Relieve Stess Naturally

Relieve stress naturally by understanding your body's natural responses.

| February/March 2005

  • Stress
    Being able to relax is crucial for good health, and it's as simple as breathing deeply.
    Illustration courtesy Tom Griffin
  • Relieve Stress
    Stress can lean to unhealthy behavior, such as overeating and smoking.
    Illustration courtesy Tom Griffin

  • Stress
  • Relieve Stress

We live in an overstressed society, and unfortunately, stress often has serious consequences for our health. Stress contributes to indigestion, headaches or muscle aches, sleeplessness and anxiety — not to mention high blood pressure and heart disease.

In addition, stress can lead to unhealthy behavior, such as overeating and smoking. As a tobacco-treatment specialist and personal counselor, I find that almost all my clients struggle with stress. In fact, many consider it the single biggest obstacle to overcoming tobacco addiction.

Many people turn to pharmaceutical drugs or herbal medication to treat the symptoms of stress, but it’s even more important to address the root cause of the problem. I have found that one helpful tool for stress reduction is to learn more about the body’s physical responses to stress and how to better control them. To do that, it’s useful to spend some time thinking about how our stress responses might have evolved in the first place.

Prehistoric Stress

Imagine you are an early human hunter-gatherer. You spend much of your time crafting tools, sharing oral histories with your clan, gathering food and hunting. What a different world! You have no traffic to contend with, no stacks of papers piling up at work and no television relaying news of catastrophes from around the globe. Instead, you live your life at a local level, and you have a great deal of free time.

Prehistoric life is not stress-free, however, and at times your very survival is at stake. Hunting, for example, may mean life or death for you or your family. And there’s always the possibility that a hungry bear will stumble into your camp. Unlike traffic jams and job stress, these are immediate, life-threatening situations, and the body’s natural responses prepare us to deal with them.

In his lecture entitled “Breathing,” Dr. Andrew Weil of the University of Arizona’s Center for Integrative Medicine explains the importance of the autonomic nervous system, which controls many of our body’s unconscious functions. This system has two branches: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic.

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