Body & Soul with Gail Harris
Program List
Tell Me More

Reading List

The Series
Who We Are
How It Began

Talk to Us

Companion Book
Program Videos

PBS Online

Staying Healthy in a Stressful World:
The Cycle of Stress

Human beings have an innate response to real danger. It's often referred to as the fight-or-flight response, and it triggers the secretion of certain hormones along with an increase in blood pressure, breathing rate, metabolism, and muscle tension to help us fight or flee a perceived threat.

The problem today is that our bodies can't always distinguish between real danger and the pressures of modern life, such as juggling conflicting responsibilities, meeting deadlines, or dealing with traffic. As a result, some estimate that the stress response may occur 50 times a day in the average person.

People exhibit prolonged episodic stress in a number of ways: they become anxious, irritable, angry, withdrawn, or depressed. Over time stress can contribute to a variety of chronic health problems, such as high blood pressure and irregular heart rhythms that can put people at risk for heart disease. In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women. Untreated, stress can also make it more difficult for people to stop certain behaviors, such as smoking or excessive drinking, or to implement lifestyle changes such as improved eating habits or regular exercise.

There is ample evidence now that the use of stress reduction techniques can dramatically improve the body's innate ability to take care of itself. In a recent study at the UCLA School of Medicine, 22 people with high blood pressure were taught various stress reduction techniques such as biofeedback, deep breathing, and the use of relaxation tapes. Seventy-three percent were able to keep their blood pressure under control with lower levels of medication, and over half were able to safely stop taking medication altogether. In a control group of 17 people who did not learn the relaxation methods, only one-third were able to reduce their medication levels.

A major part of the program at the Mind/Body Medical Institute at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston is learning how to manage stress. In addition to practicing the relaxation techniques of meditation, deep breathing, and visualization, participants learn how to identify their automatic emotional and physical reactions to stress. Then they are taught how to break the cycle with these four steps:

  • Stop: Don't let negative thoughts make the situation worse than it really is
  • Breathe: Take several deep breaths to release physical tension
  • Reflect: Focus your energy on the problem at hand
  • Choose: Now you can choose the best way to deal with the situation

Get additional information about the Mind/Body Medical Institute by clicking on the Tell Me More link.

Program Description
Herbert Benson, M.D.
Cycle of Stress
Tell Me More

home | program list | tell me more | links | reading list | who we are | how it began | talk to us | companion book | program videos

copyright 1998-1999, Beacon Productions, Inc. All rights reserved.