Researchers define stress as the body’s response to any demand. It is our human physiologic response to environmental triggers whether they are physical or psychological in nature. The demands could be major negative life events like the death of a loved one or loss of a job, but they can also be positive events like getting married or receiving a new job or retiring. Demands can also be small daily requirements of just living, getting the kids ready for school, driving to work in traffic, waiting in line for a coffee, or interacting with colleagues on a work project. Although it is completely appropriate to experience feeling stressed, stress can become a problem when the demands of stress outweigh our ability to cope. An experience is perceived as stressful when it signifies to you a discrepancy between what “should” be and what is actually occurring. When this disturbance occurs, our body recognizes it as a state of disharmony or threatened stability and engages our bodies innate neurophysiologic alarm system to rectify the perceived stressor. Biochemical (neurotransmitters, peptides, steroids), physiological (heart rate, blood pressure), and behavioral (anxiety, depression, tension). At this point stress begins to wear and tear on the body and, ultimately, leads to physical and/or emotional illness.
Stress is an inflammatory disease! Non-communicable diseases (NCD) like heart disease, chronic lung diseases, cancer, diabetes, and mental illness are overwhelming our medical system every day. The World Health Organization states that NCD constituted more than 36 million deaths (60%) worldwide in 2005, and this is projected to grow significantly by 2030. Stress plays significant roles in the development and exacerbation of these NCD’s.
Today, the scientific community is increasingly interested in understanding the body as a series of complex interactions among thoughts, the body, and the outside world. Our experience of and response to stress is an essential aspect of these interactions. We now know that the majority of all visits to primary care doctors are for stress-related conditions. We also know that mind-body medicine is often the most effective and safest way to reduce stress, promote health and prevent stress related illness and improve our quality of life.