STRESS REDUCTION PROGRAM - STRESS, THE PROBLEM.
Stress is "the non-specific response of the body to any demand placed upon it." Many stress management professionals maintain that it is not stress that harms us but distress. Distress occurs when we prolong emotional stress, do not deal with it in a healthy or positive manner. There are many different causes of stress that affect each of us. These causes can produce a variety of responses that include both physical and emotional effects. Stress is a fact of life that we are unable to avoid. Stress is any change to which we must adjust.
Sources of Stress
We experience stress from three basic sources:
1) The first source of stress is the environment. The weather, noise, crowding, pressure on our time, interpersonal demands, performance expectations and requirements, as well as various threats (real or imagined) to our security and self esteem are environmental stressors;
2) The second source of stress is our body's physiological response. ; this may include the rapid growth and changes of adolescence, maturing and aging, accidents, illness, poor diets, exercise, and sleep disturbances all have an impact on the body. Environmental threats can produce body changes that are also stressful. An individual's reactions to (real or imagined) problems, demands and/or dangers is greatly influenced by "fight or flight" response (release of adrenaline) inherited from our primitive ancestors.
The body undergoes changes as we experience the "fight or flight" response (the release of adrenaline): When the stimuli are interpreted as threatening, the body's regulating centers provide information to speed up in preparation t confront or escape the threat. Our pupils become larger so we can see better, and our hearing become more acute. Our muscles tense to deal with the challenge. Blood pulsates through our head so that more oxygen reaches the brain cells, stimulating the thought processes. The heart and respiratory rates increase. Blood drains from your extremities and is pooled in the trunk and head, while the hands and feet feel cold and sweaty.
If the body is not given relief from the biochemical changes that occur with the "fight or flight" response (release of adrenaline), chronic stress may result. When we are already stressed and more stress is added the body's regulatory centers of the brain tends to overreact and produce adrenaline. This causes wear and tear on the body and potentially illnesses, diseases and/or death. An example is that the long-term use of the "fight or flight" response can turn temporary high blood pressure in to permanent high blood pressure. One of the ways to reduce how our body negatively responds to stress is to master relaxation.
3) The third source of stress comes from our thoughts. How we interpret (perception) and label our experiences, what we predict (expectations) for the future can either relax us or produce stress (fight or flight response). The beliefs systems that we live by, the values that we hold on to, how we interpret the words and actions of other people can produce tension in our body.
STRESS REDUCTION: A SOLUTION
There are a number of preventative measures that we can take to deal with stress as well as various methods we can use to cope with stress that may help us to reduce the effects of stress on our body and mind. A few of those are:
Relaxation Exercises - Since we cannot escape all of the stresses of living or completely turn off our innate "fight or flight" response to threat, we can learn to counteract our long-term habitual reaction to stress by learning how to relax. The very centers of the brain that produce the "fight or flight" response can be used to slow and reduce the release of adrenaline. The "relaxation" response is the opposite of the "fight or flight" response and returns the body to its natural functioning balance/state. Our hearing, blood pressure, heartbeat, respiration and circulation return to normal and our muscles relax. The "relaxation" response has a recuperative effect in that it brings our physical, mental and emotional processes back to normal.
Breathing Properly - breathing is an antidote to the "fight or flight" response. Although we all breathe, as we get older, we do not maintain the habit of natural "full" breathing experienced by an infant or by primitive man. Because we do not use proper "full" breathing habits an insufficient about of fresh air reaches our lungs and our blood is not properly purified or oxygenated. Poorly oxygenated blood contributes to an individual not being able to cope effectively with a variety of life's challenges "stress", thereby producing "distress." Over time our ability to think clearly and objectively influences the amount of anxiety, depression and fatigue we experience. Learning how to use proper "full" breathing habits is essential for good mental and physical health.
As part of your learning about stress management we will introduce you to a series of proper breathing and relaxation exercises. We strongly encourage you to take the risk to consciously practice mastering these skills and to integrate them in to your everyday pattern of dealing with stress.
COMPLETE NATURAL "DEEP" BREATHING - Civilized man, with his passion for tight clothing, a sedentary and stressful life style and poor posture, has moved away from taking full deep breaths. This exercise will give many people an opportunity, possibly for the first time, to experience the effects of pure oxygen. If you are a smoker, have not exercised for some time, you may feel light-headed during and/or shortly after taking several deep breaths. Do not panic, it is simply your body's natural response to experiencing the effects of pure oxygen.
1) Begin by sitting in an erect position, with your feet flat on the floor, with your hands resting comfortably on your thighs and your spine perpendicular to the floor. Slow your eyes and breathe through your nose. As you do so, visualize your lungs as containers. Containers divided into three sections. As you inhale, first fill the lower section of your lungs. Your diaphragm will push your abdomen outward to make room for the air.
2) Second, fill the middle section of your lungs as your lower ribs and chest move forward slightly to accommodate the air. Third, fill the upper part of your lungs as your raise your chest slightly and draw in your abdomen a little to support your lungs. With practice these three steps can be performed in one smooth, continuous inhalation.
3. Hold your breath for a few seconds.
4. As your exhale slowly, through your mouth, pull your abdomen in slight and lift it up slowly as the lungs empty. When you have completed exhaled, relax your abdomen and chest.
5. Now and then at the end of the inhalation phase, raise your shoulders and collarbone slightly so that the very top of your lungs are sure to be replenished with fresh air.
6. With each exhalation, you will feel deeper and deeper relaxation. With each exhalation, you will give yourself permission to experience and enjoy relaxation.
7. Before you open your eyes, count to "Three". On the count of three, slowly open your eyes, stretch your arms, stretch your legs and stretch your entire body.
*(Note: Stretching will give your heart an opportunity to adjust to the demand of pumping blood to your extremities. Be sure that you stretch at the end of each breathing and relaxation exercise).
ASSIGNMENT: Practice this exercise three times a day, taking at least 10-12 deep breathes per session. The 1st time, before you get out of bed in the morning. 2nd time is two hours after you've eaten lunch. You cannot relax while your body is digesting food. And the 3rd time is before you go to sleep at night. Practice
so that it becomes an automatic response when you are feeling tense.
Imagination - We can reduce a tremendous amount of stress with something that is enormously powerful: our imagination. Around the turn of the 20th century, Emil Coué, a French pharmacist, popularized the practice of positive thinking in the treatment of physical symptoms.
He believed that it is hard for use to will ourselves into a relaxed state, but we can imagine relaxation spreading through your body, and we can imagine ourselves in a safe and beautiful retreat. Coué maintained that all thoughts become reality-you are what you think you are. For example, if you think anxious thoughts, you become tense. If you think pleasant thoughts, you become happy. We will take some time and practice using some of the techniques Coué encouraged his patients to use.
There are three ways of stimulating your imagination: visualization, guided imagery and listening to music. We will provide you with opportunities to practice the first two modes and encourage you to find and audio the type of music that you enjoy to reduce your stress and bring you to relaxation.
VISUALIZATION - By using visualization you can develop a conscious and focused awareness while minimizing thoughts, emotions and physical pain. (We suggest that you consider taping each exercise and play it back while you are resting in a comfortable position.)
1)Interaction Between Tension and Relaxation
Close your eyes…Be aware of the tension in your body…pause…Give the tension or pain you are experiencing a symbol…pause…Give the concept of relaxation a symbol…pause…Let these two symbols interact in such a way that the tension is removed.
2. Push Your Tension Away
Close your eyes…Give your tension or pain a color and a shape…pause..Now change the shape and color of your tension and/or pain…pause…Push this second shape and color away until it is out of your awareness.
3. Muscular Tension
Focus on the part of your body where you experience the most muscular tension…pause…Give that
tension a visual image, such as a fist in your stomach, knotted ropes in your arms, or padlocks on your jaw pause. Visualize the relaxation of that symbol. Imagine that you are being lightly covered with
warm sand pause our right leg pause left leg pause stomach pause chest pause and arms. Or imagine a warm blanket is being drawn slowly…pause…slowly up to your shoulders.
GUIDED IMAGERY - Guided imagery is another way of using your imagination to relax.
1) Mountain Path
Close your eyes…Imagine yourself leaving the area where you live…pause…Leaving all of the daily hassles and the fast past behind…pause…Imagine yourself going across a valley and moving closer to a mountain range…pause…Imagine yourself in the mountain range…pause…You are going up a winding road…pause…Find a place on the winding road to stop…pause…Find a path to walk up…pause…Start walking up the path…pause…Find a comfortable place to stop on the path…pause…At this place take some time to examine all of the tension and stress in your life…pause…Give the tension and stress shapes and colors…pause…Look at them very carefully and after you have done this, put them down on the side of the path…pause…Continue walking up the path until you come to the top of a hill…pause…Look out over the hill…pause…What do you see? pause…Find an inviting, comfortable place and go there…pause…Be aware of your surroundings…pause…What is your special place like?…pause…Be aware of the sights, smells, and sounds…pause…Be aware of how you are feeling…pause… Get settle and gradually start to relax…pause…You are now feeling totally relaxed…pause Experience being relaxed totally and completely…pause for two to three minutes…Look around at your special place once more…pause…Remember this is your special place to relax, and you can come here anytime you want to…Come back to the room and tell yourself that the imagery is something you have created, and you can it whenever you want to feel relaxed.
ASSIGNMENT: Practice this exercise as often as you like. The goal is to become familiar with relaxation, experience and how your mind (imagination) and body are connected.
PROGRESSIVE RELAXATION - In 1929, Edmond Jacobson, a Chicago physician, published the book Progressive Relaxation. His approach is based on the premise that the body responds to anxiety provoking thoughts and events with muscle tension. Deep muscle relaxation reduces physiological tension and is incompatible with anxiety. The habit of using one technique blocks the habit of responding with the other.
We cannot experience the feeling of warm well-being in our body and at the same time feel psychological stress. Progressive relaxation of our muscles reduces rapid heart rate and blood pressure as well as decreasing perspiration and respiration rates. Deep muscle relaxation, when successfully mastered, can be used as an anti-anxiety pill.
1. Basic Progress Relaxation
Get in a comfortable position and relax. (Use deep breathing to help you relax). Now clench your right fist, tighter and tighter, studying the tension as you do so. Keep it clenched and notice the tension in your first, hand and forearm. Now relax. Feel the looseness in your right hand, and notice the contrast with the tension. Repeat this procedure with your right fist again, always noticing as you relax that this is the opposite of tension-relax and feel the difference. Repeat the entire procedure with your left fist, then both fists at once.
Now bend your elbows and tense your biceps. Tense them as hard as you can and observe the feeling of tautness. Relax, straighten out your arms. Let the relaxation develop and feel that difference. Repeat this, and all succeeding procedures at least once.
Dave Harmon & Associates
4010 Dupont Circle #226
Louisville, Ky 40207-4847