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Staying Healthy in a Stressful World:
Dr. Herbert Benson

Dr. Herbert Benson is the founding president of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. His three decades of pioneering research into the mind/body connection have been chronicled in six books, including the seminal The Relaxation Response. He is regarded by many as the godfather of modern mind/body medicine.

"Stress comes from any situation, or circumstance that requires behavioral adjustment. Any change, either good or bad, is stressful, and whether it's a positive or negative change, the physiological response is the same. There is a secretion of adrenaline, nor-adrenaline, epinephrine, and nor-epinephrine. Those hormones change the mental, as well as the physical components of our body. They lead to increased anxiety, increased anger and hostility, increased mild and moderate depression. They contribute to high blood pressure, hypertension, most heart disease, and angiopectorus. Even heart attacks can be influenced by these hormones.

"Humans have always been under stress. There's always been famine, pestilence, interpersonal problems. But what's different about modern-day life is the sheer amount of information and number of circumstances to which we have to adjust. We are eliciting the fight-or-flight response repeatedly and this frequently leads to symptoms.

"It's vital when you think of the Mind/Body Medical Institute that you recognize how we approach health and well-being. It's akin to a 3-legged stool being held up by one leg of pharmaceuticals and a second leg of surgery and procedures. We use traditional medicine on 10 to 40 percent of people where it works. But we also add a third leg to that stool, where people can take advantage of what they can do for themselves. That third leg is self-care where we have several components. One is the relaxation response, which is the physiological counterpart to the stress response. Nutrition, exercise, stress management, and the belief system of the patient are added to that, and we integrate them in a unique fashion.

"What we're saying is that a very large number of disorders are caused or made worse by stress. We don't want to go too far because this is a mental sort of thing. For example there is no data whatsoever to show that stress causes cancer. However, stress could alter the course of a cancer. So, we should view all diseases as having many components.

"One of the most powerful aspects of healing [is] the placebo effect. Look at the components that make up the placebo effect. First is the belief on the part of the patient. Second is belief on the part of the healer or practitioner. The third component is the relationship between the two, the belief that comes from a solid relationship. What it [the placebo effect] really is, is remembered wellness.

"Your thoughts can have enormous power. You can actually be chased by someone or dream you're being chased, and the reaction will be the same because it's a reality in your brain. We could take advantage of that, and by appropriately believing in what can heal, we can remember those patterns in our brain and turn on remembered wellness.

"Believe in what you know to be important to you, and that belief can definitely counteract the harmful effects of stress. Believe in what you're doing to counteract the stress. Believe in relationships, and if you're of a religious nature, believe in the protective aspects of God. That's good for us because it gives us hope, and that hope is a very wonderful way to cope with many of the stresses of everyday life. Now I'm not saying that we should all believe in God. I'm saying if your belief system is to incorporate God, and that kind of spirituality, that's wonderful. If you're not religious, then use another belief in which you have faith, and that belief can also help you counteract the harmful effects of stress."

Program Description
Herbert Benson, M.D.
Cycle of Stress
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