Stress is the sum of mental and physical anxieties.

Stress and Relaxation

The term ‘stress’ represents the physical and emotional reactions of our body and mind when we are functioning above our normal threshold. When our exposure to stress becomes excessive it can adversely affect our health, disrupting our hormonal balance, immune resistance and mental health.

Understanding Stress and Relaxation

The term ‘stress’ represents the physical and emotional reactions of our body and mind when we are functioning above our normal threshold. When our exposure to stress becomes excessive it can adversely affect our health, disrupting our hormonal balance, immune resistance and mental health.

The term ‘stress’ can be difficult to define. The Oxford medical dictionary defines it as “Any factor that threatens the health of the body or has an adverse effect on its functioning, such as injury, disease or worry. The existence of one form of stress tends to diminish resistance to other forms. Constant stress brings about changes in the balance of hormones in the body.” Stress is implicated in many health problems from insomnia to dermatitis to IBS to overt anxiety. It can be perceived as ‘living beyond our threshold’ or ‘living beyond our means’. Stress is, therefore, a general term that, if excessive, can impair health and drastically impact on quality of life. 

Here we will refer to stress as relating to the mental and physical anxieties that can arise as a result of our own personal resources being superseded by life’s demands.

The Ayurvedic view of stress

Ayurveda sees stress as an aggravation of the subtle aspects of the nervous system that are regulated by a principle known as vataVata describes one of the three key Ayurvedic dosha, or constitutions. Vata has qualities of being light, subtle, erratic, sensitive and is easily disturbed by too much sensory stimulation, too much food, too much time pressure and too many telephone calls.  It is also aggravated by too much fear and anxiety. All of these effects result in a depletion of the body and mind’s ability to cope with life’s experiences; we become tired, fatigued, weakened.

Vata is responsible for regulating inputs and outputs in the body and mind. It is the regulator of homeostasis in the system to ensure a stable inner environment. Failure of this regulating system, or its inability to adapt can lead to stress and its concurrent pathologies.

Conventional treatments for stress:
  • Analgesics: Pain killers such as Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), Opioids
  • Hypnotics: Sleep inducers that depress brain function such asbenzodiazepams (eg. loprazolam, valium) and barbituates
  • Anti-anxiety drugs: Promote the action of GABA (gamma-amniobutyric acid) which binds to neurons, blocking transmission of impulses and therefore reducing brain cell communication such as by benzodiazepines and beta-blockers (eg. atenolol) that block the action of noradrenaline in the body and therefore reduce the activity of the sympathetic nervous system.
  • Anti-depressant medication: SSRI’s (eg. fluoxetine, prozac etc) and tricyclic anti-depressants (amitriptyline etc) block the reuptake of serotonin and noradrenaline. Mono Amine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs) block the breakdown of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and noradrenaline.
  • Anti-psychotics: Phenothiazine anti-antipsychotics and butyrophenone antipsychotics work by binding to receptor sites that block the uptake of the excitatory chemicals dopamine and also serotonin.

Risks associated with conventional treatments:

  • Addiction and the suppression of causative factors
  • NSAIDs: Intestinal inflammation and bleeding
  • Benzodiazepams: Reduce motivation and increase apathy, addiction, withdrawal symptoms, nightmares, dizziness and forgetfulness
  • Anti-depressants: Slow to act, overdosing can be critical and dangerous, possible disruption to heart rhythms, muscular spasms, increases in blood pressure, blurred vision, headaches and nausea

Many herbs are suitable for self-care. However if a health condition does not resolve with home remedies we recommend using the information in Herbal Reality along with your health advisors, especially herbal practitioners from the professional associations listed in our Resources page (‘If you want to find a herbalist”). When buying any herbal products, you should choose responsible manufacturers with independently assured quality standards and sustainability practices. Check the label carefully for the appropriate safety and sustainability information.

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