ALL OF us in this modern day and age must deal with stressful situations at one time or another. Many of us have different ways of dealing with the rising tide of anger and frustration and the resulting tension that we may feel. Some of us may present a calm exterior to those around us and may have learned to squelch these inner feelings of stress. While appearing calm on the surface we may burn with indignation and, consequently, indigestion.
We may, on the other hand, deal with our inner feelings of anger and frustration by exploding and blowing off steam. In this case we transmit these feelings to some inanimate object or other person.
Either of these ways is inadequate and leads to problems. Squelching it may lead to ulcers, and letting it out may lead to poor interpersonal relationships with others.
How is it that these feelings of stress come into being? They arise from factors within an individual, which either are being currently affected or previously affected by environmental factors from outside the person. For in stance, as an example of stress originating from within, we may think certain thoughts that bring on tension. As these thoughts deepen, we go round and round with them in our minds until we are beside ourselves with frustration and anxiety.
On the other hand, relation ships with a boss or contact with some other individual in our environment may cause tension. This triggers internal attitudes which bring on a mounting tide of disturbing thoughts. From these observations we can arrive at a definition of emotional stress. Emotional stress is any feeling of discontent or anxiety that is brought on by the effects of internal attitudes or feelings, and which may or may not have immediate contributory external factors.
Feelings of Inadequacy
Let's take an example from practical life to illustrate this concept. A person who feels inadequate and does not have proper self-respect may be hesitant in his speech and feel fearful when con versing with others. Oftentimes he will make continual apologies for his ideas because he is afraid that others may not accept him. Because of his hesitancy and constant apologies, others learn to value his comments less than the comments of those who seem more sure of themselves. There fore, they have a tendency to pass him by in a conversation.
The inadequate person is there fore caught up in a round of circumstances, owing to his own projections, which tend to deepen his own problem and cause greater inadequacy. His feelings, therefore, affect his capabilities and his capabilities become a product of his feelings. How does all this get started? It begins soon after birth and continues through life as we learn to relate to people and circumstances around us. There is one common denominator in all such situations, and that is fear. Fear of one's own capabilities or inadequacies; fear of what others may think; fear of nonacceptance.
Let's look at how these feelings of fear and frustration affect us physically. Dr. Hans Selye, the director of the University of Montreal's Institute of Medicine and Surgery, has shown that rats under a variety of stresses develop the following: a rise in blood pres sure and blood sugar, tightening of the arteries, an increase in stomach acidity, an increase in the amount of fat in the blood, and an increase in the level of cholesterol in the blood. Upon surgery it was found that the adrenal glands were enlarged, the lymphatic glands were shrunken, and peptic ulcers had developed.
How do these physical results of stress affect our health? We all know that the disease of hyper tension is characterized by high blood pressure. Medical advice given to such individuals is to live a quiet, peaceful life with as little stress as possible. This is because the emptying of fat into the blood, an increase in blood sugar> and an increase in cholesterol are all implicated in heart disease, in which cholesterol is deposited on the inner surfaces of the arteries and may cause a stoppage of blood flow. If this cessation in the flow of blood takes place in the arteries leading to the heart, a heart attack results. Clogging of the arteries is also implicated in the heart disease, angina pectoris. Another effect of stress is the condition which is known as "acid indigestion." This may lead to peptic ulcers if stress becomes a way of life.
Shrinkage in the lymphatic system, which may be due to emotional stress, may have much to do with a person's becoming less resistant to disease organisms, since it is through the lymphatic system that disease organisms are combated. Tension headaches, which also may be a result of this kind of stress, are all too common to some of us. Even skin disease can be brought on by the physical effects of emotional stress.
Obesity, a common problem in today's society, may be the result of people's methods of dealing with emotional problems. All of us have heard of cases where a wife runs to the refrigerator to soothe her anger after an argument with her husband. Or perhaps we have heard of an overweight person who, when attending college, relieved his anxiety over an upcoming test by eating.
How the Mind Affects the Body
All these physical effects draw our attention to the following quotation found in the volume, The Ministry of Healing, page 241: "The condition of the mind affects the health to a far greater degree than many realize. Many of the diseases from which men suffer are the result of mental depression."
How does the mind affect the body and its health? Primarily, this is the result of an interaction within the nervous system. There are two main divisions in the nervous system one called the voluntary nervous system, which is under the control of the will. This voluntary system makes it possible for one to move his arm or leg whenever a command is sent from his brain requiring such a motion. The other division of the nervous system is called the involuntary nervous system. It is not under the control of the will but is primarily affected by the emotions. This system, also called the autonomic nervous system, is that part of the nervous system that is primarily affected by emotional stress. The involuntary system is in turn subdivided into sympathetic and parasympathetic parts. The word "sympathetic" emphasizes the fact that the nerves are affected by or are sympathetic to our feelings.
Reactions taking place within this involuntary nervous system are ordinarily influenced by our changing thought patterns. For in stance, if I walk along a woodland path on a weekend afternoon after a large noon meal, I probably feel somewhat lethargic because most of the blood has been taken from the brain and muscle areas and is being concentrated in the areas around the digestive organs to bring about digestion. The glands of the stomach are secreting digestive juices and the wall of the stomach has increased its activity and movement. These reactions are a result of the impulses coming to the digestive organs through the parasympathetic division of the involuntary nervous system.
However, as I turn a corner in the path I come face to face with a large black bear. Immediately certain things happen in response to the emotional fear and stress that suddenly grip me. The sympathetic division of the involuntary nervous system takes over. It now sends more impulses to the organs than does the parasympathetic division. The blood surrounding the intestinal organs is redirected to the muscles, the heart begins to pound, moving the blood around more quickly and giving added oxygen and food to the muscles. My pupils grow larger in order that I may better see every movement that the bear makes. Digestive processes are shut down, and the body is ready for flight. From this illustration we can see why it isn't a good thing to carry on an argument or get involved in stressful situations either during or after a meal, as it will interfere with digestion.
Must Change Our Feelings
We have little control over the physical reactions that come about as a result of our feelings except as we change our feelings. An example of this is the person who feels ashamed or bashful and consequently blushes. He may not wish to blush, but he can't help it. It's a natural reaction to his emotions.
Another rather dramatic and quite rare example, and yet not unknown, is evident when, under prolonged sadness, an individual's heart is slowed and may even stop. Sometimes when a husband and wife have been very close in their relationship and one of them dies, the other may also die within a matter of days.
We can see, then, how much effect our feelings can have upon our physical condition, and are reminded of the Biblical prescription found in Proverbs 17:22, "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine."
A person under the emotion of joy feels good, and his body functions are stimulated and helped because of the profound interaction between the mind and the body. It has been estimated by some that as high as 90 percent of all our physical problems have their roots in mental conditions.
Another quotation found in The Ministry of Healing emphasizes the fact that right attitudes contribute much to health. "Grief, anxiety, discontent, remorse, guilt, distrust, all tend to break down the life forces and to invite decay and death. . . . Courage, hope, faith, sympathy, love, promote health and prolong life." --Page 241.
We can therefore see that continually looking upon the dark side of life may actually shorten life, bring on disease, and even cause death; on the other hand, a sense of trust in God and the focusing of our attention on the positive aspects of life, and look ing for good in others, may actually increase the life span as well as better one's health and general vitality.