Stress – Scourge of Today’s World

Stress!  What is it good for?  Absolutely nothin’!

— Apologies to Edwin Starr.

Throughout my interactions with cancer doctors over the past six months, I’ve heard the same refrain:  reducing stress in my life improves chances of recovery from all forms of cancer.  But what does stress do to the human body?  What are some of the benefits of reducing stress?  And how can we reduce stress?

According to the Mayo Clinic, stress can contribute to problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.  Some common negative effects of stress include:

 

1.  On the Body

  • Headache
  • Muscle tension / pain
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Stomach upset
  • Insomnia

2.  On the Mind

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Depression

3.  On Behavior

  • Over-eating
  • Under-eating
  • Fits of rage
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Tobacco use
  • Social withdrawal

Reducing stress can have social, familial and individual benefits, including:

  1. Economic benefits:  Increase productivity at work and reduce number of days off due to illness.
  2. Physical health benefits:  Increase energy and nutrients available for the body.
  3. Psychological health benefits:  Improve sleep; reduce irritability, anxiety and depression.
  4. Relationship benefits:  Improve relationships with family, friends and co-workers.

The Mayo Clinic has some great advice for relaxation techniques to reduce stress (see the article here:  Link).  The benefits of reducing stress include:

  • Slowing your heart rate
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Slowing your breathing rate
  • Reducing activity of stress hormones
  • Increasing blood flow to major muscles
  • Reducing muscle tension and chronic pain
  • Improving concentration and mood
  • Lowering fatigue
  • Reducing anger and frustration
  • Boosting confidence to handle problems

There are several main types of relaxation techniques, including:

  • Autogenic relaxation. Autogenic means something that comes from within you. In this relaxation technique, you use both visual imagery and body awareness to reduce stress.

    You repeat words or suggestions in your mind to relax and reduce muscle tension. For example, you may imagine a peaceful setting and then focus on controlled, relaxing breathing, slowing your heart rate, or feeling different physical sensations, such as relaxing each arm or leg one by one.

  • Progressive muscle relaxation. In this relaxation technique, you focus on slowly tensing and then relaxing each muscle group.

    This helps you focus on the difference between muscle tension and relaxation. You become more aware of physical sensations.

    One method of progressive muscle relaxation is to start by tensing and relaxing the muscles in your toes and progressively working your way up to your neck and head. You can also start with your head and neck and work down to your toes. Tense your muscles for at least five seconds and then relax for 30 seconds, and repeat.

  • Visualization. In this relaxation technique, you form mental images to take a visual journey to a peaceful, calming place or situation.

    During visualization, try to use as many senses as you can, including smell, sight, sound and touch. If you imagine relaxing at the ocean, for instance, think about the smell of salt water, the sound of crashing waves and the warmth of the sun on your body. You may want to close your eyes, sit in a quiet spot and loosen any tight clothing.

Other relaxation techniques include:

  • Deep breathing
  • Hypnosis
  • Massage
  • Meditation
  • Tai chi
  • Yoga
  • Biofeedback
  • Music and art therapy

 

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