In this fast-paced world of long hours, demanding bosses, challenging time schedules and family pressures, we are bombarded by stress on a daily basis.
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Over time, stress can take its toll. It’s essential that we find ways to eliminate stress from our lives, as even short, stress-free intervals can be beneficial to our health.
But what is stress, and why do we experience it? Our ancestors long ago developed what is called the flight-or-fight response. When faced with stressful situations, our bodies release hormones – adrenaline and noradrenaline or epinerphrine and norepinephrine – to increase heart rate, blood pressure, metabolic rate and blood flow to the muscles, gearing our bodies either to do battle with an opponent or flee.
The fight-or-flight response helped us survive and evolve. But now, when we are confronted with a demanding boss or family pressures, we neither run nor fun – instead, we endure stress.
So how do we sit back, relax, and relieve stress? The Benson-Henry Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital teaches the Relaxation Response. Dr. Herbert Benson, M. D. developed this response which counters the fight-or-flight response.
According to Benson, two essential steps necessary to eliciting the Relaxation Response:
1. Repetition of a word, sound, phrase, prayer or muscular activity.
2. Passively disregarding everyday thoughts that inevitably come to mind and returning to your repetition.
David W. Ewing, Executive Editor, Harvard Business Review says of Dr. Benson’s work: More than 60 to 90 per cent of all visits to healthcare providers are related to stress. The Relaxation Response counteracts the harmful effects of stress in a host of conditions including: hypertension, headaches, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, chronic low back pain, as well as heart disease, stroke and cancer. Indeed, the immune system works best when relaxed.
This technique is our current method of eliciting the Relaxation Response in our continuing studies at Beth Israel Hospital of Boston.
The Relaxation Response:
1. Sit or lay down in a quiet place in a comfortable position. Put on some music if you so choose. (Choose some soothing, rhythmic music or some music you really like that makes you energetic and happy. This will help with positive thoughts and help rule out the negative ones.)
2. Close your eyes.
3. Deeply relax all your muscles, beginning at your feet and progressing up to your face. Keep them relaxed.
4. Breathe through your nose. Become aware of your breathing. Breathe easily and naturally.
5. Continue for 10 to 20 minutes. You may open your eyes to check the time, but do not use an alarm. When you finish, sit quietly for several minutes, at first with your eyes closed and later with your eyes opened. Do not stand up for a few minutes.
6. Do not worry about whether you are successful in achieving a deep level of relaxation. Maintain a passive attitude and permit relaxation to occur at its own pace. With practice, the response should come with little effort. Practice the technique once or twice daily, but not within two hours after any meal, since the digestive processes seem to interfere with the elicitation of the Relaxation Response.
The Relaxation Response works. I first used it to help me deal with severe panic attacks and depression brought on by the sudden death of my older brother. Now, I now use it everyday to relieve stress and achieve total relaxation for at least 30 minutes. I would like to share in detail how I do it.
When I first started it was very hard, and it took a lot of practice for me to excel at it. As I progressed, it was apparent to me that I was going to need to create a safe place for my mind to go; to keep it from wandering and a place that was far away from all distractions.
Eventually, I was able to create a safe place in my mind that I am able to access with ease, which takes me away from all my stress, worries and woes. When I am there, all is well; I am happy, relaxed and free of stress.
What are you waiting for? Give the Relaxation Response a try and see if it works for you.
(Reference: Benson, M.D., Herbert, “The Relaxation Response.” Harper Torch, New York, New York, 2000 (pp. 9)
(Reference: Benson, M.D., Herbert, “The Relaxation Response.” Harper Torch, New York, New York, 2000) (pp. 12)
(Reference: Benson, M.D., Herbert, “The Relaxation Response.” Harper Torch, New York, New York, 2000) (Intro.)
(Reference: Benson, M.D., Herbert, “The Relaxation Response.” Harper Torch, New York, New York, 2000) (pp. 172)