Stress Management: A Matter of Life and Health

By Dr. Irene

It's common sense that we all need to manage our stress. But, did you know that managing stress effectively is a matter of life and of health?

The Stress Response is a series of biochemical events in the human body designed to help a person respond to some sense of danger in the environment. This reaction is intended to help mobilize the body to respond to the danger through either Fight or Flight. While this response serves us well when we are in immediate danger (like when a car is coming straight at us and we need to get out of the way quickly), it has significant negative effects on health when it happens frequently and over a long period of time.

Prolonged exposure to the stress response creates and/or aggrevates many health conditions. Heart conditions, muscular pain, gastrointestinal illness, dysfunctions of the reproductive system, breathing difficulties, skin problems and immune system functions are all negatively impacted by chronic stress.

That's the bad news....the good news is that active relaxation for a mere 10-15 minutes a day can reduce the negative impact of stress and create a positive Relaxation Response that will reduce blood pressure, slow breathing rate and increase blood flow to muscles (i.e. reduce muscular pain). Relaxation and meditation can also reduce the symptoms of pre-existing medical conditions, such as fatigue, depression, anxiety, and muscular pain.

Here's an easy way to start increasing your relaxation today.

Do this exercise for 5 minutes 2-3 times throughout your day:

1. Select a comfortable sitting position.

2. Close your eyes and direct your attention to your own breathing process.

3. Put your thumb on your navel and lower the palm of your hand down onto your belly. Breathe into your nose as if you are smelling flowers. You will notice your belly rise as you breathe in. Breathe out as if you were blowing out birthday candles. You will notice your belly fall as you breathe out.

4. Focus on your breathing. Notice the cool air as it enters your nose and the warm air as it leaves your mouth. If thoughts come, notice them briefly and then redirect your attention to your breath. Imagine your thoughts floating away on a cloud and know that you can always get back to them later.

5. After 5 minutes, stand and stretch before proceeding with your day.

The take home message: We plan for every situation - we have a financial plan, a home emergency plan, a vacation plan, a health insurance plan - Make sure to have a self-care plan! If you plan to care for your health and manage your stress level now, you will save yourself much distress later.