http://www.whsm.com.au/images/1stress-at-work.jpgIn today’s hectic world, we are subject to many different types of stress. We are working longer and longer hours, in more and more demanding jobs. We have less time to spend with our families, and are subject to many different types of financial pressures. As a result, stress-related diseases are on the rise, as are various types of mental illness. Unless we find a way to relax on a daily basis, both our physical and mental health will suffer.

While the benefits of meditation and other relaxation techniques have long been promoted by their practitioners, the scientific evidence for the benefits of relaxation is now becoming clear. In a study at Harvard Medical School, researchers found that techniques such as yoga and meditation activated a number of genes that fight diseases. They compared one group of subjects who were asked to start performing relaxation techniques with another group who did not adopt any specific relaxation methods. The results were impressive. After as little as two months, genes that provide protection from conditions such as high blood pressure and arthritis started to switch on in the group that practice daily relaxation. There were also positive benefits in areas such as chronic pain and infertility.

What was particularly encouraging is that as the subjects continued to perform relaxation techniques, the effect grew stronger and stronger. It appears that the benefits of relaxation are cumulative, and that the most important thing is to perform relaxation exercises on a regular basis. There are many different ways of doing this, including yoga, transcendental meditation, Zen meditation and sexual approaches such as One Taste.

Aside from genetic defects, relaxation can work directly by eliminating the adverse effects of stress itself. One of the most damaging effects of stress is increased levels of stress hormones such as cortisol. Cortisol is an essential part of our stress response, since it elevates levels of sugars in our blood, giving us the energy we need for fight or flight. It also helps our brain to use all that sugar better, and causes substances to be released that help to repair tissue damage. However, it also shuts down or modifies a number of systems that are detrimental or non-essential when we are in danger. These include our immune system, digestive system and reproductive system.

While the effect of cortisol is beneficial when we are in peril, the stresses of modern-day life cause cortisol to be released over extended periods of time. In essence, this is our natural stress response spinning out of control. Because of the effects of cortisol, we are more likely to develop conditions such as anxiety and depression when we are stressed, as well as other mental issues such as memory and concentration problems. Because it inhibits the immune system, cortisol also makes us more susceptible to infections and even cancer – for example, breast cancer is more likely to recur in women who are stressed. Cortisol is also involved in inflammatory responses, which can lead to conditions such as heart disease, arthritis and autoimmune conditions

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