian brain takes the decision to release chemicals into our body to protect us. This worked very well in the days of the caveman when he faced lions and tigers. He had to be ready even without thinking to fight or run away.

The life saving adrenalin can become a killer when it is produced without reason

To study the effect of adrenalin on human beings today, experiments were carried out on athletes. Sprinters were lined up at the starting block and moments before the pistol was raised to signal to them to start running, the umpire lowered his arm. So, the sprinters had to fall back and reposition themselves. This was repeated six times. Without even running a meter the  

sprinters collapsed at the starting block! The adrenalin level in their bodies had become dangerously high. The life saving adrenalin can become a killer when it is produced without reason.

..depression is a direct result of such adrenalin production

The chances of our meeting a tiger or a lion are quite slim these days. Nevertheless our unconscious mind keeps sending signals of such danger. I call them ‘fear strokes’. Psychologists estimate that we face at least half a dozen such fear strokes every day. These fear strokes produce large quantities of adrenalin in us. It has been established that depression is a direct result of such adrenalin production. Depression in turn is considered to be the main cause of many chronic and fatal illnesses.

an emotional trigger causes the immediate onset of a heart attack..

Medical research has found that many young people in rich countries, even teenagers, have arteries so badly blocked that their arteries are similar to sixty-year old people! Doctors have established that the physical condition is only one part of the problem. A much larger part is the emotional condition. It is now fairly well established that an emotional trigger causes the immediate onset of a heart attack or stroke, even though the physical condition may have been present for a long time.

Nowadays, cardiac physicians routinely request people to fill in a questionnaire on stress factors in addition to conventional tests to determine how prone they are to cardiac problems.

Doctors have found that major traumas in life such as death of a loved one, loss of job, loss of money and even transfers in job and moving houses can be serious stress factors that can lead to heart attacks.

What is true of heart attacks is true of many non-life threatening but highly debilitating ailments such as backaches, migraines and ulcers. The underlying emotional or psychological factor is far more relevant than the superficial physiological causes.

Stress is a killer, but it is in the mind.

We create fear strokes through worry. We create them through conditioning. You can correct the situation temporarily through medicines. Unless the underlying cause is removed, no medicine can be effective in permanently curing the ailment.

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