Stress affects the body in many ways. Under stress, blood pressure rises, the heart speeds up, muscles become tense, digestion is disrupted, and many other changes occur. All of these changes are natural, and beneficial, provided they are not prolonged. That is, periods of challenge or stress must be followed by periods of rest and relaxation, so that the body (and mind) can rebuild. If stress becomes excessive or prolonged, the body will not function well, and certain medical conditions will start to develop.
Dr. Herbert Benson, a Harvard cardiologist, observed that tense, overworked people were more likely to suffer heart attacks than people who led more relaxed or balanced lives. He wrote a book, called The Relaxation Response, describing the harmful effects of stress on the body, and explaining how one can avoid the toxic effects of chronic stress.
If stress is a significant factor in your life, or if you have high blood pressure, heart disease, or another stress-related condition, I recommend that you read Dr. Benson's book. A picture of the book, two reviews, and an excerpt from the book are shown below.
The Relaxation Response
by M.D. Herbert Benson , Miriam Z. Klipper (Contributor)
List Price: $13.00
Amazon.com Price: $10.40
Paperback - (February 2000) 256 pages
When you look at the popularity of mind-body medicine today, it's hard to understand what a groundbreaking book this was when it was first published in 1975. Based on studies at Boston's Beth Israel Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Dr. Herbert Benson showed that relaxation techniques such as meditation have immense physical benefits, from lowered blood pressure to a reduction in heart disease. The Relaxation Response demystifies the mantra meditation used in the transcendental meditation program, explaining how anyone can reap its advantages with or without the help of a guru. If you want to understand the beginnings of today's alternative medicine movement, or if you're simply looking to learn a simple meditation technique without a lot of metaphysical trappings, this is a good place to start. --Ben Kallen --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.
When Dr. Herbert Benson introduced this simple, effective, mind/body approach to relieve stress in The Relaxation Response twenty-five years ago, the book became an instant national bestseller. Since that time, millions of people have learned the secret of the relaxation response--without high-priced lectures, drugs, or prescription medicine. The tremendous success of this approach has turned The Relaxation Response into the classic reference recommended by most health care professionals and authorities to treat the harmful effects of stress.
This revitalizing, therapeutic approach,
discovered by Dr. Benson and his colleagues in the laboratories of
Harvard Medical School and its teaching hospitals, is now routinely
recommended to treat patients suffering from heart conditions,
high blood pressure, chronic pain, insomnia, and many
other physical ailments. Requiring only minutes to learn, and just ten
to twenty minutes of practice twice a day, the Relaxation Response
has proven to be one of the most effective ways to relieve the tensions
of modern-day living for a richer, healthier, more productive life.
Herbert Benson, M.D. is an Associate Professor
of Medicine at the Harvard Medical School and Chief of the Division of
Behavioral Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Mind/Body
Medical Institute. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.
Excerpted from The Relaxation
Response by M.D. Herbert Benson, Miriam Z. Klipper. Copyright
© 2000. Reprinted by permission.
All rights reserved.
An astute physician is lamenting the times:
"But the present world is a different one. Grief, calamity, and evil cause inner bitterness ... there is disobedience and rebellion ... Evil influences strike from early morning until late at night ... they injure the mind and reduce its intelligence and they also injure the muscles and the flesh."
This chronicler lived 4,600 years ago in China, even though his observations appear contemporary. Human beings have always felt subjected to stress and often seem to look longingly backward to more peaceful times. Yet with each generation, complexity and additional stress are added to our lives. The truth is that most of the persistent problems of this planet are even further from solution than when the Chinese doctor decried them. The technology of the past forty-six centuries, and especially that of the last century which was supposed to make life easier for people, often seems to intensify the stress in our day-to-day existence.Victims of Stress
What psychological price do we pay in attempting to adjust to the knowledge that war or its imminence is with us every day? Are we proud that our scientific know-how has increased the sophistication of weapons since that time when a shepherd named David could defeat an entire army with a rock thrown from a sling? Or do we knowingly or subconsciously despair of the current nuclear weaponry that could exterminate every human being, indeed almost all life?
Most of us find that we are helpless in solving the big problems. We have some vague hope that the leaders we elect (and the experts they in turn rely on) can find the solutions. But our concern usually involves everyday difficulties. Our frustrations come about because we generally can't even solve the less earthshaking problems, such as being on time to work in a large, congested city. Indeed, the everyday demands of living make it more and more difficult to escape the increasingly adverse psychological effects that seem built into our existence. Whatever it may be-the daily commute, or the rising cost of living, or the noise and fumes of the city, or unemployment, or random violence-we find it difficult to reach a satisfactory equilibrium, and as a result we become the victims of stress.
Our rapidly changing world has necessitated many other adjustments. For example, before the women's-liberation movement had filtered so far and deep, people were married under a set of unspoken agreements that society now questions and sometimes shatters. Today, women must reexamine their own roles and life-styles against conflicting expectations and suppositions. For the older woman, the problems of reeducation and readjustment can be overwhelming. Men must also adjust to a new role that may mean more responsibility for family and household. They are being forced to view women in a new way, one that may be threatening to their accustomed role. Concurrent with and related to the movement is the change of the family structure. Mobility separates families into small nuclear units. Women raise children outside of marriage. Divorced fathers assume custody of children. All share in the impact of societal changes.
How are these anxieties and stresses affecting us? The presence of mental stress as a part of modem living has been the subject of a number of books, most of which concentrate on the psychology of stress. We will consider stress from a somewhat different perspective, for our concern is not only the psychology but also the physiology of stress. We will explore what happens to you internally under stressful situations and how stress physically undermines your health. This will be done by examining the relation between your emotional reactions and what they may cost you in hypertension, heart attacks, strokes, and other diseases. We will then point out what you can do about the effects of stress. We will show how, by your personal adoption of a simple psychological technique, you can improve your physical and mental well-being.