I've been reading a book called "Why Zebras don't get ulcers" by Dr. Robert Sapolsky. While I am not overly smitten with zebras or ulcers, this book is really about stress and how we humans create it, handle it, suffer from it, and how it sometimes leads to diseases we never thought had anything to do with it.
Turns out that initially when faced with stress , we have what is called a sympathetic nervous system, that kind of activates parts of the body by releasing certain hormones. Adrenalin secreted by the adrenal gland sitting on top of kidneys, and noradrenalin , secreted by nerve endings elsewhere. This causes all sorts of things to gear up to handle the stress, such as the pancreas which start making glucagon to cater to the increased glucose required by your muscles; or like the suppression of the reproductive hormones, estrogen/progesterone etc, because you don't want to complicate a stressful situation with surprise events; the growth related hormones, and the insulin are both kept under control and inhibited, as the body , single mindedly mobilizes to face the stress, ignoring future needs. The hypothalamus in the brain orders the heart to beat more strongly rushing blood around to the needed places like muscles, at the same time rationing the supply to places that it considers not so important then; arteries constrict so that when they open up the blood is delivered with more force, and a hormone called vasopressin, even keeps in balance the water content of the blood, so the blood can flow around in an optimum manner delivering glucose, oxygen and needed stuff in the best way possible.
The trouble is, if this keeps happening for a long time, again and again, the brain gets mislead into thinking that its a comfortable state for you to be in, , and the bottom line, as such, as far as your body goes, changes. It is like a middle class, rule obeying, hesitant person, who used to be a god fearing, simple type, who followed instructions, suddenly getting used to the good life or bad life (depends on who is looking) , say, in show business etc, and subsequently, you change, as some of the stress handling changes become yours for life.
Depression, anxiety states, obsessive-compulsive disorder, diabetes mellitus, some autoimmune diseases, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, reproductive problems, and suppression of the immune system, are some of the diseases arising from abusing the stress response.
From being the nice simple, quick stress handling system that did its work and got back to its normal day-to-day life, this now becomes like someone who has gone up so much in life., that simple things are forgotten, and you become more comfortable with rich diseases of a careless life .
Sometimes I think our government must have read Sapolsky's book.
Take any field, and we specialize in ignoring the basic stuff , never returning to the base, and mess around desperately with the complicated.
What can you say, about an education minister flying around signing MOU's with Ivy League Universities to bring in Foreign-Direct-Investment(FDI) as it is called, in Education in India ? What can you say about a department that is obsessed over entrance exams to colleges, and creation of more and more colleges , while primary education in the country continues to lie in doldrums? How many municipal schools in Mumbai have decent premises, with drinking water and decent toilets for the children ? Do the folks in state capitals who spend most of their time politicking even worry about infrastructure available to a teacher in a school in a remote village with no power ?
What can you say about a state government that gives more importance to free laptops for ministers (who think Windows is something for enjoying the breeze), and complicated compositions of disaster management committees, but doesn't bother about giving extra water pumps, larger road repair budgets, higher budgets and facilities for police and firemen, and thinks their work is done once they announce ex-gratia payments and compensations to those affected by the disasters, like say, Mumbai faces every year? Do they worry about monitoring and supervising the work assigned to the contractors, possibly at a great monetary loss to themselves at time ?
Even the Met department fails. (So what's new ?:-) ) Thanks to the satellite pictures, they excel at the high end, predicting cyclones and storms. They operate at such a macro level, that they recently predicted the Cyclone 'Phet', as scheduled to cause problems in Karachi , coastal Pakistan, after doing a show of its might in Gujarat in India. What actually happened is that Mumbai had its first wonderful monsoon rain, and parts of the Rajasthan Desert that never had rain for years suddenly had huge floods with loss of life and houses and livestock. They never predicted this.
But ask them for a rain prediction for tomorrow, and they start waffling about westerly disturbances. Two days ago , Mumbai got its first decent rain. Nobody asked, but they said this wasn't the monsoon, which would be arriving 48 hours later. Needless to say, we have been immediately carrying umbrellas everywhere, and have succeeded in protecting ourselves from the frequent rain, monsoon or not. The Met has reached the autoimmune stage, misguiding the people it is supposed to serve, where nobody believes in its predictions, and it exists, simply because across the years, nobody questioned its performance, while pushing additional resources to it, again and again.
I hate to say this, but even sports suffers. The government is obsessed with the Indian Premier League (Cricket), now that several folks have made money, and some who wanted to, probably didn't. So there are high end enquiries, machinations, statements, declarations, while District Sport Offices, throw their empty hands up, when questioned about , say, simple dorm facilities, kits and refreshments for school meets. The talk is all about politicisation of the Commonwealth Games 2010, which games to include, which to disallow, and whether the contractors will complete the stadiums. In the meanwhile, swimming pool floors at various public swimming pools in Mumbai, continue to have dangerous broken tiles, rusted railings, and faulty filtering plants, for lack of funds.
Our powers that be have reached the stage of autoimmune disease. They actually attack their own. And every citizen is considered guilty until proven innocent, in all aspects of living, whether is taxes, banks, voting, or anything. Those in power, are so drunk, they are, like antibodies, anti people.
Not surprisingly, one of the approved and proven ways of handling the stress response is through proper Yoga practice, something that is India's gift to the world, and practiced by millions across the world.
It needs sustained practice, thought and a dedicated attitude. Similar to thoughtful formulation and practice of national policies for the good of the ordinary man.
Something possible for each of us , individually.
But how do you convince our autoimmune, stressed, money obsessed powers that be ?