Modern medicine eradicated many diseases that once posed a significant threat to humanity, but a new and relatively invisible issue, which came to be nowadays is stress. Contemporary research demonstrates that psychological and behavioral factors contribute to illness and death in a complex and underresearched way. The modern lifestyle can be highly stressful: it requires significant social interaction and constant busyness. People are experiencing new stress levels due to the modern lifestyle that can drastically affect one’s health and lifestyle. While some consider stress a purely psychological factor, the effect it leaves can be physical and cannot be underestimated. Thus, it is vital to research new ways on how to deal with this issue.
Stress can have many effects on one’s physical health: it can affect a body negatively, which influences the overall health of an individual. It was once considered a purely psychological factor, but modern research also shows it affects physical (somatic) health (Barlow et al., 2018, p. 336). Stress can cause a number of heart issues, such as high blood pressure that result in worsened health conditions and shortened life spans. Cardiovascular diseases are becoming more common due to unhealthy lifestyles, stress, and environmental factors these days. However, it is not the only system affected: the endocrine system is also sensitive to the stress people experience in daily life. It plays an essential part in the immune system, and if damaged, it can result in diseases such as diabetes. As a result of a prolonged and heavy amount of stress, it can overproduce hormones that negatively affect the body and brain. While stress is mainly a psychological factor, it can physically affect a person’s body as well.
Medical research on how psychological stress affects physical health is a relatively recent development. The first western doctors to document and theorize about the interaction between stress and body were Walter Cannon and William James (Robinson, 2018, p. 337). Cannon theorized about homeostasis – a stable of internal balance that a body strives to have, and William James made a series of reviews on emotions and their functions (Robinson, 2018, pp. 335-337). Modern science recognizes stress as a significant factor in health issues: studies to learn how stress affects people’s lives and health are very common nowadays. The study of stress is a growing research field that attracts attention from different branches of science: endocrinologists, psychologists, and chemists, among others. Scientists and doctors alike are developing new ways to deal with stress to improve people’s health.
Medication is often used to deal with the stress of a heavy sort. Doctors use painkillers and antidepressants to treat stress and its results. It is a standard treatment, but it has many adverse side effects: medicine can affect organs, disrupt bodily functions, and become addictive. Many studies (Barlow et al., 2018, p. 351) discovered that patients who use heavier dosages gain less positive effect than those patients who used a smaller amount of medication. As the body adapts to the medicine, it becomes less and less effective, requiring higher dosages, leading to addiction which only adds to the issue. While effective in its way, medication should be used cautiously and accompanied by other forms of treatment.
Meditation and other forms of relaxing exercises are growing in popularity when it comes to stress relief treatment. Many popular forms of meditation are used to help people cope with the anxiety of their daily lives: mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, relaxation response, stress management program, and others. Meditation helps with reducing stress, and it can boost the immune system and fight conditions such as inflammation (Thibodeaux & Rossano, 2018, pp. 3-5). Many people use meditation as an alternative form of treatment when medicine does not help, or its side effects outweigh the positives.
The first two mentioned types are mindful meditation and progressive muscle relaxation. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) involves patient training to focus on one’s senses in a controlled and detached manner. Jon Kabat-Zinn created MBSR, and it is rooted in ancient Buddhist traditions. Mindfulness is achieved when “the individual is able to free their attention and fully experience all aspects of life, coping with negativity in a healthy way” (Thibodeaux & Rossano, 2018, p. 3). Mindfulness is used to treat many conditions: stress, depression, and anxiety. Progressive muscle relaxation is another form of meditation combined with slow breathing, but it is aimed at tensing and relaxing muscles to relax. It was designed by Edmund Jacobson in 1938 to treat chronic pain and stress in patients. By learning how to recognize different kinds of stress in one’s body, the patients learn to reduce it as well.
The other two forms are the relaxation response and stress management program. The relaxation response is a meditation that involves repeating a mantra (focusing one’s mind on a repeated phrase or syllable). It was created by Herbert Benson in 1975 and is done by spending several sessions a day focusing on a single word in a relaxed position to reduce stress. When done right, it can reduce anxiety, stress, and intrusive thoughts in order to calm one’s mind. A stress-management program is another tool to deal with stress in a controlled manner. It requires a patient to closely monitor their level of stress and practice a variety of stress-lowering procedures mentioned in the book (Barlow et al., 2018, p. 352). Even learning the pattern itself can be helpful as it tells people what specific changes they might need to do to cope with stress better.
Both medicine and meditation can be essential and valuable tools when dealing with stress, but both have their downsides that doctors need to take into account. Medicine can treat chronic pain, headaches, and heavier forms of psychological stress. Simultaneously, a doctor needs to closely monitor medication use as its side effects on a patient’s body can be drastic. Medicine can cause dependence as addiction, and its impact can decrease with time as the body gets used to the dosage. A patient might need to increase the volume of medicine they’re taking because it can slowly start losing its effect. Meditation does not have the same negatives as physical and mental exercise modeled to reduce stress. Meditation often requires time and space not always accessible to a patient. Nevertheless, meditation can significantly affect and help patients deal with stress both physically and psychologically without drastic side effects.
Stress became a significant part of people’s daily lives, and it is rapidly becoming one of the significant risks to human health. While it used to be considered a purely psychological factor, recent studies have shown that it affects the whole body in a somatic way. Medication and meditation are both used in medicine to deal with stress in patients, but many factors are to be considered. Meditation as a coping method can be long-lasting and effective in a way medication cannot.
Barlow, D. H., Durand, V. M., & Hofmann, S. G. (2018). Abnormal psychology: An integrative approach (8th ed.). Cengage Learning.
Robinson, A. M. (2018). Let’s talk about stress: History of stress research. Review of General Psychology, 22(3), 334-342.
Thibodeaux, N., & Rossano, M. J. (2018). Meditation and immune function: The impact of stress management on the immune system. OBM Integrative and Complementary Medicine, 3(4), 1-16. Web.