Healthy Mind

Take steps to pre­vent or re­verse stress­re­lated health is­sues.

Health & Nutrition - - CONTENTS -

Pre­vent stress-re­lated ail­ments

Chronic stress takes a toll on the body; it con­trib­utes to ev­ery­thing from high blood pressure and heart dis­ease to anx­i­ety, di­ges­tive disor­ders, and slow wound heal­ing. On the flip side, man­ag­ing stress helps con­trol many chronic con­di­tions or re­duce the risk for de­vel­op­ing them. Strate­gies in­clude reg­u­lar ex­er­cise, a healthy diet, and bet­ter sleep. And one strat­egy in par­tic­u­lar – elic­it­ing the re­lax­ation re­sponse – may en­able you to man­age stress right down to your genes.

THE ANTI-STRESSOR

The re­lax­ation re­sponse is the op­po­site of the body’s stress (fight or flight) re­sponse. It can help lower blood pressure, heart rate, breath­ing rate, and stress hor­mone lev­els. “It does even more than that: When you elicit the re­lax­ation re­sponse, you se­crete ben­e­fi­cial hor­mones and re­duce the ac­tiv­ity of harm­ful genes,” says Dr Dar­shan Mehta, med­i­cal direc­tor of the Har­vard-af­fil­i­ated Ben­son-Henry In­sti­tute for Mind Body Medicine at Mas­sachusetts Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal.

RE­LAX­ATION RE­SPONSE AND GENES

In the past decade, sev­eral stud­ies from the Ben­son-Henry In­sti­tute have sug­gested that the re­lax­ation re­sponse is as­so­ci­ated with changes in genes that in­flu­ence health. Among the find­ings are ef­fects on the fol­low­ing: Blood pressure. The re­lax­ation re­sponse may ac­ti­vate genes as­so­ci­ated with di­lat­ing the blood ves­sels and re­duce ac­tiv­ity of genes as­so­ci­ated with blood ves­sel nar­row­ing and in­flam­ma­tion. “It in­creases ni­tric ox­ide pro­duc­tion, which in­creases the elas­tic­ity of the blood ves­sels and re­laxes them,” says Dr Mehta. That can help lower blood pressure. Blood sugar: The re­lax­ation re­sponse may im­prove in­sulin ac­tiv­ity by ac­ti­vat­ing genes that help con­trol blood sugar. Di­ges­tion. The re­lax­ation re­sponse may re­duce the ac­tiv­ity of genes di­rectly linked to the pro­cesses of in­flam­ma­tory bowel dis­ease (in­clud­ing Crohn’s dis­ease and ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis). “Stress

stim­u­lates the di­ges­tive tract, which may cause di­ar­rhea or nau­sea. The re­lax­ation re­sponse re­turns gas­troin­testi­nal move­ment to a bal­anced state,” ex­plains Dr Mehta. In­flam­ma­tion. “The re­lax­ation re­sponse ap­pears to turn off genes im­pli­cated in in­flam­ma­tion, and the stress re­sponse it­self,” says Dr Mehta. While we need in­flam­ma­tion to fight in­fec­tion and heal the body, chronic stress puts the body in a con­stant state of in­flam­ma­tion. That can in­crease plaque build­ing in­side coro­nary ar­ter­ies, which may raise the risk for heart at­tack, stroke, and chest pain, and can also trig­ger un­reg­u­lated cell growth, con­tribut­ing to cancer risk. Does this mean the re­lax­ation re­sponse can pre­vent health prob­lems, or even re­verse health prob­lems that have al­ready ap­peared? “It’s en­cour­ag­ing, and we are study­ing that ques­tion right now,” says Dr Mehta.

TRIG­GER THE RE­SPONSE

In or­der to prac­tice elic­it­ing the re­lax­ation re­sponse, just sit in a quiet place with your eyes closed. Breathe deeply; re­lax your mus­cles; and silently re­peat a word, phrase, sound, or short prayer of your choos­ing over and over. If stray thoughts come along, let them come and go, and re­turn to your word, phrase, or sound. Prac­tic­ing this ap­proach for 10 to 20 min­utes daily brings pos­i­tive phys­i­o­log­i­cal ben­e­fits. The more of­ten you prac­tice the re­lax­ation re­sponse, the more ben­e­fit you will see with time.

MORE WAYS TO GET THERE

Other tech­niques that evoke the re­lax­ation re­sponse in­clude mind­ful­ness med­i­ta­tion, tai chi, yoga, and the fol­low­ing meth­ods. Fo­cused breath­ing. Fo­cus­ing on slow, deep breaths can be calm­ing. Make sure your belly moves in and out as you breathe. A body scan. Con­cen­trate on one part of the body. Imag­ine it is open, warm, and re­laxed, and that you are re­leas­ing ten­sion from that area. Move on to an­other body part and re­peat the process. Guided im­agery. Cre­ate a sooth­ing scene in your mind that makes you feel re­laxed. It may be a place or an ex­pe­ri­ence. Al­low your senses to be in­volved, imag­in­ing the smells you are en­coun­ter­ing, the sounds you are hear­ing, and the ways things feel in your hands. Repet­i­tive prayer. Re­peat a favourite prayer from your faith ei­ther silently or out loud. You can use a guide (such as your breath­ing or a rosary) to help with the rep­e­ti­tion.

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