In our wellness practice we find long term chronic stress to be a major contributing factor to many health problems. We find that up to 80% of the symptoms that patients initially present with are improved when stress is dealt with first. We also find that the patient’s remaining symptoms become much easier to alleviate: we see better digestion, less pain, less fatigue, better sleep, improved fertility, improved moods, and reductions to allergies when we deal with stress first.
How does stress affect us?
Stress initiates the “fight or flight” syndrome—our body energy goes to where it is needed for “fight or flight”: energy goes to the arms, legs, and short term mental functions. Consequently our energy goes away from digestion, immune system and all of the body’s other “repair and restore” functions. This has great survival value for short term “ fight or flight” type stresses; however, long term chronic stress is what most of our patients experience—rather than a short term “escape predator” situation, we experience days of unrelenting deadlines or other forms of work, relationship, or financial stresses. In addition to impairing digestion, long term chronic stress has also been shown to raise blood pressure, stiffen arteries, suppress the immune system, and heighten the risk for conditions as diverse as diabetes and depression. Worst of all, any of these health conditions can exacerbate our feeling of stress and set up a real downward spiral/negative feedback loop!
When stress is reduced, immune system function and digestion are automatically improved. Good digestion in turn gives us the energy to heal. Also, we feel less stressed when we have more energy. This is why reducing stress results in improvements to so many other symptoms.
What are some specific symptoms that can accompany long term chronic stress?
- Cognitive: memory problems, inability to concentrate, seeing only the negative, anxiety
- Emotional: irritability, rapid mood swings, agitation, feeling overwhelmed, unhappiness or depression
- Physical: aches and pains, digestive disturbances, rapid heartbeat, loss of libido, frequent illnesses, auto-immune disorders, high blood pressure
- Behavioral: disturbed sleep, over or under eating, procrastination or neglecting responsibilities, substance abuse
What can be done about stress?
For our bodies to be in optimal health, there must be a balance between stress and relaxation. We must manage our stress to keep ourselves in balance. Stress management involves changing the stressful situations when possible, changing our reaction to the stressful situations when the situations can’t be changed, taking care of our health, and making time for rest and relaxation.
Common and effective stress reduction techniques include acupuncture, massage, moderate exercise, meditation, pleasant social interactions, and laughter.
One of the simplest and most profound ways to reduce stress and improve your health is with the practice of Long Deep Breathing. I teach almost every patient this very simple technique and those who practice it benefit tremendously. Long Deep Breathing is a wonderful relaxation technique and counteracts many of the negative effects of stress.
Long Deep Breathing is the simplest of all yogic breaths. Simply inhale and exhale through the nose. Fill the bottom of the lungs first, then the middle, then the top. Hold the breath in for a second or two and then exhale: top first, then middle, and then bottom. You can do this breath while sitting on the floor, while sitting in a chair, or while lying down. It is excellent to do before bed to help with sleep difficulties.
When we are stressed our breathing becomes short and shallow. Likewise, when we are relaxed our breathing is naturally deeper and slower. By cultivating the practice of Long Deep Breathing, we can induce a more relaxed state in our bodies. It is when we are in this relaxed state that healing and rejuvenation of the body can take place.
Long Deep Breathing is easy to learn and easy to practice. Benefits come with very small amounts of practice. Five minutes at a time is usually ample. Five minutes, three times per day will have wonderful clinical effects. In addition to a feeling of relaxation, there will be other effects such as lowered blood pressure, better ability to clear body toxins, and increase in energy levels.
Many of our patients have been able to reduce or eliminate their blood pressure medications simply from this practice of Long Deep Breathing. If Long Deep Breathing could be packaged in pill form and patented by a pharmaceutical company, you would see it heavily advertised on TV!
There are of course many other stress reduction techniques as mentioned above, but none are as easy to do on your own or as always available as Long Deep Breathing.
I hope that these simple suggestions can help you reduce your stress. Your personal situation or health condition may be very complicated, but by starting with stress reduction great improvements can be made to your health, happiness, and longevity.