Natural Prescription: Stress


Stress (Photo credit: topgold)

When you’re stressed, regardless of the source of the stress, your body releases hormones that produce the stress response commonly known as the “fight-or-flight response. This response allows energy to flow to parts of the body that need to take action, like the muscles. However useful this response may be in the event of a life threatening situation, when the body remains in a stress state for a long time, emotional or physical damage can occur.

There are three types of stress: physical, psychological, and psychosocial. Physical stress involves stressors from the environment like noise or pollution. Psychological stress is the reaction to a perceived threat, whether real or imaginary. Psychosocial stress is stress resulting from interpersonal relationships, the conflicts of these relationships, or the lack of social interaction.

Long-term or chronic stress may actually weaken the body’s ability to fight off illness and makes it more vulnerable to serious disease. Additionally, chronic stress may result in recurrent headaches, stomach ache, and a shorter lifespan. Research into stress has found that it is not always the major life events that cause the most damage, but sometimes the mere accumulation of minor hassles, like the traffic jam on the way to work or the unexpected house guest, that can cause problems. Thankfully, attitude, perception, and the way that stressful events are handled, proves more important than the events themselves, and this resilience may help deflect the ill effects of stress.

In the past 30 years, there has been considerable interest in the relaxation response and how inducing this state may counteract the negative effects of stress. Research has focused primarily on illness and conditions in which stress may play a role either as the cause of the condition or as a factor that can make the condition worse, as has been found with asthma. Relaxation is more than a state of mind; it physically changes the way your body functions. When your body is relaxed breathing slows, blood pressure and oxygen consumption decrease, and some people report an increased sense of well-being. This is called the “relaxation response.” Being able to produce the relaxation response using relaxation techniques may counteract the effects of long-term stress, which may contribute to or worsen a range of health problems including depression, digestive disorders, headaches, high blood pressure, and insomnia.

Relaxation techniques often combine breathing and focused attention to calm the mind and the body. Most methods require only brief instruction from a book or experienced practitioner before they can be done without assistance. These techniques may be most effective when practiced regularly and combined with good nutrition, regular exercise, and a strong social support system. For further guidance on relaxation techniques, please visit,

Relaxation Techniques for Stress Management

Biofeedback -assisted relaxation uses electronic devices to teach you how to consciously produce the relaxation response. Biofeedback is sometimes used to relieve conditions that are caused or worsened by stress. Please visit, for additional information.

Deep breathing or breathing exercises. To relax using this method, you consciously slow your breathing and focus on taking regular and deep breaths.

Visualization. For this technique, you focus on pleasant images to replace negative or stressful feelings and relax. Visualization may be directed by you or a practitioner through storytelling or descriptions designed to suggest mental images.

Progressive relaxation. (Aka Jacobson’s progressive relaxation or progressive muscle relaxation). For this method, you focus on tightening and relaxing each muscle group. Progressive relaxation is often combined with guided imagery and breathing exercises.

Self-Hypnosis. In self-hypnosis you produce the relaxation response with a phrase or nonverbal cue. Self-hypnosis may be used to relieve pain as well as to treat anxiety and limiting beliefs. For free self-hypnosis MP3s visit,

As with any complimentary or alternative therapy, do not use relaxation techniques as a replacement for conventional care or to postpone seeing a doctor about a medical problem.

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