Arriving home from a rough day at the office, you open the door. The kids are shouting, the house is a mess, the dog ran away, and everyone wants to know what’s for supper. Yes, you know what stress feels like, but do you really know the magnitude of destruction that this level of chronic stress can have on you?
According to studies at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), approximately 90 percent of all illnesses—mental and physical—are caused by or aggravated by stress! Dr. Hans Seyle, a pioneering stress researcher, defines stress as a psychophysiological (mind/body) event that takes place when your system is over-whelmed by any experience: physical, mental, or emotional. Stress isn’t something out there; it’s completely subjective and internal. It is a mind/body reaction.
Researchers have found that stress causes a cascade of neurochemical reactions that can lead to disease. In stressful situations, the adrenal glands release cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, otherwise known as the stress hormones. The pituitary releases more stress-related hormones, and as a result, the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system “revs” up. The response is known as fight or flight.
It’s very useful—even essential—in an emergency, because it gives you the ability to respond quickly for your safety, for example, jumping out of the way of a New York City taxicab. However, that fight-or-flight response is neither necessary nor appropriate if, for instance, you’re at work and you receive an E-mail from your significant other saying that he wants to date other people. You can neither engage in a fight nor take off in flight under the circumstances.
The subsequent psycho-physiological response leaves behind a soup of chemicals that stick around and wreak havoc on your system. They can cause high blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, depression, frustration, anger, and tension; they can increase risk factors for heart disease, diabetes, and stomach ulcers; they can depress your immune system; and they can even enlarge your waistline. Stress reactions also cause an increase in oxygen free radicals, which are linked to most degenerative diseases including accelerated aging, wrinkles, and cancer.
You’re probably familiar with the list of big stressors: death of a loved one, divorce, moving, and loss of a job. But what you may not have considered is that just about anything can create stress in your body. Too much or too little of things that are considered good for you—or even essential—can do it: good food, rest, exercise, a vacation, or any sensory stimulus.
Of course, traditionally bad-for-you things can cause it too, like eating the wrong food, eating too late at night, staying up too late, watching too much TV, or watching a violent movie. Anything can induce a stress reaction if you don’t receive it in the proper way at the right time in the correct amount.
Fortunately, there are many techniques that are effective at reducing stress or, at least, at decreasing your physiological response to it. Here are 10 suggestions:
10 STRESS-REDUCING TECHNIQUES
- Get enough sleep at the proper times.
- Eat primarily fresh organic fruits, vegetables, and grains. Hundreds, if not thousands of studies, show that a plant-based diet—especially when the plants are organically grown, whole, fresh, and unprocessed—is loaded with protective nutrients, like antioxidants, that guard against stress and disease. Conventionally grown foods (grown with pesticides and other chemicals), red meat, processed foods, leftovers, and frozen or canned foods all have lower nutritional values, increase oxygen free radicals, and are generally toxic to your body.
- Practice an effective, stress-reducing meditation. More than 500 research studies have shown that Transcendental Meditation (TM) is more effective at reducing the signs and symptoms of stress than any other meditation or stress-reducing technique, including biofeedback and progressive muscle relaxation. TM significantly lessens anxiety, depression, insomnia, digestive disturbances, neurotic tendencies, physical complaints, and psychosomatic problems. This mental technique also decreases the risk of being admitted to the hospital for any reason—physical or mental—by more than 50 percent.
- Avoid assaults to your senses. Any strong, prolonged, or otherwise caustic stimulus to your senses can induce stress: loud noises, certain forms of music (for me, the worst is the heavy-metal, head-banging, homicidal/suicidal variety), strong unpleasant odors, hot spices, watching TV or sitting at a computer too long, or exposure to extreme temperatures.
- Listen to relaxing music. Studies show that classical music or any other soothing music of your choice can cause a significant relaxation response.
- Get a massage, or give yourself a massage. Massage has been found to release many hormones associated with relaxation, and it boosts the immune system. The effects are enhanced when a good penetrating oil, like sesame oil, is used.
- Have fun. Don’t let your life become all about work and getting things done on your to-do list. Make sure you balance things out by regularly including some of your favorite activities. Frequently participate in activities that are fun and joyful for you, such as getting out in Nature, riding your bike, going to a play, singing, playing with your kids, taking a day at the spa, spending time with friends, dancing, or soaking in the bathtub with a good book. Make a habit of doing something that brings you joy every day.
- Take an antioxidant supplement. A stress reaction creates excess oxygen free radicals, which have been linked to most chronic degenerative disorders including Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and accelerated aging. Some good antioxidants are vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, and CoQ10.
The Ayurvedic herbal mixture Amrit Kalash, according to research, may be the best antioxidant of all. Dr. Yukie Niwa, a Japanese researcher, studied more than 500 different antioxidants over a period of thirty years. He found that the most powerful and effective antioxidant of all those tested was Maharishi Amrit Kalash.
- Take an herbal supplement. Certain herbs have been shown to effectively reduce the stress response through a variety of mechanisms. They are called “adaptogens” because they help us adapt to stress. For example, research shows that an Ayurvedic herb called holy basil, which has a 5,000-year-plus history of use, protects against and reduces stress. It decreases the release of the stress hormone cortisol. It also enhances stamina and endurance, increases the body’s effective use of oxygen, and boosts the immune system when you’re under stress. In addition, it slows aging and provides a rich supply of antioxidants, as well as a multitude of other benefits.
- Exercise regularly. In many studies, regular aerobic exercise has been found to be as effective in relieving depression as pharmaceutical medications.
CHANGING YOUR REACTION
Life is stressful. Many events take place every day that are beyond your control. You can’t prevent them from happening, but you can change how you react to them. Remember, stress isn’t something out there. It’s purely subjective and an internal reaction. You can decrease the severity of your stress response by getting enough sleep at the proper times, respecting the rhythms of Nature, eating a ealthy diet, avoiding assaults on your senses, participating regularly in activities that bring you joy, taking care of yourself by getting regular massages, listening to relaxing music, exercising daily, and remembering to breathe (especially using the techniques of pranayama). Finally, one of the most powerful techniques you can use to protect your health from the damaging effects of stress is the daily practice of an effective meditation.