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Stress is a modern scourge so common that we have normalised it. Enduring negative stress has a disastrous effect on our health – physical, mental and emotional. Physical symptoms of stress include headaches, stomach pains and digestive issues, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, problems sleeping, skin disorders such as dermatitis and eczema, to adrenal fatigue, impacted reproductive ability, to panic attacks, depression and psychosis.

Much research supports the view that stress can cause or worsen certain symptoms or diseases. For many, the erroneous affects of enduring stress know no bounds.

Stress and the adrenal gland
Our bodies respond to stress by changing the secretions of certain hormones and chemicals, most of which originate from the adrenal gland. The adrenal gland produces cortisol, the primary stress hormone. When under constant and enduring stress, prolonged release of cortisol alters our immune system response, leaving us more susceptible to illness, and suppresses the digestive tract, which can make you constipated and ill. Cortisol also increases the levels of glucose in your blood and enhances the brain’s use of glucose, which can leave you craving unhealthy, fatty carbohydrates. Cortisol also effects the reproductive system and other growth processes.

These can lead to heart disease, sleep problems, digestive problems, depression, obesity, memory impairment and worsening of skin problems.  Studies have shown that high levels of cortisol are associated with an increase in risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

Stress and adrenaline
Adrenaline, another stress hormone, causes increased heart rate and blood pressure, and cuts off blood supply to the skin as blood is redirected to the muscles and brain.

Stress hormones can hinder the release of sex hormones, diminishing sperm count, ovulation and sexual desire. In women, prolonged stress frequently results in irregular, painful menstrual cycles, eroded sexual drive and reduced ability to regulate emotions. Prolonged stress in men often brings fatigue and diminished sexual drive.

The impact of stress on the economy
An estimated seven billion dollars in the Australian economy is lost each year through absenteeism, according to Health Services Australia (2002). An astounding $26 billion is lost through Australians not being fully functioning at work because of medical conditions, according to the Econtech report, ‘Economic Modelling of the cost of presenteeism in Australia’ (2007).

Stress and illness at work can be debilitating, leading to lost productivity, high absenteeism and protracted illness, including mental illness. Luckily there’s a solution.

Yoga for stress
Yoga and meditation have been studied by western scientists as possible treatments for depression and anxiety since the 1970s. Numerous randomised controlled trials have concluded that yoga practices reduce physical stress and tension, anxiety and depression.

Researchers in Australia are exploring whether yoga could be beneficial to disabled Australian Vietnam veterans diagnosed with severe post traumatic stress disorder who have a heavy daily drinking habit. The yoga and breathing group showed reduced CAPS scores from moderate to severe symptoms to mild to moderate, improvements which persisted at a six-month follow-up while the control group showed no improvement.

Yoga has been shown to restrain stress response systems which, in turn, decreases physiological arousals such as heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration. Evidence suggests that yoga regulates our body’s endocrine, respiratory and circulatory systems, most notably, restorative yoga, which spends more time on pranayama breathing techniques, relaxation and meditation.

In a German study published in 2005, women who described themselves as “emotionally distressed” undertook yoga for a period and reported improvements in perceived stress, depression, anxiety, energy, fatigue, and wellbeing. Complaints of headaches, back pain, and poor sleep quality were resolved far more in the yoga group than the control group of non-yogis.

Enduring, persistent stress may be common, but it is not normal. Insidious stress does not need to be tolerated and placating oneself with alcohol or other stimulants only causes more problems in the long-term. Claim your health and vitality with restorative yoga.

Harvard Health Publications.

By Brook McCarthy, Yoga Reach.

Article Written: March 2013