By Prof Agyeman Badu Akosa
(In Accra – Ghana)
Stress is a natural component of everyday living and as is said the body requires a bit of it to keep it in shape and focus. It is a bit like an organization undergoing fire drills to keep the system in good nick. The body practices preparing itself for fight, flight and freeze as the acceptable reactions in times of stress, the first two being the most common in times of danger.
The body’s biochemical systems control the reactions. Two hormones produced by the adrenal medulla and cortex are paramount in the preparations. Adrenaline is secreted by the adrenal medulla and it causes the ‘get go’ sympathetic nervous system to respond by increasing pulse rate and blood pressure, decrease blood sugar level by pushing the sugar into the tissues and shunting of blood from the digestive tract to the muscles, all in preparation for heightened body activity.
Effects of the adrenaline increases metabolism and generates increased energy, for effective action. These actions are all quick and purposeful. Once the threat is dealt with the body reorganizes itself through the secretion of cortisol from the adrenal cortex, which brings the body to normal. It sets another chain reaction to decrease pulse rate and blood pressure and increases blood sugar level, the opposite of what prepares the body for action.
The time it takes to return the body to normal varies from person to person. People with a greater ability to control their emotions do a better job. The stew of stress hormones secreted when a person is upset, takes hours to become reabsorbed in the body and fade away. Within the time to full withdrawal of the hormones the slightest upset mounts an even exaggerated response. It is the reason why in a fight or quarrel anything said however innocuous creates its own chain reaction. It is the touching of a raw nerve.
In the scenarios where there is no need to fight or flight, the absence of physical danger, the energy generated must find expression. Most of the stress of today’s existence fall into this category. It is in our everyday life, work related, relationships, sibling rivalry or quarrels, examinations or interviews and on the roads, pervasive in character. These are described as environmental stress. The other is internal stress. People usually bring it on themselves; worrying about things we know we have no control over.
Others invariably and knowingly put themselves in stressful situations. The short-term stress leads to a faster pulse or heartbeat and rapid breathing, Increased sweating and creating a sick feeling in the stomach described as ‘butterflies’. It also leads to headaches, tense feeling, difficulty in concentration and a sense of frustration.
It is however, the slow decline in hormones and the regularity of arousals that appear to constantly mount a heightened agitation that leads to long term symptoms of headaches, poor sleep, poor appetite, nervous disposition, fatigue, confused and unable to take decisions. It may affect personal appearance, mood swings and lead to dependence on food, alcohol, tobacco and drugs and also affect sex life.
There must be a masterful way to overcome stress and all its associated consequences on the body. Many ways have been proposed including relaxation, long walks and regular exercises, listening to good music, reading a good book, watching a good film, comedy, meditation, reducing work load and creating time with friends as a support network. Others ways also include understanding the body and how it deals with emotions and influencing it to make it beneficial such as a positive attitude and optimistic outlook.
The ability to understand, appreciate and control one’s emotions and also recognize and value the emotions of others is what has been described as Emotional Intelligence and has spawned a whole industry of books, videos and workshops. It is about knowing oneself very well, critically assessing self and boosting the individual’s self confidence in conjunction with being socially aware, able to accurately assess people’s emotions and understanding what is going on within them and creating opportunities to know and develop others and the culture of mutual harmony.
Anyone who is described as emotionally intelligent knows how to live in his environment and creates a harmonious relationship with many if not all people. Such persons are not easily distracted and stressed out and maintain a level of control of themselves and faculties. It is the reason why they do better in life because they not only present a calm exterior but have an assurance within themselves as well. This is a type of intelligence that many must learn to keep them cool and calm and not easily affected by the many goings on. It is particularly important in those who create internal stress and worry about things outside their control. A suggestion to inculcate the principles into high school teaching must be adopted.
The role of the many listed strategies are all to bring the body’s temperature and pressure to as near baseline or rested levels as possible. Emotional surgery is a new concept introduced by a Ghanaian artist Robert Grimmond-Thompson with a deep knowledge and understanding of psychology and neuroscience. The concept recognizes surgery as a huge emotional activity for everybody and uses colours and abstract objects to speak through the eyes to the brain to reassure the mind. It is reminiscent of hypnosis but self-induced and brings all components of the body, organs and all, to a base equilibrium.
It is best prior to being given anaesthesia after the anaesthetist has done his/her pre-assessment. Either as a slide show or video, the patient is introduced to an array of colours and objects in a soothing mix that slowly and gradually bring the body’s activities to its resting level. The patient is rid of all anxiety and a minimum anaesthetic dose may be enough to allow surgery to take place successfully.
It is even better if the patient is introduced to emotional surgery when surgery is being contemplated. It allows the decision to have the surgery to be made, devoid of anxiety and in an emotionally pleasing atmosphere that will boost the confidence of the surgeon and the rest of the team. Again because of the state of equilibrium in which patient was prior to surgery, recovery from anaesthesia is quick and hopefully, also from the surgery.
Emotional surgery can be introduced as a television programme for winding down after a hard day’s work or as a montage for viewing either at home or in a gallery. The pervasiveness of general anxiety in today’s society must make a programme such as this an everyday endeavour and a must watch that will bring quietness, calmness and serenity to the soul. All patients with stress related diseases in particular the non-communicable diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and a myriad of nervous disorders must incorporate emotional surgery into their management. The businessmen and women and high-end executives need emotional surgery to reduce their anxiety levels. It could be incorporated into strategic planning and team building regimen to create a harmonious work environment.
As a Ghanaian, I feel proud about emotional surgery and the originator being Ghanaian makes it even more worthwhile. I have always believed that where a disease abounds the treatment or mitigation lurks in the backyard. Ghana unfortunately has an explosion of non-communicable diseases and there is no concerted effort to find the reasons for the epidemic. A 2% prevalence for hypertension in the 1950s has now become almost 50% in some studies and 0.2% for diabetes in the 1960s is now almost 10%. Anywhere else the alarm bells would have sounded a longtime ago and research work started on why the explosion. In a country where no money is spent on research, nothing happens other than diagnosis and treatment. It is business as usual.
At least Grimmond-Thompson’s artistry may give many Ghanaians some respite by bringing our body and soul into equilibrium.
Pictures – Courtesy of Robert Grimmond-Thompson
The article was first published in Daily Graphic on 18/04/18