From The Blog

Relaxation is Your Key to Wellness

Did you know that according to recent studies and surveys by the Centers for Disease Control, the United States Census Bureau, and the National Institutes of Health, stress and stress burnout have been called America’s number one health challenge? Did you know that a 2013 study by the American Institute of Stress revealed that 77% of Americans reported regularly experiencing physical symptoms caused by stress, and 73% reported regularly experiencing psychological symptoms caused by stress? Did you know that this same study also reported 76% of Americans cited money and work as their leading cause of stress, and almost half of all Americans reported lying awake at night unable to sleep due to stress?

Did you know that a recent American Academy of Family Physicians study concluded that 2 out of 3 of all office visits to family physicians were due to stress-related symptoms? Did you know that a Veterans Administration Normative Aging study found that men high in optimism were significantly less likely to develop heart disease than men who had a pessimistic outlook? Did you know that a study in the British Medical Journal concluded that work-related stress doubled the risk of dying from heart disease? Did you know that studies by the American Institute of Stress reported that workplace stress causes approximately one million U.S. employees to miss work each day? Did you know that this level of distress costs American businesses over $300 billion every year in lost hours due to absenteeism, reduced productivity, and workers compensation claims?

Several recent studies by the Mayo Clinic concluded that long term activation of the body’s “fight or flight” stress response, known as chronic stress, can potentially disrupt all of your body’s processes. It increases the likelihood that you will face health problems such as anxiety disorders, depression, heart disease, insomnia, memory disorders or difficulty concentrating, and weight gain. Repeated overactivation of your stress response throws your endocrine system out of balance. The result is that too much adrenaline and cortisol then produced by your body. If you do not effectively deal with these habitually high stress levels, chronic stress can have disastrous results leading, in worst case scenarios, to heart attacks, stroke, suicide, and unprovoked violence.

Here is a short list of some of the conditions caused by or aggravated by stress: anxiety, asthma, autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular disease, chronic pain, constipation, depression, diabetes, diarrhea, eating disorders, heartburn, high blood pressure, infertility, insomnia, loss of sex drive, migraine headache, obesity, peptic ulcer, skin problems, substance abuse, and weight gain or weight loss. Given the potentially devastating and debilitating health consequences ignoring chronic stress can have, it is important to learn healthy ways to cope with the stressors in your life. This is why it is so important to learn how to relax; doing so can reduce your chances of developing stress- related illness and disease and perhaps even lengthen your lifespan.

Increasing your awareness of the potentially debilitating role chronic stress can play in your life is the first step towards wellness and healthy well-being. Recent research indicates that any activity which generates the Relaxation Response has positive effects upon your health. These health benefits include lowering your blood pressure, heart rate, metabolism, and rate of breathing. The Relaxation Response was discovered by Herbert Benson, M.D. Simply put, the Relaxation Response is a protective mechanism which counteracts the ravages of stress and is the physiologic counterpart to the “fight or flight” stress response which is activated whenever we feel threatened.

In lay terms, we can simply think of the Relaxation Response as a state of calm where your mind and body are relaxed. This is known as the homeostasis, where the body is functioning in a balanced way. When our body experiences homeostasis, it is in a state of equilibrium, and we feel good and safe, as the body and mind function harmoniously. When you experience the Relaxation Response, many helpful and very beneficial neurochemicals such as oxytocin, serotonin, endogenous morphine, and dopamine are released into your bloodstream. These neurochemicals work together to spike your natural nitric oxide rhythm, thereby reducing your cortisol levels. This process enhances your overall well-being. Consequently, generating the Relaxation Response positively affects your nervous system; this can lead to robust health.

If learning to relax is the key to wellness, how do you do that? Surveys show that many Americans have difficulty relaxing. Here are some proven strategies for generating the Relaxation Response.

Self-Care: Take time to smell the roses. Learning to “slow down” and pause during the day – even for brief periods – it’s a proven strategy for lessening stress. This acknowledges that due to the pace of life, you need to have a regimen that systematically addresses the potential ravages of stress.

Stress Management System: Finding and using a stress reduction system which fits your personality and lifestyle is the key to learning to relax on a daily basis. Any stress management system you use should be fun for you and you should look forward to using it daily. Every day examples of stress management programs which teach you to relax and keep you relaxed are Alexander Technique, Aromatherapy, Art Therapy, Biofeedback, Feldenkrais, Holotropic Breathwork, Ideokinesis, Massage Therapy, Meditation, Music Therapy, Neurofeedback, Open Focus Technique, Pilates, Tuning Fork Therapy, and Yoga.

Self-Talk: Several studies indicate that people who have a positive attitude tend to live longer and have a better quality of life. Eliminating negative words and thinking lifts your mood by changing what you are paying attention to – most modern research shows that what you pay attention to and give energy and focused concentration to expands. Focusing on positive self-talk can therefore make you feel better and improve your health simultaneously.

Gratitude and Forgiveness: Recent studies of the positive effects of meditation show that expressing gratitude and forgiveness lead to states of compassion for yourself and others. Letting go of old grudges releases negative energy and painful memories.

So yes, there is hope. You can relieve and reduce your stress by taking steps to make lifestyle changes that generate a Relaxation Response. Doing so will improve your mood and the overall quality of your life.