Coping and management of stress and building resilience.
Gebrewahid Woldu 02-15-21
At this unprecedent horrifying period of our people’s history, we are all under tremendous stress and this is a brief discussion about evidence based coping mechanism to lessen the effect of stress.
Stress and it’s impact on our health:
There is times where stress could be necessary for survival. In response to life threatening situations such as threats of animal attack, fire, flood, conflict with other person, hormones called stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol are released to enable us either to defend or escape and has been termed “FIGHT or FLIGHT”. When the stress hormones are release, heart beats fast, muscle tenses , breathing is fast which helps us to take fast action and this a build in system for our survival.
This becomes a problem when these stress hormones are not fully turned off due to low repeated (chronic) exposure to stressors or horrific trauma such as what is happening to our people- indiscriminate shelling, mass murder, rape, starvation. In these cases, the stress hormones remain turned on and the stress response is considered maladaptive or unhealthy. Many condition that can expose to chronic stress could be, work related, illness, family situation, death etc.
One of the known consequence of traumatic experience is-POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER (PTSD) .
This is a traumatic experience which scars a victim of rape, civilians living in war zone, physical assault, accidents, sudden loss of family or witnessing a violent killing, all of which has happened and is happing to our people. People with PTSD experience intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, dreams. Due to their emotional scar, in the attempt of avoiding reminders they withdraw/isolate from society, and they will experience sleep disorders, anxiety and depression. Of course, not all people handle all circumstances the same way.
Chronic stress which results from low and continuous elevated cortisol level is harmful to our health. Majority of Americans report moderate to high level of stress, due to the COVID-19. Many people are fearful of death from COVID-19, loss of income, confined at home etc. according to studies chronic stress is linked to most of the major chronic condition in the west- heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, autoimmune disease, cancer. It can affect our immune system (our defense) which increases our susceptibility to common infections. Stress makes people gain weight as a result of eating unhealthy, high calories -sweat and salty which are comfort foods.
Health problems linked to stress are many but want to mention few examples.
How does stress contribute to cardiovascular disease? The stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine stimulates the release and increase the levels of a cholesterol called Triglyceride and other fats such as LDL cholesterol ( called “ Bad cholesterol”) and these fats are deposited on the artery wall and eventually leading to heart attack. There is also a condition called “Broke heart syndrome” which named now as stress cardiomyopathy. This type of heart condition is due severe physical or emotional experience for example death of loved one.
Stress also causes elevated blood pressure which in turn damages the hearts blood vessels and other organs leading to increase risk of heart disease.
Diabetes (which is called the black death of the 20th century) is another condition that can be affected by stress. Stress may not cause diabetes but makes difficulty to control it. Diabetes another topic that requires separated discussion but 1 out of 10 American have type 2 diabetes. There are over 422 million diabetic people worldwide according to the 2016 WHO report and is often the result of obesity and stress a risk for weight gain.
What are the coping and management of stress?
The whole idea is to lower and counterbalance the stress hormones.
It will take an extraordinary effort and time to repair the damage perpetrated by the barbaric action of chauvinist, Isaias and Abiy. I was told about 2 young girls that were raped, who disappeared from their town because people started gossiping about the ordeal. It is possible this could be part of the campaign to break the fabric of our people, otherwise I can’t imagine a sensible human being will resort to this kind of cruelty. Nevertheless, this traumatic experience is to last for long time, and we have to get the message to our people that these victims needs the support of all of us. Specially the religious leaders, elders, family, neighbors that theses victims are in danger with their lives and everyone should rise to their help. The dismantling of the health system makes it even more critical that the community reach out their neighbors and lend a helping hand.
2. To the rest of us (unrealistic to people in Tigray)
Exercise, healthy eating, and adequate sleep.
Experts say if exercise was available as pill, everyone would have been taking it. (this also a broad topic). exercise has beneficial effect on practical every medical condition, but today’s discussion is as it relates to stress reduction. Exercise induces the production of endorphins (“Happy Hormones”) . You may also have heard “runners high”. You get high without the cost and side effect of drugs. People who regularly exercise have lower level of cortisol and report lower stress level.
THE EFFECT OF DIET AND ADEQUATE SLEEP ON STRESS.
People who are stressed tend to eat not only more but also unhealthy foods – sweat, and fatty, high in calories which are considered” comfort food).
Eating healthy diet, getting adequate sleep, 7 to 8 hours a night, exercising regularly helps managing stress and helps to build strong immune system. On the other hand, lack of sleep, inactivity can lead to vicious cycle, high cortisol level, eating more and unhealthy foods gaining weight and leading to a host of chronic medical conditions.
3.Other Relaxation techniques:
DEEP BREATHING- also called “diaphragmatic breathing, abdomen breathing, belly breathing”.
Slow and deep breathing, five to six deep breath a minute and few times a day total about 15 minutes a day lowers the effect of stress.
Laughter, meditation, prayer, yoga can also help to reduce stress.
Laughter is thought to be the antidote (that counter acts) to stress Cortisol acts as an immunosuppressant and laughter lower cortisol and helps to improve immune function.
Resilience is the ability dealing with stressful situation. I know no other society that is more resilient than the people of Tigray, but our people are facing the most cruel and horrific condition. We owe our people to build our resilience because we are all needed. Tigray needs all of us because when this over we have to build It. Our overall wellness depends on the ability to cope with the situation we are facing and supporting each other will build our resilience.
Tigray will prevail.