Focus: Health/Wellness – Stress Reduction
• Stress is a normal part of life, but don’t accept it as your normal condition.
• Stress triggers a fight-or-flight response. If you are constantly under stress, you
cannot replenish and heal properly.
• Deep breathing from your diaphragm is the basis of all stress reduction techniques.
• When you learn to relax, you will feel warm and heavy because of increased blood flow and relaxed skeletal muscles.
• Biofeedback allows you to learn to use your subconscious to relieve stress.
• Visualization processes can trick your body into believing it is relaxed.
• Meditation trains your mind to focus and alters your sense of time.
• Gentle exercise will move and relax rigid muscles.
• Use desensitizing techniques to overcome phobias and stressful situations.
You can perform at a higher level by lowering your stress at work.
What You Will Learn
You will learn:
1) Why being under constant stress is unhealthy and unnecessary;
2) How you can use various methods and techniques to relieve stress;
3) Why deep breathing is central to so many stress reduction processes; and
4) How you should use life goals as part of your journey to abolish stress.
Side Effects of Stress
Stress evolved as a response to help individuals either flee from the cause of their stress or fight it. In our modern world, we assume we must simply live with stress and accept it as a part of modern life. Sadly, we don’t see the negative effects on our health and the quality of our lives until it is too late. If you suffer from regular aches and pains, headaches and insomnia, but your doctor has confirmed you don’t have an underlying medical condition, you will benefit from stress reduction. Many people have reduced or eliminated stress and its physical side effects by using these techniques. Everyone needs some stress to motivate and stimulate them, but choosing to take on stress for a specific short-term purpose is very different from accepting unwanted and even unrecognized stress as a constant part of your life.
The fight-or-flight response triggers an array of physical responses, including an increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and an injection of adrenaline and sugar. These should be short-term effects that end when the threat has passed. You relax and your body undoes the effects caused by the sense of threat and stress. Your goal in stress reduction is to learn to call forth this relaxation response. The most important and easiest relaxation technique is to slow down your breathing. Deep, slow breathing can slow your heart rate and help your blood pressure fall. Set aside 20 minutes per day to practice deep breathing and experience the relaxation it brings. You may want to use a tape to talk you through the relaxation exercises, or listen to music. However, pick soothing music that will aid relaxation and meditation, rather than loud music that will excite a stress response.
Breathing properly is part of many treatments and exercises for asthma, yoga, mediation and childbirth. If you put your hand just below your breastplate but above your stomach, you can check how deeply you are breathing. With your hand in place, breathe normally. Does your hand move? If not, you are breathing too shallowly. Deep breathing requires you to use your diaphragm to get air to the bottom of your lungs. Breathe deeply with your hand in place and notice how much it moves. This is the kind of breathing you need to do to relax. Count to eight while breathing in slowly through your nose. When you reach eight, your lungs should be full. Hold your breath to the count of four, but don’t let your breath out explosively. Instead, again counting to eight, slowly breathe out through your mouth until you are actually pushing the last air out of your lungs. Do this exercise 40 times a day and you will notice an increased sense of relaxation.
Train your body to associate feelings, sensations and mental images with relaxation. Autogenics was developed by Johannes Schultz, based on his study of hypnosis. He found that his subjects experienced pleasurable sensations of heaviness and warmth while under hypnosis. Your voluntary muscles relax and thus feel heavy; the warmth you feel is associated with the sensation of blood flowing more freely. You can learn to experience this autogenic response through exercises. The basic exercise will help you associate words and phrases with feeling warm and relaxed. The visualization technique teaches you to associate these sensations with mental images. As you become more adept, you will experience the physical sensations by visualizing the appropriate mental image.
Edmund Jacobson developed progressive relaxation, based on his belief that anxiety would disappear if your body was relaxed. This technique, now called active progressive relaxation, targets the specific muscles you want to relax by deliberately tensing and then relaxing them. You can feel the relaxation immediately after the tension. Use this technique for a single muscle group, or work your way through the different areas of your body. However, some practitioners do not believe that adding any extra tension into muscles is helpful. Passive progressive relaxation, in contrast, starts with the easiest muscles to relax, such as your toes. Gently work your way through your body by breathing deeply and visualizing the part of the body you are trying to relax.
The power of positive suggestion through visual imagery has long been recognized as a method of combating mental or physiological states. People with diseases such as cancer use this technique and research has shown its effectiveness. What the patient visualizes varies greatly: Some use medically correct images to fight their disease, while others use metaphors such as monsters, or visualize themselves as healthy and deny the sickness any reality. You can use this approach to remove stress from your life. Picture yourself as stress-free, and find realistic images to represent yourself as a relaxed and healthy person.
The many different schools of the practice of meditation fall into broad groupings. The largest group, transcendental meditation, seeks to alter your mental state and free-energy flows. Western researchers such as Herbert Benson have found that the practice, even stripped of its religious and philosophical roots, provokes a relaxation response. The keys are:
1) “A quiet environment.”
2) “An object to focus on.”
3) “A passive attitude.”
The goal of meditation is to allow a focus of attention in a way that is not possible in normal day-to-day life. Your mental processes are altered and you may well experience the famous sense of connectedness to everything. Zen meditation is somewhat different. It seeks to raise a sense of awareness, and can be done while exercising. Its techniques try to lift your ability to perceive without judging, and to accept without resistance. In both techniques, proper breathing is essential.
If you watch children at play, you will see the connection between movement and emotional release. As you age and become more emotionally reserved, you may shy away from expressing your emotions through movement very often. But when you get cramps, you know that flexing, stretching and massaging can help relieve the pain. In the same way, gentle exercise, such as rolling your shoulders, rotating your neck, shaking your arms and legs, massaging your face, temples and scalp will also help, as will eye and face stretches. Active exercise can be good, but if it adds stress through demands of performance or competition, you are probably going in the wrong direction. Exercise regularly without pushing yourself to exhaustion. Keep yourself properly hydrated and pay attention to your breathing.
The biofeedback movement emerged during the 1970s and opened up research into the links between mind and body, and psychosomatic illnesses. Monitoring devices measure autonomic physiological functions and that information is fed back to the subjects. As a result of trial-and-error reactions to the feedback, they learn how to control their bodily functions. Research has shown that not only brain waves can be controlled, but also muscle movement, heart rate, blood pressure and digestive functions. For biofeedback to work properly, the best attitude is passive attention – the same state needed for stress reduction techniques. A properly used blood-pressure device can help you learn to associate your stress level and blood pressure. Probably the simplest and least used device is a mirror. Look in a mirror and think about an emotion. Don’t manufacture an expression to show the emotion as an actor would. Instead, just let the emotion you feel show in your face. Then let it go and relax. Seeing your face in a genuinely relaxed state will be quite interesting and useful.
Professional therapists use several techniques for patients with stress-inducing anxieties. If you find that even the idea of performing certain activities makes you feel tense and queasy, use these methods to help desensitize yourself. Visualize the process of going through the stressful activity. If it is public speaking, list all the steps from being asked to speak through actually giving the presentation. Next, meditate on going through the steps one by one and handling them well. When you get to a point where you feel anxious, stop and use your favorite relaxation technique. Later, start again and see if you can get further. Eventually, you will be able to handle the whole sequence of steps. The other technique is to actually live through the event. For example, if you have a fear of flying, break the activity down into steps and do all the easy things until you arrive at the hardest part. Classes are available to help people work through their phobias.
Everyone has to eat. Unfortunately, many things can adversely affect your physical and mental performance. Eating and drinking refined sugar, alcohol and beverages containing caffeine can create physical symptoms that mimic stress. Be aware of foods and additives that might trigger allergies or affect your mood, such as dairy products, and drink enough water. Drugs do not eliminate stress; they just mask its symptoms. Work on fixing the stress and you will not need the drugs. Sometimes a good stress-formula multivitamin can help compensate for the loss of nutrients caused by stress.
For some people, the problems caused by stress and anxiety become their focus. Once you have eliminated the stress from your life, you may find yourself concerned with what to do with your newly available time. A good technique is to select meaningful goals and build plans around them. Set targets to meet in the short, medium and long term. Spend time deciding how you will meet them, set measures so you can check progress, and enjoy both your failures and successes. Failures are opportunities to learn and improve. Never be afraid to ask others for help in making your plans as you work toward your goals.
Stress at Work
Rapid change is the norm in the modern workplace these days. Manage your situation proactively, if you are on the receiving end of the change. Being fit and healthy helps you stay strong, despite the pressures of the unknown. Keep your options open and communicate with those who can provide you with new opportunities. If you are on the management end, the more you communicate with your workforce the happier they will be. Engage worker and middle-management concerns fully and personally. Recruit people who can best handle the changes you expect in your business and marketplace. Inspire the company with a vision that embodies the realities and future possibilities of your organization, and empower them to build it into reality. Encourage wellness, good nutrition and healthy exercise in your company policies. And do your best to lead by example.