Hello SOTGC community,
Here we are again, preparing for the holiday season. For many of us, holidays equate to additional stress. And we have learned from medical research studies that stress affects our health adversely including raising blood pressure and increasing our risk for heart disease. We know that stress is unavoidable. What is important is how we manage the stress that is paramount to our long-term health.
Mind-body medicine focuses on modifying the nervous system’s response by activating the parasympathetic response to lower the stress hormones catecholamines and cortisol, thereby inducing a relaxation response. While there are medications that can help with the control of our stress, anxiety, or underlying blood pressure, mind-body medicine options can also keep us calm, cool, and collected, and maintain our blood pressure during times of stress.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation is an autogenic training technique focusing on breathing, concentration, and muscle relaxation. Sequential relaxation of major muscle groups from head to toe supports the relaxation response and can lower blood pressure.
Biofeedback is a technique lowering stress and blood pressure by altering body physiology through receiving visual and auditory feedback. The focus is on matching one’s own breathing pattern to simulate a parasympathetic response and activate the relaxation response. Various devices exist to assist in delivering the feedback response.
Meditation focuses on breathing while quieting the mind, and can be done in silence, or by focusing on a mantra or word. It can induce a calming relaxation effect as well as reduce hypertension.
Breathwork alone can be used to induce a calm and relaxed state. One technique I learned while training with Andrew Weil, M.D. during my integrative medicine fellowship and use to this day is the 4-7-8 breathing technique. One inhales for 4 counts, holds the breath for 7 counts, and exhales for 8 counts. Repeating this 3 times can bring about a serene state of being during moments of stress.
Stress management programs and cognitive behavioral psychotherapy can assist with lowering blood pressure, particularly for the easily stressed, or when other emotional states such as sadness or anger are involved.
Finally, while all of the above are effective techniques for handling holiday season stress, a recent study reviewed by health psychologist Kelly McGonigal in a TED Talk presentation brings forward a provocative point that deserves our attention: The power of belief. Her message is that your belief system around stress can change how your body responds to stress. The belief that stress is bad for you, rather than the stress itself is the focus of the research study. By believing that stress is a positive experience, one can potentially alter the body’s long-term response and lower traditional health risks associated with stress. This is a profound statement, because it challenges how the scientific literature has previously looked at stress. What do you believe? I invite you to watch Kelly McGonigal’s talk, and decide for yourself what you believe about stress. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcGyVTAoXEU