Stress — and a remedy
by Robert Simon Siegel, MS
This article was originally published in March 2003
(March 2003) — Physicians see stress destroy health daily. More than 75 percent of all doctor visits are now stress-related (American Institute of Stress). Stress directly causes a huge range of health problems. Stress prevents normal healing of virtually all illness conditions.
Employers see stress damage performance. More than 50 percent of job absenteeism is from stress (European Agency for Safety & Health at Work — USA workers). Healthcare costs are escalating over 14 percent annually. Reducing and preventing this share of healthcare costs is a strategic necessity. De-stressing protects the value of our healthy efforts — exercise, nutrition, rest and friendships.
A real danger
The culprit in stress is the fight/flight survival reaction. Repeating hundreds of times daily, stress directs blood flow from internal organs, compromising their supply of nutrients and waste elimination — explaining the variety of organ problems from stress.
The danger is not only that stress affects all body systems. The real danger is that the effects of stress accumulate. Something will “blow” unless we dissolve each stress immediately — as fast as it occurs — with safe, effective skills.
Stressful thinking — focusing on problems, worries or fears — triggers cortisone release. Cortisone breaks down protein, interfering with protein synthesis needed to heal wounds. Cortisone decreases thymus function, weakening our immune surveillance so much that opportunistic organisms like viruses, bacteria and mold more easily cause illness, flu and increased cancer risk.
Stress can keep blood pressure elevated, muscles tense and internal organs rapidly aging. Stress drops intelligence by shifting blood from brain areas that perform rational thinking, solutions and decision-making.
The positive purpose
All “symptoms” of stress make sense once seen as a ringing telephone. Not random, stress signals a vital perception. Stress alerts us when “something is changing.” Once we feel stress, change has already happened.
Typically, stress tells us we need to change. Since people resist change and ignore their signals, “symptoms” increase to get our attention — like speaking more loudly when someone doesn’t hear us. The goal: answer the phone; get the message.
Correctly utilized, stress guides us to navigate change successfully. Seeing stress as a communication can produce benefits. Illnesses can dissolve. Business “problems” become innovative solutions. This is the essence of mind/body health. Medicine researched fight/flight physiology, but survival reactions triggered without physical threats weren’t credited with genuine purpose. This must change. Without addressing its purpose, no amount of costly pills or alcohol can stop the phone ringing. They merely numb our needed ability to perceive this exquisite guidance system and benefit.
- Mental stress: central nervous system
Mental stress, like caffeine shot into the brain, triggers adrenalin/cortisone release via racing thoughts, overwhelm, anxiety, poor concentration and negative focus stuck on problems and fears. Insomnia is often inability to stop “thinking.”
- Emotional stress: autonomic nervous system
Mental stress triggers sympathetic nervous system adrenalin/cortisone release, adding physical discomforts: elevated blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, upset stomach and rapid, shallow breathing that generates hyperventilation syndrome, anxiety and panic attacks.
- Physical stress: skeletal muscle system
Physical stress — contracted muscles — produces tension headaches, teeth grinding/clenching, fidgeting, shoulder/back tension, stomach knots and chest tightness. Chronic muscle tension restricts joint flexibility, decreases circulation and pulls vertebrae from alignment — impinging nerves and producing pain.
- Energetic stress: electromagnetic energy system
Increasingly important is our electromagnetic energy system. Heartbeats (EKG), muscle contractions, nerve impulses, brain waves (EEG), ion exchanges across cell membranes and immune actions are basically electrical events.
The more fully our electromagnetic energy flows, the greater our health and joy. Stress restricts this vital life force, particularly in our body’s magnetic center, the heart area.
To dissolve stress successfully, all four body systems must be reset quickly to healthy calm or “homeostasis.” Addressing fewer than all four won’t succeed, since any system ignored re-triggers the others. Fortunately, control levers exist.
A major part of the remedy is totally natural: “the deep sigh breath.” When upsetting emotional events are resolved, we sigh. Sighing corrects breath-holding, the breathing pattern of stress. Sighing’s physiological purpose is to reset internal activity from high arousal (stress) to low arousal (calm). This three-step procedure quickly restores calm:
- One: Inhale deeply and smoothly through the nose.
- Two: Release like a sigh, through the nose, exhaling naturally, neither forcing nor controlling.
- Three: Rest. After exhaling, fully let go, as long as comfortable — until your body signals to inhale.
Repeat as needed. Rarely prescribed, the vital third step resets the brain, literally quieting sympathetic adrenalin reactions. The “deep sigh breath” is a single (though powerful) technique that resets the sympathetic nervous system.
My complete STRESS OFF™ system includes eight more skills to reset the three other body systems. All nine skills are easily integrated into a single six-second skill. They rapidly clear the mind and restore full focus with greater awareness. They rapidly reduce sympathetic arousal and activate parasympathetic relaxation. They relax nine major muscle groups. They increase electromagnetic energy circulation.
The six-second STRESS OFF™ rapidly resets your whole body to healthy calm, averting a lifetime of stress damage. Faster and safer than pills, you can easily destress while working, driving, walking or talking.
Robert Simon Siegel, MS has more than 15 years experience helping individuals and organizations remedy stress, improve mind/body functioning and performance, and reduce health costs. Author of Six Seconds To True Calm: Thriving Skills For 21st Century Living, Siegel’s clients include NBC, Chevron USA, Pritikin Longevity Center, Washington Athletic Club, the Port of Seattle Police Department and Providence Health Systems. For information about trainings, call 360-331-7141 or email www.thrivingwithchange.com.