Learning to Relax Is Valuable Antidote to Stress

By Komaroff, Anthony | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), May 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Learning to Relax Is Valuable Antidote to Stress


Komaroff, Anthony, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm under a lot of stress, and I'd like to learn more about the "relaxation response." What is it? How can I achieve it?

DEAR READER: At Harvard Medical School, we do a lot of traditional "Western" scientific research. But we also have a long history of studying "Eastern" concepts of how the body works, disease and treatment. In the late 1970s, Harvard cardiologist Herbert Benson conducted research into the health hazards of stress - and the body's potential to heal itself. One antidote to stress that Dr. Benson studied was the relaxation response.

To understand the relaxation response, it helps to know how your body responds to stress. Let's say you see a menacing dog approach. Instantly, your senses sharpen, your muscles tighten, your heart beats faster, your blood pressure rises and your breathing quickens.

In the short term, the stress response can be very helpful: It prepares you to fight or to flee danger. And the stress response doesn't help only in situations of life or death. At work, for example, stress can improve your performance in the face of a tight deadline.

In the long term, however, stress contributes to a number of health problems. It elevates blood pressure and makes your body less able to fight off infection and disease.

The relaxation response counters the stress response. Heartbeat and breathing slow down. The body uses less oxygen, and blood flows more easily through the arteries and veins. …

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