How Does Stress Affect the Body?
“Stress is the killer” they say. Stress wreaks havoc on our health. If not addressed, it will affect your body’s ability to regulate inflammation, promoting the development of many diseases such as heart disease, asthma, digestive and skin disorders. In addition, prolonged stress has been shown to lower our immunity and makes us vulnerable to frequent infections, allergies and fatigue to name a few.
So when you hear “stress is the killer” the way I see it is that stress may not kill you abruptly but it will sure kill your “joie de vivre” and ability to engage in life fully, bit by bit. And since we all want to live happy and productive lives (right!?), we’ve got to get to the bottom of this.
Where Does Stress Come From?
From a holistic medicine standpoint we can only eliminate a problem for good if we know where it originates from.
Yet the root cause of stress is seldom talked about. Most of us think of stress as feeling overwhelmed or overworked and as a result suffering from muscle pain, headaches or insomnia. For that I could suggest you breathe deeply, get regular massages or learn to prioritize, but I won’t. I won’t because in my opinion this would not address the root cause of stress, only its symptoms, merely giving you short-term benefits.
Now, as much as I believe stress is at the source of most chronic ailments, I believe it is within everyone’s reach to live stress-free lives, regardless of circumstances, once we understand where stress comes from and address THAT. So what could this one and only cause of stress possibly be???
One word: RESISTANCE
Resistance to what happens. Resistance to what is. Resistance to life!
Are You Trying to Control the Uncontrollable?
How much control do you really have over what happens in your life? As far as I’m concerned the only thing I know for sure is that the sun’s going to rise tomorrow morning! Other than that, thinking we can control events and people in our lives and attempting to do so takes up a ton of energy and is bound to make us feel overwhelmed, discontent and depleted. This is a major illusion human beings hold, something all spiritual traditions tell us is impossible, and yet something that we foolishly believe we can manage: to control Life.
We can not change what happens when it’s already happening but we can absolutely alter our perception of the events in our lives. The choice is ours at all times. We can either say yes to life no matter what, an attitude that generates harmony and a sense of being “in the flow”. Or we can say no, this should not be, can’t be, must no be. When we do, life becomes a struggle and peace is nowhere to be found.
Ah the mind! Isn’t it where it all begins anyway? Imagine this situation (you may have been in it many times before). You are waiting in line at the supermarket. The line is very long and the one open cashier very slow. This lovely lady is enjoying her work immensely, chatting with each customer and having a good time. Just not working very fast. And so you observe the customers ahead of you. A gentleman is absorbed in a magazine, hardly noticing whether the line is moving or not. He couldn’t be bothered. Behind this man, a couple friends are having a lively exchange, smiling and laughing, using this time to catch up on each other’s lives.
The feeling there is light and joyous. And then there is a middle-age woman. She is pacing back and forth, constantly looking at her watch, her face strained. You can feel her impatience. She is sighing and searching around for validation in other people’s eyes, obviously frustrated with the situation. And there is you. How are you handling this situation? Because this is nothing other than a “situation”. And as the great spiritual teacher Paramhansa Yogananda once said “All circumstances in life are fundamentally neutral. “
It is how we perceive life events that turns them into a “problem” or not, as seen in the above story. Resistance causes us to clench and hold our breaths. Acceptance invites an opening of the heart and relaxation. Which one do you choose?
Acceptance of “what is” is the only solid foundation for stress free living. How can you get to that place, able to embrace each and every moment as it comes? Well, there’s actually no “getting there”, no process. All it takes is a shift in attitude and it can happen in a second. Yes, radical acceptance is an attitude. That said, one practice that has helped me enormously over the years is meditation. Through meditation I came to realize I exist apart from my thoughts and feelings, beyond my likes and dislikes, while simultaneously getting greater access to a part of me that is ever calm, contented and unaffected. The natural result of this has been a much easier time accepting myself as I am, others as they are, life as it is. From that state I can approach each moment with equanimity, and choose acceptance over resistance.
If you like the idea of nipping stress in the bud (in your own mind!) this is what I suggest you do: meditate daily. Start with five minutes a day. To quote from the Bhagavad Gita:
Now I’m curious to know, how do you handle the circumstances in your life? Do you find yourself saying No! or Yes! more often? Can you see how that relates to your current state of health and stress level? Please share in the comments below.