Stress Reduction for Optimal Health

Stress: Friend or Foe? By Pierre Zimmerman, Co-facilitator, Saratoga Stress Reduction Program

We live in times of continuous stress in our personal and professional lives — time conflicts, imbalance between “doing and being,” exposed to too much information, multitasking and less connected to others than ever. Why are some people more resistant to stress than others? How can we become more resilient?

The answer has to do with our attitude and perceptions as to whether we accept stress or suppress it, see it as a challenge or a threat. Some amount of stress helps body and mind. Blood vessels dilate and remain more relaxed, the heart pumps more blood, which releases more oxygen to the brain for clarity and processing thoughts, emotions and feelings. Our cells stay active and young and the adrenals and cortisol levels go back to a normal baseline. However, prolonged stress is dangerous for health
 and homeostasis. The metaphor of a hunter’s bow can be helpful. If we pull the bow taut and overstrain it, resilience is lost and the bow breaks. So do our bodies and minds when they are under stress, eventually leading to “dis-eases” or illness.

Minimal or occasional stressors motivate us, stimulate growth and help us develop balance. Our attitude
is what determines our ability to integrate them. Circumstances are always neutral. Most stress is created by our mind, which monitors and regulates the flow of energy and information we create or are exposed to. What is needed for us to respond in a healthy way? Relaxation exercises, meditation, embodied awareness movement and yoga, beneficial communication skills, cultivating loving kindness and compassion for oneself and others are essential for us to flourish. Exercising the muscles of the mind and heart of compassion are necessary, because the body and the mind are one.

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