The reduction in sympathetic nervous system activity brought about by relaxation techniques has the benefit of allowing the body to rest and recharge its batteries. Your coping abilities usually increase, making it likely that you will experience eustress rather than distress. However, there are a number of other benefits. Some doctors now use relaxation methods, particularly PMR, DMR and meditation, to treat patients with high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol, sometimes without the use of medication.
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In the same way that blood pressure and cholesterol levels rise as sympathetic arousal increases, so levels drop when sympathetic activity declines. Patients practising relaxation for one month or more have shown a decrease in blood cholesterol and other blood fats.
It has been reported that regular meditators make fewer visits to their doctors than non-meditators and that a variety of physical ailments can be alleviated through meditation. While teaching relaxation techniques, we have seen some remarkable changes in our students. A 38-year-old woman with Raynaud's disease (painful cold fingers due to constriction of the digital arteries) reported that the condition disappeared two weeks after she learned to meditate. Three years later, she has not experienced the symptoms again. We have taught many people with sleep problems to meditate. In most cases their problems have disappeared within a week or two of starting meditation. A woman on tranquillisers managed to reduce her dose under the supervision of her doctor after we taught her to meditate. It must be said that these problems might have disappeared anyway or that it was not the meditation itself but the care and attention given to these people that did the trick. Maybe so, we cannot prove otherwise, but there is enough evidence to support the belief that the biological consequences of meditation can bring about such changes. A number of studies and surveys also support this view.
Other benefits of relaxation, and particularly of meditation, are increased mental alertness, improved concentration, creativity and memory, leading to better performance and enhanced or improved relationships. Regular practice can lead to improved well-being and a different, more rational attitude and view on life.
Fitness and exercise.
Sleep and rest.
There are a number of ways in which you can alter your lifestyle to build up your resistance to stress. If you are healthy and fit you will feel good about yourself: your self-esteem will be high, and your irritability, anger and hostility levels low. The following lifestyle review looks at diet, use of stimulants (caffeine and nicotine), alcohol consumption, weight, fitness and exercise, sleep and rest. It is not a comprehensive guide to health and fitness but deals with some aspects which we feel are particularly relevant to the stress response and its activation and which we use regularly in our workshops.
Eat a well-balanced diet.
Watch your fat intake.
Check your fibre intake.
Make sure your mineral, Vitamin C and B complex intake is adequate.
Drink two pints of water each day.
We have all been inundated with advice on what to eat and what not to eat, so much so that many people find it confusing and stressful. We hear, Eat this, don't eat that, eat more of this and eat less of that. One minute we are told, Eat this, the next Don't.