The art of relieving stress

Ingy Deif, Thursday 5 Apr 2012

Ahram Online probes the link between stress and disease - and ways to relieve the burden

(Photo: Reuters)

“The link between stress or anxiety as well as the occurrence of depression and the deterioration of a person's immunity level is well established,” says Abdel Hadi Misbah, Professor of Immunology and fellow professor of The American Academy of Immunology.

“It was clarified in the research presented at the annual convention of the American Association by Steven Meyer, professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado, as being due to the mutual relation between brain cells and those of the immunity system; the research focuses on what is called 'Non-specific immune response' which is the initial phase of responding to an external infection before the immunity defends the body, but prior to that the person experiences symptoms that prove the link between infection and psychological well-being. Many other studies confirmed the relation between depression, stress and the immunity level.”

Countering stress
Misbah advocates the benefits of what therapists call “mature coping mechanism,” in which people find comfort and serenity in the face of stress and misfortune through a deeper understanding of what life is all about and an appreciation of what is important and true in it, which is attained primarily through faith.

He also stresses that simple, yet utterly true fact that laughter reduces the level of stress hormones and gives the immunity a boost by increasing antibodies and infection-fighting T cells. Finally, Misbah stresses that there is no simpler, more attainable technique for combating stress than having a regular deep sleep.

In order to attain the required level of sleep in terms of both quality and quantity, the following is recommended:

•    Don’t go to bed unless you have the urge to sleep, and if you are not asleep in thirty minutes, leave your bed and get yourself engaged in some other activity, provided that it doesn’t involve acute concentration or overexcitement.

•    Try to set a fixed time for getting into and out of bed. Your bed is for sleeping, not reading or watching television, and don’t stay in bed after you wake up.

•    Try to orient your sleeping position so that your head points to the north and your feet to the south, as this comes in harmony with the magnetic field of the earth, providing the body with maximum energy and helping to achieve a higher level of comfort and relaxation.

•    Avoid watching television at least half an hour before going to bed: reading should be restricted to uncomplicated materials.

•    Avoid caffeine in beverages and chocolate six hours before retiring.

•    Avoid overheating the bedroom, and take a short, warm bath an hour or two before sleeping; relaxation techniques such as yoga are helpful, so are that relax the stiff muscles of the body after a long hectic day.

•    Calcium and tryptophan in a hot glass of milk can induce sleep and relaxation, so can soothing herbal drinks.

•    One of the biggest mistakes is taking sleeping pills or sedatives on a regular basis; a doctor must keep track of your consumption to avoid total reliance.


According to Mrs. Hala Khattar, who specialises in life-coaching consultancy, countering stress and anxiety is an art everybody should master. For her part, she gives the following advice:

•    Learn the art of breathing deeply, whether through mild meditation or through yoga, which helps relieve stress by focusing the breathing.

•    Some people improve their condition through a sport or activity that involves vigorous activity, like the martial arts or competitive sport.

•    If you are one of those people who suffer in silence, try writing down your thoughts and what causes your stress.

•    Engage in a new hobby or try out an adventure; this works miracles in relieving stress.

•    Treat yourself to a soothing experience like a massage or a scented bath, or anything that feels like a self-reward after a busy schedule; this not only gives you added motivation, it also recharges your batteries.

•    Get a companion of another kind: a pet! Companionship of this kind, i.e. caring for a pet, relieves stress to the point of extending lives by reducing the risks of stress-related disease.

•    What you eat can make a big difference: eating carbohydrates by themselves without fats or proteins will provide you with what the brain needs to improve your mood by promoting tryptophan. Always choose wholegrain. The melatonin found in walnuts and dried fruit acts as an anti-stresser and, even as a sedative ingredient.

•    It is perfectly ok to say “no” every now and then if you don’t feel the urge to do what is being asked of you; this is a matter of being honest with yourself and others - not an act of rejection.

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