No, this isn’t one of those advertisements in the backs of magazines that makes you laugh at its crazy claims. More and more research demonstrates that stress causes aging at the cellular level and interferes with health, effective problem solving, memory, mood, and concentration. If you exercise your mind with a relaxation technique, you’re strengthening your physical, emotional, and mental functioning, and, you’ll feel calmer and more in control. No one is immune from stress. As a “Saturday Night Live” alum observes:
“Reality is the leading cause of stress among those in touch with it”
We all experience stress in our lives, but we can choose how to respond to it. If you smiled when you read Lily Tomlin’s quote, you already took a step toward maximizing your stress hardiness! Humor is a terrific stress buster. Norman Cousins laughed his way to health and wrote about his recovery in a fascinating book titled Anatomy of an Illness.
There are many other ways to take charge of stress. If you learn them, AND use them, you will be improving your health and mood. Stress management is as important as healthy eating and regular exercise. Here are some easy-to-use and popular techniques. See which one works for you, and practice it daily for 15 minutes. And if you like, you can use the strategy you select as often as you like. Unlike medications, there are no side effects, except an enviable state of well being!
- The Relaxation Response: This is an easy-to-learn form of meditation popularized by Dr. Herbert Benson in a book by the same name. Or you can get a meditation CD by John Kabat-Zinn, whose work on mindfulness meditation is also wonderful for people experiencing any kind of physical discomfort or pain. Another good choice is “Meditation for Relaxation,” which includes a small book on the practice, available from our Spa Store.
- Imagery Exercises: In imagery, relaxation is produced through a combination of techniques that engage your mind and body in visualizations and affirmation, and work to provide you with motivation as well as stress reduction. A series of these CDs, featuring Belleruth Naperstek , is available through our Spa Store, or directly at HealthJourneys.com. There is a CD on General Wellness as well as other selections focused on specific conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
- Diaphragmatic Breathing: Shallow breathing both causes and results from anxiety, so it’s important to correct this condition (also known as hyperventilation syndrome). Breathing from the belly (diaphragm), while keeping your chest stable, results in a feeling of calm and peace. Practice this lying down on your bed or a couch, with one hand on your chest and the other covering a large book that is placed on your stomach. To learn this technique, try to push the book up with your belly, on the inhale, then exhale. Aim for the following rhythm: INHALE 2 3 4; EXHALE 2..3..4..5. The goal is to take 6 breaths a minute, using 10 seconds per inhale/exhale. Practice this for 3 to 5 minutes in the morning, and repeat in the evening.
- Repetitive Exercise: Swimming laps or running, while remaining mindful of your movements and environment (e.g., the feel of your arms moving through the water, or your heels hitting the ground) are also options that work to achieve a calm state of mind.
Any one of these practices can reduce your heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, respiratory rate, and enhance your feelings of well being. With time, you’ll also notice that you have more control over your moods, and that you don’t sweat the small stuff. And less stress means less overeating! What great returns on a 15-minute-a-day investment.
Have a relaxing weekend.
Director of Behavioral Health and Wellness
Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa