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Deepak: Well being is something 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 eating healthfully are two essential steps to well being. In this series you'll learn about a third 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 how stress my be affecting you. So get a paper and pencil ready and join us as we take the next step to well being.
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We all take pride in our ability to think. Hopefully we can think ourselves out of the toughest situations. But what if stress actually worsened our ability to think and made situations harder to handle? In this program we're going to learn how stress affects our mental capabilities and this weeks questionnaire will help you recognize signs of stress on your thought processes and you'll 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 an instinctive automatic response of the body's nervous system to some threat or challenge. Our whole being goes into a defensive threatened state in which our normal thinking process is bypassed to enhance our ability to react quickly. Under stress we're only alert to opportunities for immediate defense of action. Have you ever noticed how your mind goes blank when you're in a threatening situation?
You're about to give a speech or take an exam or when you've got too much to do and too little time; often in those situations we lose our ability to concentrate, to remember what we know quite well. Under stress we often have difficulty learning or listening to other people or coming up with new solutions. The stress reaction is essential in truly threatening situations but it obviously get in the way of our ability to handle many of the situations in our life; situations that really aren't threatening but which we perceive or assume to be threatening. If we consciously turn off the body's stress reaction by turning on the body's relaxation response then we tend to perceive things in an nonthreatening light and our thinking returns to normal.
Lorne: I have not doubt at all that stress affects the learning process and it affects the persons ability to concentrate and also to retain what they've learned. I think that we can reduce that stress by paying more attention to the leaning environment and how we organize the learning process. I think we can do that at school, in our offices, at home or wherever learning is taking place.
: What we need to do if we are to be more adaptive in the face of stress is to be more flexible. I think in the face of either a major single stressor or multiple stressors over time --in other words the accumulative affect of stress--can render an individual incapable of problem solving--incapable of productive thinking.
Sheila: I couldn't focus, I found it very difficult to concentrate on a task for an extended period of time.
Paul: I really lose concentration if I'm under stress; I'm not able to focus as intently on a conversation or on something that I'm reading and I don't remember as much.
Peter: You just lose it. You start off across the room to do something and you can't remember what it was you were going to do or you begin a sentence and can't remember how you were going to finish it. When you're doing that in front of thirty people that's an extremely stressful situation.
: How we react to stress or a particular stressor is tied with how we appraise it. If we appraise it in terms of--and let's use the example of the speaking engagement--if you say to yourself "This is an important speaking engagement. I know I'm a good speaker. I can go up and entertain this audience and I can deliver a competent address" then chances are the level of tension you experience will be quite different than if your mental attitude about the speaking engagement were one of, "This is a hostile audience; I know most of these people know as much or more about this topic than I do. This is going to be extremely difficult for me to pull off."
Contrast those two kinds of mental sets about the same event and in the latter example we often sabotage our own efforts to succeed. We need to assess what the stressor is, we need to look at what the resources are that we have and then we need to select virtually a style of relating to this that is going to be most adaptive to us. Generally speaking most people rely on relatively few ways of handling the stresses and frustrations of their lives so we aren't flexible enough in meeting the challenges of our lives. When we feel things are out of control our tendency is often to grab on tighter and control feels more comfortable to us, it's more familiar to us, when in many situations maybe the adaptive strategy for dealing with a stressor is to let go.
Brenda: I experienced the sensation many times of losing control and being afraid of letting go but I went with the feelings and I was a better person for it.
Cheryl: I think for a long time in my life I felt that being in control was the way to be and if I was to be in control of the things around me then I would be okay. But I came to realize when I got into stress management that letting go was the answer not controlling. It was letting your body relax and letting tasks go by that weren't important and then you could manage stress better.
Don: I do know that if I'm relaxed and I'm reading material or I want to motivate myself or I want to synthesize something where I need to make a decision I do it much better when I'm relaxed.
[speaker]# Okay now that you're nice and relaxed I want you to imagine for the next few minutes...
Deepak: One of the new strategies for adapting to stress on the thought process is Super Learning. This relaxation based approach helps students deal with the affects of stress on their thinking processes and it appears to produce dramatic increases in their learning abilities.
Lorne: In the classroom and elementary school I can see children who just fall apart on tests or exams; children who function normally on a regular day-to-day classroom activity. To reduce the stress the students are taught to relax and that improves the learning process and makes it easier both to learn and also to remember. As a teacher I use it all the time; first of all I try to be aware all the time of the learning environment that I'm bringing the students into so it's a pleasant place to come to and hopefully stress is reduced while the students are learning.
I'm especially aware of that --or try to be aware of that--during tests and exams. If you make it a regular pattern of learning then all of a sudden the results start shooting up. A lot of the high school students I work with have patterns of fifty and sixty in education and for on tests or exams and now they are up in the high nineties because they've learned how to cope with that kind of stress. So we could make incredible changes in the learning process if we looked at how stress affects education and I also think we can do it at any age level; this is not something just for children.
: What is happening here is that new styles of coping are being taught and we certainly have the technology and the information to do that. I think if we try to make the distinction between the state of relaxation as opposed to tension or being stressed and the process of relaxation a lot of people say, "Well I'm going to go home and veg out and just relax." Well by vegging out that's the process of relaxation but you're not really doing anything very relaxing you're just kind of sitting watching something.
In fact you may be sitting watching something that's making you fairly tense. The state of relaxation is where the focus ought to be. How do we get from a state of feeling stressed to a state of relaxation and the issue here is to institute things specifically designed to help us relax--to help us undo the tense state we're in. That can be fairly --I think--simply looked at and accomplished.
Deepak: Thinking is so connected with whom I consider myself to be. If I'm thinking well the rewards are obvious; projects go well, people think well of me, and I think well of myself. But if I'm not really thinking well the costs really aren't that obvious at all; who's to say that a project could go better. Now I know that stress affects my thinking; is there a way that we can become more aware of the effects of stress on our thinking?
Eli: Well you know when we're thinking well we see it as a personal strength; when we're not thinking well we see it as a personal weakness. And we often don't want to admit to ourselves that inability but it's quite interesting to be aware that stress is not an event out there--stress is an internal event--and it really has a dramatic effect on our overall thinking capacities and let's illustrate that by going to a questionnaire.
Deepak: So I should pick up paper and pencil now?
Eli: Please and we'll mark these questions with a yes or a no. Don't be concerned if you don't have pencil or paper handy just pay attention to the issues because I think you're going to be surprised. If I can just draw your attention to the first question: "Do you have difficulty concentrating?" You find you sit down to read something in the evening and you read it three or four times before it sinks in, you find other thoughts impinging.
You just can't have the focus, the concentration; now many people see that as a personal weakness and really don't even connect it in any way with stress and yet poor concentration is really very much directly related to high stress levels.
Next question: "Do you find yourself daydreaming at inappropriate times?" Yes or no? Do you find that your boss is talking to your and your mind is wandered off to somewhere else? You want to avoid difficult or unpleasant situations by letting the mind wander off? Do you find that happening more and more frequently? Yes or no?
Next question: "Do you experience racing thoughts?" You get into bed and your mind races away or you find throughout the course of the day you just can't stop the constant ever present flow of thoughts. Yes or no? Next question: "Do your friends and colleagues complain that you seem preoccupied?" Do you find yourself worrying about the same nagging issues; your mind just doesn't seem to shut off? You come home after work and your wife and children are talking to you, you don't hear them because you are preoccupied carrying on the activities of the day. Yes or no?
Next question: "Do you sometimes have difficulty making decisions?" Yes or no? Do you have fears of making decisions --coming to choices? The mind has so many factors are flowing around inside your head that you just really can't stop and make the decision; yes or no? Next question: "Is your memory not as good as it should be?" Have you always prided yourself in having a really good memory and suddenly finding that it's not there for you? You keep forgetting names, faces, telephone numbers, you're forgetting messages to call, you're forgetting to pick things up on the way home from work; are you finding that's happening more and more readily? A lot of people don't seem to recognize that there is a direct relationship between memory and stress.
Deepak: Eli these questions are quite subjective and I'm not sure how to score myself on this one. I have bouts of poor memory but not very often; how should I rate myself?
Eli: Well yeah it's a subjective response; you might find it helpful if you sort of took the perspective of a coworker or a spouse and how would they rate you on this test; does that help?
Eli: Next question: "Do you frequently make poor judgments?" Judgment has a lot to do with intuition or gut feelings which are aspects of the brain that are governed by the right hemisphere--the creative intuitive side. When we're under stress --when we are in a survival mode and feeling defensive and threatened--our thinking tends to be dominated by the left side of the brain; the logical, analytically, rational side. As a result we're not in balance; we tend to not be able to access the full range of mental capacities. We tend to really ram things through.
Next question: "Do you have difficulty falling asleep?" Do you find that you toss and you turn and it takes you an hour, half an hour, three quarters of an hour, an hour and a half to fall asleep every night? Do you find you wake up several times in the course of the evening? Yes or no? "Do you believe that things usually turn out for the worst?" Yes or no? Do you find yourself feeling pessimistic, fearful a great deal of the time? A lot of people don't realize that stress is really very much an aspect of a fear state and if you're locked into chronic stress it tends to have an affect on your overall judgments and your attitudes and people tend to become more pessimistic.
Next question: "When you have too many things on your mind do you often feel confused? Yes or no? Under stress you often find you can't organize things in your mind. Everything is a clutter. When you're under stress you often feel that you're in a corner; you find that under stress your senses become more heightened but your ability to think is more diminished. Next question: "Do you have difficulty finding solutions to problems?" Yes or no? Are you just finding you're not as creative as you'd like to be? When you're under stress you tend to be more locked into the analytical rational way of thinking and your creative intuitive side is diminished.
So without question stress tends to be a major impediment to creativity. Next question: "Do you have trouble absorbing new information quickly?" You find when you're under stress you have a hard time listening, focusing, finding your memory isn't what it should be. In fact whole systems of accelerated learning have been developed to use relaxation as the foundation to help people learn more effectively. Research is really quite clear in showing the more stress you have the more it impedes ones memory, focus, and concentration, Next question: "Do negative emotions such as anger and frustration frequently inhibit your ability to think clearly?" Yes or no?
The late Dr. Hans Selye the father of the concept of modern stress discovered that every time we experience a negative emotion--anger, fear, hostility--it tends to set off adrenaline in the bloodstream--what sets off the body's stress mechanisms. So the more negative emotions you have the more stress you're likely to experience and stress impedes effective thinking. The last question: "Do you have a problem focusing your attention on one thing for a long period of time?" Do you have a low attention span? Are you impatient, do you have trouble concentrating; yes or no?
Deepak: I had no problem in scoring this test. I had a lot of yeses and probably my wife would throw in a few more too but I found it to be particularly interesting because this questionnaire is the first one that really spoke to me. I had an awful lot of yeses.
Eli: Well again the more yeses you have the more it's an implication--a sign--that stress is playing a significant role in impairing your overall thinking capabilities. So I would just want to highlight that for you. Now I'm glad you found a test that spoke to you and that's why in each of these programs we're offering a different questionnaire to look at different aspects of stress--different causes-- so that people will find at least one entry point for them to appreciate the extent of how stress is affecting them.
Deepak: What you seem to be saying is that I can actually do
something about what I thought was a personal weakness.
Eli: Yes and again the proof is in the pudding. You do it--I don't promise that after a few weeks of working with relaxation you're going to develop a photographic memory (although I'm not precluding that)--I'm saying though that generally research has quite clearly demonstrated that concentration memory--just overall thinking functions--are enhanced by working with relaxation.
Deepak: And what kinds of things are we going to do this time?
Eli: Well get comfortable in your chair. Sit up straight. 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. Close your eyes. We are going to start by taking a deep breath. Inhale through your nose filling your lungs. Take a deep breath, hold it for a moment. Imagine the number three and then as you breathe out let your whole body relax. Just let go of all the tightness, all the tension; it's a letting go. Let's do that again.
Take another deep breath, hold it for a moment, imagine the number three and then as you breathe out just let go of all the tightness, all the tensions. Relax your facial muscles, your jaw, your neck and shoulders, arms, hands, stomach. Now take another deep breath, hold it, imagine the number two, and then as you breath out just allow your mind to relax; let your mind become clear and calm, peaceful, tranquil, serene. Let's do that again. Take a deep breath, hold it, imagine the number two, and as you breathe out just allow your mind to relax. Let your mind become clear and calm. Imagine if you will a blank screen in front of your eyes.
Take another deep breath, inhale, hold it, imagine the number one and then as you breath out just let go. Let your emotions relax and just allow yourself to dissolve into a nice comfortable, warm pleasant state of relaxation; it's just a letting go. I'm now going to count from ten down to one and as the numbers descend by one just allow yourself--permit yourself--to become twice as relaxed as you were at the previous number so when you get to the number one you will be more relaxed than you've ever been.
So imagine now the number ten and just let go and just allow yourself to become twice as relaxed as we move down to nine. Then twice as relaxed again as we move down to eight. It's just a letting go of going deeper and deeper into relaxation. Seven; twice as relaxed again now as we move down to six. Really letting go; giving yourself the permission to let go as we move down into five. Going deeper and deeper into relaxation; four. Letting go more and more; three. Twice as relaxed now as we move down to two.
And finally as we go down to one you're going to a deep, healing, pleasant, balanced state of relaxation; just let go. Just focus your concentration for a moment into your chest and mentally locate your heartbeat. [music] Focus your awareness into your thumbs and see if you can mentally pick up or locate the pulse in your thumbs. [music] [music] [music] Now take a deep breath and hold it for a moment and exhale [music] and very, very slowly, little bit by little bit, just slowly, slowly slowly open your eyes. [music] [music]
Deepak: I had a little more trouble with this test; my mind kept wandering and imagining the numbers was difficult.
Eli: Again with all of these exercises it takes practice. To do it the first time like this...I mean you now know how to do it though and I would certainly recommend that as you work with deep states of relaxation with the home study package and the tapes that we have you'll start to develop an ever deepening awareness--a body knowledge--of relaxation that you'll be able to access very quickly with a method like the one we just learned.
Deepak: And will this exercise improve my mental abilities?
Eli: Well this exercise is one of many. It's a very simple exercise; you'll find at first it may not but as you practice, as you work with it, as you go deeper into developing an ever enhanced body awareness of relaxation you'll find you'll be able to access it more and more quickly with techniques like this. I would recommend that you would find --if you work with the relaxation--you'll find that the home study package which involves a series of audio tapes which will guide you into deep states of relaxation. You'll develop that body awareness--that body knowledge--and then with techniques like the one we just learned you'll be able to go deeply into relaxation really quite quickly just about anywhere and just about any time.
Deepak: There was a point while I was doing this last exercise that I was in such a restful state I thought I was going to fall asleep; is that possible?
Eli: Well it's indeed possible. Although a lot of times people think they are going to sleep and in fact they are not they are rather going into deep states of relaxation. Out of the biofeedback research they discovered there are basically four different brain wave states that we all experience. When you're driving when you're working you're producing rapid brain waves called beta waves but just the very act of closing your eyes you start to produce bursts of slower brain waves known as alpha brain waves.
Children are producing predominately alpha brain waves until the age of about six or seven and super leaning techniques really involve alpha brain wave learning. Alpha brain waves are the predominant brain waves that come out of the relaxation response. People think "Wow I was so relaxed I went to sleep." I say hang on; sleep is characterized by very very slow brain waves known as delta waves and it's an unconscious and when you're producing alpha your mind is very alert and your body is very relaxed. It's as if your body goes to sleep but your mind becomes hyper alert so that people for example can be aware of the pulse in their thumbs.
But as you become more experienced with relaxation you tend to go into a deeper state that's not quite sleep and it's not the same kind of mental alertness; it's a state known as theta brain waves and people often think they go to sleep. You're not going to sleep but rather going into that deep state of relaxation. But both alpha and theta are characteristic of the relaxation response.
Deepak: These deeper states--the theta and the delta-- how are they useful; can we function?
Eli: Well as function you wouldn't want to work or drive but the theta state is an extremely creative state. In fact it has been suggested in some research that almost all the major scientific breakthroughs occurred to scientists in the theta state. They may have been working on problems for years but just as they were waking up in the morning--you know when you're in that half asleep half alert state, a revelry state, lot's of images come into the mind--that's theta brain waves and it seems that many if not most of the scientific breakthroughs occurred to scientists in that state. Suddenly the "ah ha" experience just as they are waking up or just as they are falling off to sleep. For most people though they achieve this state only haphazardly. With these techniques you can start to certainly achieve alpha at will and with a bit of practice be able to access the theta brain wave state also at will.
Deepak: Once I've learned to access them what part will they play in my daily life when I'm not in the theta or alpha state?
Eli: Well I mean when you go into the healing states you feel the benefits for hours. I recommend to people that fifteen to twenty minutes a day of deep relaxation will stand you in good stead for the whole day.
Deepak: Will I get better at it; will I be able to access these states faster?
Eli: Oh yeah but with practice; it's not a pill it's a skill.
Deepak: Thanks very much Eli.
Eli: A pleasure.
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Program Length: 26:50 min
About the Program:
Program 6 Thinking Better, shows how relaxation can help you break out of a cycle in which thought can create stress, and stress can interfere with thinking processes such as learning, memory and problem solving.