Today is Stress Awareness Day and whilst there will be many millions of people today who may potentially be damaging their health by experiencing prolonged periods of stress and accompanying anxiety, it’s also important to remember that there will be others who are utilising the opposite response in the body and mind.
Our response to natural triggers or dangers in the environment – the release of hormones and a resulting change in the nervous system to enable fight or flight – has been called the stress response. It’s obviously very helpful when we need to be alert and focused. However, a stress response which is being triggered continuously by perceived danger can become a source of poor health on a physical and psychological level.Chronic stess has been implicated in conditions such as headaches, IBS, panic attacks, cadiovascular issues and our experience of pain.
This has become common knowledge over the past few decades and the focus on helping people reduce chronic stress is a multibillion pound industry – from supplements, to massage, to nutritional advice etc. However, what is not often mentioned is that we have the antidote to the stress response also built into our nervous system.
In 1975, Herbert Benson, a professor of medicine from Harvard medical school, published a book called The Relaxation Response (1). Amongst other things, he had been studying the effects of meditation on the nervous system which he noted led to decreased heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure. Benson also went on later to explore how the relaxation response was present in hypnosis too (2). The relaxation response is not as simple as lying on the sofa, sleeping or being lazy. It is a metally active process best done in an awake state which is trainable and becomes more profound with practice.
So, whilst it is important to identify the external factors in life which you might be struggling with and deal with them to reduce stress, it’s also important to realise that you have an internal innate ability to create the opposite of stress – the relaxation response. So, do take time to learn a method of meditation – I recommend Acem (3) – or self hypnosis to balance and stress-proof your life.
1.The Relaxation Response. Herbert Benson, 1975, Harper Collins.
2. The relaxation response and hypnosis Herbert Benson, Patricia A. Arns, and John W. Hoffman International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis Vol. 29 , Iss. 3,1981