Stressed? Read This

September 30, 2011 in General, Health, Immune System by Mary Ireland

I don't know about you, but it seems to me that the world is a lot more stressful than it used to be. With the 24-hour news cycle, we are bombarded with news of terrible things happening all over the world. In an effort to get higher ratings, news organizations have become more sensational in their stories and the presentation of those stories. That is my view. Someone else may find the news an accurate and useful reporting of events.

That is the thing about stress - it is a very subjective thing. In his TED talk, "What Bernie Madoff Couldn't Steal from Me, Matt Weinstein quotes Epictetus who was a stoic philosopher from c. 55 to c. 135 C.E. (which is an abbreviation for Common Era and used to be known as A.D. in case anyone else missed that too) as saying, "People are not disturbed by things, but by the view they take of them."

The view that we take of things may play a very important role in our health. A new study from the University of Illinois at Chicago has found another association between stress and the disease. In the study the women who scored highest for stress were more likely to have a more aggressive form of breast cancer. This study confirms the meta-analysis reported by the American Psychological Association of Suzanne Segerstrom, PhD, of the University of Kentucky, and Gregory Miller, PhD, of the University of British Columbia in 2004. Their meta-analysis of nearly 300 studies on health and stress found that chronic stress - ranging from a few days to a few months or years, as happens in real life - can cause a decrease in all aspects of immunity. The meta-analysis also revealed that people who are older or already sick are more prone to stress-related immune changes.

It just isn't the immune system, researchers have also linked early exhibitions of anger in response to stress with development of myocardial infarction later in life. In this study, the highest level of anger was associated with an increased risk of premature cardio vascular disease including premature coronary heart disease and premature myocardial infarction.

The bottom line of this research is that we need to learn healthy responses to stress. In the TED talk that I mentioned earlier, Matt Weinstein suggests that we look at what is really important in our lives. Another strategy that you might find helpful is a meditative technique called the "relaxation response." This technique was pioneered in the U.S. by Harvard physician Herbert Benson in the 1970s.

The relaxation response is a technique designed to elicit the opposite bodily reaction from the stress response. When you practice the relaxation response, you can experience a state of deep relaxation in which you slow down your breathing, pulse rate, blood pressure, and metabolism. Using this technique on a daily basis can help you be happier, lower your blood pressure, and reduce stress.

To practice the relaxation response, first find a quiet place free of distractions.The relaxation response technique consists of sitting quietly with eyes closed for 10 to 20 minutes. Relax your muscles starting with the feet and progressing up to your face. Breathe though your nose in a free and natural way. Silently repeat of a word, sound, or phrase while relaxing.

I learned variation of this technique that you can use instantaneously to relax when you find yourself getting tense. The technique I learned consists of taking in a deep breath, putting a smile on your face - including crinkling the corners of your eyes - and saying a phrase to yourself such as "mind alert, body calm" as you slowly exhale. You may need to do this several times, but you will feel more relaxed - I guarantee.

You may not be able to like or change some of the circumstances that life deals to you - such as losing all of your life savings; but you can control your response to those circumstances and make it the healthiest response possible. Start today; if you are like most people, you will have ample opportunity for practice.