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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Stress, Relaxation and the Mind-Body Connection

It works. Compiled by Dr. Staw from reliable sources, and based on our clinical experience.

Invest a little time in managing your stress through slow, deep breathing, and earn big dividends in a very short time.

In the last few decades, it has become unequivocally clear that the mind can indeed affect the body's health. Frequent unrelieved stress can cause hypertension and raise your cholesterol level. It also directly causes heart disease and other ailments. Stress is difficult to define, and what is stressful to one person may not be stressful to another. One of the best definitions of stress was given by Dr. Herbert Benson (Director Emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital) as a situation which requires a behavioral adjustment. Stress causes an increase in the body's adrenaline production and with it a myriad of physiologic changes such as a rise in heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension and blood-sugar, and excessive sweating. This is the primordial flight-or-fight response which was necessary for the survival of the cave man, but is frequently unsuitable for dealing with the stresses of the modern world. Recurrent stress can make hypertension and other medical conditions permanent. You may not be able to control your stressors (e.g., you can't fire your boss), but by learning how to handle stress you can lower your risk of heart disease and live a healthier, more satisfying life.

Below, find two methods similar in concept, to relax. The first, by eliciting the Relaxation Response; the second by performing Deep Muscle Relaxation exercises. Both are effective, try them!

The Relaxation Response:
The simplest way to reverse the stress response, or the flight-or-fight response, is to breathe deeply and slowly in a controlled fashion, which brings about the desired Relaxation Response.
Take 10-15 minutes each day to practice it, especially when you¹re under stress. Sit comfortably, assume a passive attitude, and wear loose, comfortable clothing.
  1. Close your eyes.
  2. Begin by breathing in through your nostrils while bringing your count slowly to five.
  3. Now begin to exhale; let the air escape through pursed lips, and bring your abdomen back in.
  4. Silently say the word “out” and count slowly to five.

Do this deep breathing for five minutes two or three times a day. With practice, you will be able to count to ten or higher with each breath. After two to three weeks of practice the Relaxation Response will become a part of your system. You can enhance your Relaxation Response if you simultaneously create an image of yourself in a pleasant situation such as breathing ocean air, or the scent of flowers or forests, or sitting in your favorite easy chair at home. After practicing for a while, you'll be able to bring about the Relaxation Response almost at will during most stressful situations by flashing back to the image of your pleasant situation.

Deep Muscle Relaxation:
The following exercises will help your entire body relax. The instructions tell you to tighten and then relax certain muscles or muscle groups in a sequential manner. As you tighten each of these muscles or muscle groups, take a deep breath, and hold that breath for a slow count of 3 to 5 seconds. Then let the air out of your lungs slowly as you relax these muscles. Do it twice for each muscle or muscle group. For optimal results, perform these exercises once in the morning and once in the evening.

  1. Start by getting as comfortable as possible. Take off your shoes. Sit comfortably in a chair or recline in a couch.
  2. Raise your eyebrows as high as possible, feeling the tension build. Hold that tension for a moment. Now relax and feel the tension flow out.
  3. Squeeze your eyes shut as tight as you can. Hold that tension, let it build. Now relax your eyelids. Feel the relief from the tension.
  4. Clench your teeth together tightly. Feel the tension build. Hold it. Relax your jaw, letting it go loose.
  5. Squeeze your entire face into a knot. Hold it there. Hold it. Let the tension build as you squeeze your eyes, mouth and nose together hard. And now relax. Notice how loose and relaxed your whole face feels.
  6. Bring your chin slowly down toward your chest, feeling the tension build in your neck and shoulders. Hold it. And now relax. Feel the relief.
  7. Make your right hand into a tight fist. Raise your right arm to shoulder height, extending it in front of you. Feel the tension build in your clenched fist and arm; keep your arm stretched. Now relax, letting your arm fall slowly to your side.
  8. Make your left hand into a tight fist. Raise your right arm to shoulder height, extending it in front of you. Feel the tension build in your clenched fist and arm; keep your arm stretched. Hold it. Now relax, letting your arm fall back to your side. Relax. Feel the relief in your arms and hands.
  9. Moving on to your stomach, hold these muscles in as tight as you can. Hold it. Let the tension build and now relax.
  10. Raise your right leg parallel to the floor, tensing your thigh and calf muscles and pulling your toes back toward you. Hold it. Feel the tension build. Now let your leg back down and relax.
  11. Now raise your left leg parallel to the floor. Tighten your calf and thigh muscles as you pull your toes back. Let the tension build. Hold it. Now let your leg back down and relax. Feel the sense of relief.

Now stay still and spend a few moments experiencing the deeply relaxed, restful feeling. Sense the quiet and restfulness that comes from releasing the tension in your muscles.
Take a few full, deep breaths. Hold each breath a moment. Then as you slowly exhale, let any remaining anxieties and tensions just flow away.
You are now very deeply relaxed and at ease. Open your eyes, stretch your arms and legs and move them about. Get up when you feel ready.

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