Well Being Program 2: Healing Better
Click on a word to move video to that point
Deepak: Well being is something that we all desire. But staying healthy and feeling good can be quite a challenge, especially with the stresses that pervade every aspect of our lives today.
Everyone is aware that regular exercise and eaten healthily are two essential steps to well being.
In this series you'll learn about a 3rd step, relaxation. Not just sitting around, but some specific activities that trigger your body's relaxation response.
You'll learn about the importance of deep relaxation for reducing the harmful effects of stress, along with a series of easy to do relaxation skills.
And through our weekly questionnaire, you'll gain an awareness of stress may be affecting you.
So get a paper and a pencil ready and join us as we take the next step to well being.
[music] [music] [music] [music] [music] [music] [music] [music] [music] [music]
Last time we learned of the many stressors in our lives. Stressors are the situations and events that put us under stress.
In this program we are going to find out the part that stress plays in our health. Few of us realize how destructive stress can be. We are going to go through a questionnaire that will help you recognize the signs of stress in your body and find out what you can do about it.
Eli Bay, Director of the Relaxation Response Institute in Toronto is a pioneer in the teaching of relaxation skills for stress management.
Eli: Stress is a natural reaction of the body that automatically prepares us for instant action to cope with the challenges that are before us, or to defend ourselves. It's the fight or flight reaction that we talked about last time.
Now a healthy balanced life necessarily involves some stress. You can't avoid stress, it's part of the territory.
But there is such a thing as too much stress. And stress has been implicated in a wide range of physical or psychological disorders. It's estimated that about 80% of all illnesses are stress related.
But we can't avoid stress, but we can learn to manage it. And this is where relaxation can play a very important role.
Dr. Hanson: Physically our body is incredibly well setup to handle stress so that we don't have to think about it. We can run faster and we can stand and punch harder if we are caught in a corner, simply because of the stress and the stress response that we have in our bodies.
There is a time for hustle. On the other hand, if you have constant hustle and constant pressure and constant anxiety without the relaxation, you will burn out very quickly.
Dr. Goode: We have to be able to recognize what stress is. Our environment is very stressful. We have to learn to manage it, manage the environment, manage the stresses that are put upon us.
If we don't, our body will react to all the stresses, leading to disease. Our body goes into an arousal state as a consequence of all of these stresses put upon it.
It doesn't matter what the stressed environment is, we response the same way. So if exercise is a physical stress, you could be just the same as the death of a loved one.
What happens in the body in a state of arousal? You'll have a release of hormones from the hypothalamus. These hormones will result in a release of another hormone called adrenalin and noradrenalin. Adrenalin augments the sympathetic nervous system to increase heart rate, to increase blood pressure, to increase the strength of the contraction of the heart. And it affects the immune system, a release of a hormone called cortisone in a stressed environment can cause a reduction in our ability to fight infection.
In response to stress, many of you probably recognized your guts aching. And this is a consequence of a sympathetic system closing down the blood supply to the intestines -- diverting the blood to the muscles.
Some of the other things that are going on are triglycerides can increase. These are the fats that are used for energy, for movement, for making our body go from one place to another. They come into play after we use up our body sugar. They are important for long-term exercise.
Other fats, [inaudible] can be increased especially if the stress continues.
These are all good things in a stressed environment. They are not a good thing if they continue to take place day after day, month after month.
Dr. Hanson: If you are sitting behind a busy work station and you aren't having any exercise, all of the body's responses are quite dangerous. Cholesterol rising is a classic example. In the modern setting, we don't burn off that cholestoral, it just sits there in the blood stream. And decade after decade, what ends up happening is it will eventually crystallize out in the linings of our coronary arteries.
So what ends up happening is people have a big problem with heart disease, it's our number one killer.
Dr. Goode: Over a long period of time, stress can cause a breakdown. We just continue to release the hormones. We cannot continue to put up with a chronic stimulation of the gut with a reduction of blood flow.
We can't keep up with a high heart rate, our body breaks down.
Cheryl: If I were to look back about a year ago, I would be the person who was saying to my friends that I don't suffer from stress because I just handle it really well and it doesn't bother me. And then I got sick, and I found out that I did suffer from stress and it did bother me.
So I had to take a look at myself and say, I've got to find a way of managing this stress, releasing the stress. And then just coming to realize that you do suffer from stress when you didn't think you did, that's the important thing.
Dr. Goode: Recognition of stress is so important that any test that you can do or any book that will help you to learn about stress, to recognize it, I believe is very helpful.
Deepak: Eli, it seems that most of us are suffering from stress but we are really not aware of it. Would you say that we are out of touch with our bodies?
Eli: Without question. Most people are really very much out of touch and don't recognize when their body is telling them to slow down, because they have too much stress. Most people take these symptoms, the feedback from their bodies as kind of the irritating prickles of life.
But in fact, that have to be recognized as a message from your body saying, you've got too much stress. And that's something that we have to learn and become aware of.
We are going to look at a questionnaire now which lists a whole range of symptoms. And it's a long questionnaire so make sure that you have a paper and pencil handy. If you don't have a paper and pencil handy, don't worry, just pay attention to the questions because I believe that of all the tests, this is probably the best indicator of how well you are dealing with stress.
I don't care how well you think you are dealing with stress -- that this is the manifestation of stress in your body.
Here is the first group of questions. Let's look at the first question to see how to score this. If you had tight muscles or muscular aches in the last 6 months, rate yourself on a scale of 1 - 3. If you didn't have any problem, it would be 0. If it was just a minor discomfort, it would be a 1. If it was a little more sever it would be a 2. And if it was really quite severe, give yourself a 3.
Next question, nervous tics or twitches. If these have been a problem for you over the last 6 months, again rate yourself on a scale of 1 - 3.
Stuttering, 1 - 3.
I you experience strained or shaky voice.
If you frown or find that your forehand is wrinkled a great deal, again rate yourself on this scale.
Next group of questions. If you've experienced tension headaches in the last 6 months, rate it on a scale of 1 - 3. And again, I just want to say that tension headaches are very common and very much related to stress. And something like 80% of all visits to doctors offices involve tension headaches. And really of all the problems that I've seen responding to relaxation training, I would say that tension headaches are one of the problems that response best to relaxation training.
Next questions -- do you grind your teeth? Again rate yourself on a scale of 1 - 3.
If you experience trembling or shaking.
If you find yourself pacing a lot or tapping your fingers or your toes, again rate yourself on the scale of 1 - 3. With 3 being severe discomfort, 1 being very minor.
If you have jaw or back pain. And of course back pain is a very common problem. And a study of North American men, they found that back pain was the second greatest fear right after cancer. So it's a big issue for a lot of people and for many of you 3 would be probably a low number for you to rate your own back pain.
Next question. Have you had a change in your appetite? Are you eating more or less? Again, rate yourself 1 - 3.
Do you experience nausea. Again if you don't experience nausea, then you rate it 0. Minor, moderate or severe, rate yourself 1 - 3.
If you have gas pains, or cramping.
Acid stomach or heartburn -- very common problems. A lot of people don't realize that they are stress related.
Do you have urinary difficulties?
Next group of questions. Constipation?
Frigidity or impotence. Again rate yourself on a scale of 1 -3.
Dry mouth or dry throat is another symptom.
You have difficulty swallowing is another symptom of stress.
Do you suffer from high blood pressure, 1 - 2 - 3 - - 3 being severe and if you don't have any problem with this, then 0.
Dizziness is the next question.
Sweaty palms or increased perspiration. Many people under too much stress will find that they perspire a great deal or that their hands are always wet.
Cold hands and feet. Many people experience cold hands and feet and think its a signal that they have poor circulation, but in fact, cold hands and feet is a classic symptom of excessive stress. That when your body is prepared to fight or to run, the blood that normally goes to your hands and to your feet is redirected away from your extremities to feed your muscles. And over time that tends to lead to cold hands and feet.
Sudden bursts of energy.
If you suffer from migraines. And actually 20% of the population suffers from migraines.
Shortness of breath. If you find that you are constantly panting and even walking up just 2 or 3 stairs, your breathe is short.
The next group of questions. Do you feel that things are out of control.
Anxiety or panic attacks. Again these are becoming increasingly common in our urban North American lifestyle. I've seen just an exponential growth in anxiety attacks in the last few years.
Frustration. Again rate yourself, 3 is really sever, 2 is moderate and 1 is minor.
Anger, irritation -- you come home from work, you scream at your children, you kick your dog. Rate yourself on that scale.
Feeling trapped or helpless.
next group of questions. Do you find yourself desperate or hopeless.
Again if in the last 6 months, if these have been a problem for you, rate them on a scale of 1 - 3 where 3 is severe, 2 moderate and 1 minor.
Same with depression. Rate yourself over the last 6 months.
Or feeling guilty. If this is an issue for you, mark it down.
Do you find yourself feeling self-conscious a great deal of the time?
Are you restless? Do you find yourself coming home from work and you can't sit still, you have to keep going? Think about it and rate yourself on the test.
Next question -- poor memory. Do you find that your memory is not what it used to be? Do you find that your memory is suffering? And stress and memory are intimately connected.
Do you find that you daydream a great deal?
Do you have a hard time making decisions? Are you indecisive?
Do you find that you are mentally confused a great deal of the time, or a little bit of the time, or not at all? Again, rate it on a scale of 1 - 3.
Do you have the belief that everything is going to turn out for the worst?
Next group of questions. Do you suffer from racing thoughts? You get into bed and your mind just races away and you can't calm down and go to sleep.
If in the last 6 months you've experienced difficulty sleeping, rate yourself 1 - 3. Actually about one third of the North American population has difficulty sleeping. So it's really quite a severe problem. And a lot of people don't see the connection between your stress and your sleeping problem.
Would you consider yourself having poor judgments? You bought something -- "Why did I buy it? I didn't need it." Are you finding that happening more and more, rate yourself from 0 - 3.
Do you have trouble concentrating? You read the same thing over and over again and it doesn't sink in.
Do you feel yourself preoccupied with thoughts? You can't stop thinking about certain problems. You carry away with you, you get into bed, you are on vacation -- OK, rate yourself on this.
Next group of questions. Have you experienced changes in your body? Have you gained 20lbs in the last year?
Do you experience arthritic joint pain?
Or do you have menstrual difficulties?
Or have you had out-breaks of skin rashes or pimples. In fact, skin conditions are very much related to stress.
And see the next one here, dermatitis or psoriasis. If these have been a problem for you, rate yourself on a scale of 0 - 3.
Fatigue. A lot of people don't see that there is a relationship between their stress and their fatigue. So rate yourself 0 - 3.
Do you experience excessive thirst?
Or have you noticed changes in your skin color?
If over the last 6 months you've had frequent colds.
Or bouts of flu -- you have flus that linger all winter and won't go away.
Or low-grade infections that kind of linger also.
Or even allergies. If you had allergic reactions over the last 6 months, these are also considered stress related.
Now many people respond and say I can buy all of these other things, but when you tell me my allergies are stress inducing, that's more than I can absorb. Because I know that my allergies are a result of pollen in the air. What are you telling me stress?
But the reality is, yes the pollen in the air set off an allergic reaction. But why? And research now is quite clear that stress throws the immune system out of balance. And it's when the immune system that is out of whack, it over reacts to the potential threat -- in this case the allergen, the pollen in the air -- and you get your allergic reaction.
And almost all allergies now are considered stress related.
Even hives are considered stress related. So just rate yourself on the scale of 0 - 3.
And the last group of questions. Do you find yourself feeling generally unwell? Life is a struggle.
Or if you've experienced mouth sores.
Or strep throat.
Or if you've had mononucleosis in the last 6 months, rate this.
And finally, herpes. If you've had herpes in the last 6 months, rate it 0 - 3.
And that's the end of the test.
Deepak: OK. Should I add up the scores right now.
Eli: No, I'd rather you do it later when you have more time. Let's better spend the time now just looking at the implications of this test.
If you scored anything over 10 on this test, that's an indication that you are experiencing some stress in your life. And certainly the higher the score, the more serious the stress is. Certainly anything over 25 should flag a warning for you.
Deepak: 25? That shouldn't be hard to score over 25 on this test. I'm sure I went over that. It's should a long laundry list of ailments.
Eli: And this is by no means an exhaustive list. I was involved with a study that had 90 stress symptoms, so this is not all.
Deepak: Well I have a question about one of the questions. And that's the one on fatigue.
I scored myself a 2 on that, and I'm not sure that it really in my case has anything to do with stress. I've been putting in some overtime hours lately, and I'm a bit tired. That doesn't have anything to do with stress.
Eli: It isn't? Let's just say that if you work with the relaxation for a period of time, even just a couple of weeks, I think you'll be amazed how effective the relaxation is in helping you get rid of the fatigue.
In fact, of all the problems that are affected by relaxation, I would say that fatigue is one of the issues that you can almost say with some degree of certainty that you will be able to reduce if not eliminate in just a few weeks with relaxation.
Deepak: OK. Over-worked and fatigue are related to stress. Now what about my age?
Eli: Certainly as one gets older, these symptoms will become more manifest. Because we accumulate stress over time. You can handle certain stresses in your 20s, but by the time you are in your 40s, that stress has been building and building. It's a kind of wear and tear in your system.
Remember what stress is, stress is fight or flight. It's an arousal state. Your blood pressure is up. Your heart rate is up. Your body is straining. It's a strain that builds over time.
So by the time you accumulate the decades under your belt, as you get older, the stress symptoms become more manifest.
Deepak: So this questionnaire is really a list of messages from the body?
Eli: Exactly. These are the early warning signs.
Deepak: So how can we deal with the early warning signs?
Eli: We can learn to turn off the stress pretty much at will. They are a whole range of simple, practical techniques that enable us to shut down the body stress mechanism and allow the body to rest, repair and recuperate itself.
It absorbs, it integrates the stress and allows the body to maintain an inner balance. And balance is what is missing in the lives of most of us.
Dr. Edwin Jacobson at the University of Chicago back in the 1930s discovered that when your muscles are relaxed, you can't experience mental anxiety. That muscle relaxation and mental anxiety are incompatible. And one of the most effective and practical ways to get into a relaxed state and shut down your body's stress mechanism is to alternately tense up and let go of the tension in the major muscles of the body.
So I'd like to now just guide you through this exercise. And for those of you at home, you get much more out of this program by actually doing the exercise with us rather than just watching. So follow along with us.
OK, begin to clench your right first really tightly. Clench it tighter and tighter and study that tension right up into your forearms. And bend your elbow and tense your bicep -- tight, tight, tight. Study the tension, and let it go.
Now feel the difference. Let your fingers and arms slowly straighten out. And let all of the tension just drain out of your arms and out of your hands.
Now clench your left first really tightly. Tight, tight, tight. Study the tension and let the tension move right up your arms into your forearms, into your upper arms, bend your elbow, tense your biceps. Push your elbow into the chair. Tense your triceps. Tight, tight, tight and let it go.
Let your fingers and arms slowly straighten out. Feel the difference. And it's very important to become aware of the feeling between tensing up and letting go. And also watch your emotions when you tense up and when you let go.
Now do both fists together, really tightly. Let that tension move right up your arms, into your forearms, into your upper arms. Tight, tight, tight. Study the tension. And then let it go.
Just place your arms in a comfortable position. And let all of the tension just drain out of your arms and out of your hands. Put your full concentration into your upper arms and let your upper arms relax and all the tension drain out.
Now become aware of your forearms. And let all of the tension drain out of your forearms. And let all the tension drain out of your hands. Let your arms and hands completely relax.
Now pull your shoulders up toward your ears. Pull your shoulders right up tight. Feel the tension in your shoulders in your upper back. Tight, tight, tight. And then let it go. Let your shoulders drop and let the relaxation deep into your shoulders. Let your shoulders relax.
Now scrunch up all of the muscles in your face. Close your eyes tightly. Tense up all the muscles tightly. Tight, tight, tight. And then let it go. And feel the relaxation all over your face. Feel the relaxation on your forehead and on your eye lids and on your checks and jaw and lips and tongue.
Let go of all of the tension in your face.
Now push your stomach out. Make your stomach hard. Push it out and make it hard. Now pull it in tightly, right in tight. Study the tension. Tight. And then let it go.
Let your stomach relax. Put your full concentration into your stomach and let go of all of the tension in your stomach.
Now just tighten your buttocks and curl up your toes and push your heels down into the floor, and just feel the tension all up your whole lower body. Tight, tight, tight and then let it go. And relax and feel the difference.
And finally, we've got to tense the whole body. So begin to clench your fists real tight and let the tension move up your arms and pull your shoulders up to your ears, and scrunch up all of the muscles in your face and pull your stomach in and tighten your buttocks and lower body. Tight, tight, tight. And then let it go and just let go of all of the tension in your facial muscles and your neck and shoulders, and your arms and hands. And just let your body breathe itself.
Just let go and touch with the natural flow of your breathing. Watch the air coming in and going out of your nostrils. And just enjoy the feeling of relaxation. Now this is an exercise that should ideally be done over 15, 20, 25 minutes -- slowly going through each part of the body, tensing, studying the tension. Knowing what it feels like. Becoming aware of the release.
And it's that awareness of tension and release that is just so important. And you develop a body awareness. So you can catch it. You can catch the tension building. You head it off at the pass before it develops into problems.
Now with just a little bit of practice, in the home study package is a tape that is 25 minutes, a training tape, that will take you through a longer version of this exercise so that you can really use it to develop a deep profound body awareness.
Now take a deep breathe. Hold it. And then exhale. And very slowly, little bit by little bit, slowly open your eyes.
How do you feel?
Deepak: Terrific. That is so simple.
Eli: It's simple, but not simplistic. It seems to strike right at the Achilles heel of stress. And that's what all these exercises, they are simple but they are very profound in their implications.
Deepak: And this exercise will prevent all of those diseases in the questionnaire?
Eli: Well certainly I can tell you from experience from working with thousands of people and a wealth of research, that you can reduce many of those symptoms and in fact even eliminate many of them.
As to preventing illness, it's certainly one of the major strategies to help us prevent illnesses from emerging. And along with proper exercise, proper diet, proper mental attitude, it's one of the four pillars of well being or wellness which they call it these days.
But yes, it is certainly a major strategy and one that I invite you to experiment with and see for yourself. You don't have to believe in it, you just have to do it.
Deepak: So how does this exercise tie in with the others?
Eli: Well what we are doing in this series is introducing you to a range of different techniques. This is but one technique, it's a very popular technique. It's a very good beginners technique. Especially people who have difficulty focusing their mind and concentrating, find this one really works well -- tensing up, letting go -- you can approach it with ease.
This is but one. Last week we worked with breathing. The next program we are going to be working with another variation on a theme. All of these techniques work to turn on a switch. They turn on the body's relaxation response which I remind you literally turns down the body's stress mechanism.
So it's a trigger.
Deepak: I've enjoyed that very much. Thanks Eli.
Eli: My pleasure.
[music] [music] [music] [music] [music] [music] [music] [music] [music] [music]
Program Length: 26:50 min
About the Program:
Program 2, Healing Better shows how the stress reaction is activated in the body and explains how relaxation can alleviate health problems and symptoms directly related to stress.