Dr. William Collinge, a leading expert in use of self-help stress-relief and healing therapies for CFS & Fibromyalgia, says that stress plays a central role in hypertension and heart disease.
The actual stress response is when a set of changes in your body result when you experience what youperceiveto be a challenging or threatening situation. He says that the matter of “perceived threat” is important because the effects of the stress response on your body are the same, whether the threat is real oryou are just imagining it in your mind. The more confident you are in your ability to handle a challenge easily, the less stress is involved. The more you perceive the situation or challenge to be a threat, even subconsciously, the more intense your stress response will be.
The stress response is known as the “fight or flight” reaction and it has the beneficial effect of preparing your body to function at a higher level of efficiency that helps you to protect yourself from dangerous situations. The physiological changes include:
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Increased respiratory rate
- Increased oxygen consumption
- Increased perspiration
- Increased muscle tone
- Increased blood flow to skeletal muscle
There is also a downside to the stress response. If you are experiencing the stress response on a regular basis and for extended periods of time, the changes listed above have the effect of raising your blood pressure and increasing cholesterol levels in your blood. Collinge notes that the hormones released during the stress response can cause the demands on your heart to increase. This is why those who experience stress on a chronic basis are at greater risk of developing heart disease. Dr. Collinge states:
“This connection was dramatically illustrated in a study of air traffic controllers, considered to be in a very stressful occupation, who were found to have five times the incidence of hypertension as a comparison group of second class airmen.”
Relaxation Response – The Opposite of Stress Response
Collinge says that the “cornerstone of mind/body medicine in heart disease is regularly experiencing the relaxation response”. The “relaxation response” is a physiological state that was discovered by doctors at Harvard Medical School in the early 1970’s. Back then the doctors were studying a pattern of changes that happens in people who were practicing Transcendental Meditation. However, it has since been learned that any form of meditation, as well as imagery, prayer adn breathing exercises can produce this healing state. They found that the pattern of changes was a “mirror image” of the stress response:
- Reduced blood pressure
- Reduced heart rate
- Reduced respiratory rate
- Reduced oxygen consumption
- Reduced blood flow to skeletal muscles
- Reduced perspiration
- Reduced overall muscle tension
Benefits to the Immune System
The relaxation response has been found to improve the functioning of the immune system. Regular practice of techniques that promote this response also brings with it improved emotional well-being and a better ability to handle stressful events.
Regular practice of the relaxation response actually lowers your body’s baseline of reactivity in stressful situations. After a while, it actually takes more stress than it did before to trigger the stress response in your body.
Tomorrow I will share the three relaxation response techniques Dr. Collinge recommends.
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