Article #1: Stress/Unstress by Ken Pelletier, Ph.D.
No one can achieve optimum health so long as they allow stress to dominate their lives. Much of peoples’ physical sickness is a result of allowing the autonomic nervous system to get out of control.
Yogis and meditators learn to control their pulse, brain waves, blood pressure, heart rate, skin conductance, muscle tension, peripheral circulation, and respiratory pattern and rate. The subjects’ patterns are very coherent—when one goes up they all go up. When one goes down, they all go down.
There are two kinds of stress: short-term and long-term. The short-term we can take. That’s the kind we share with every other biological organism. We react in a certain way when we’re in a threatening situation.
When there is a long-term stress such as money difficulties, family stress, job stress, emotional conflicts, all bodily functions accelerate as though your life was in danger, and they stay elevated, without release. They continue at a rate of high excitation. This is the kind of biological stress pattern that leads to disease, heart attack or stroke.
Yogis learn to let go of these excess levels and simply quiet themselves down.
You can think of your bodies as being naive. They can’t tell if your life is really in danger, or if you’re just thinking as if your life is in danger. The fear of losing your job might feel just as threatening as if a speeding truck were coming at you. You might react this way to a nagging creditor or to your income tax coming due.
In someone with a real chronic stress pattern, one thing that may break the cycle is a serious problem or illness such as a nervous breakdown, a heart attack, a stroke, a debilitating headache, or one of any number of such things. During or after a serious illness, a very different set of demands is placed upon you. It’s now okay to stay in bed and take it easy.
The same stress that may produce a heart attack in one person might produce only a headache in another. Certain families, both genetically and behaviorally, will predispose to certain illnesses. Your environment will predispose you one way or another. So will your lifestyle.
The most exciting thing about research work in the field of thinking is that once people get moving in the direction of health, they don’t want to stop at just being “normal.” They keep going toward becoming healthier than the average.
The main ways to break the chronic stress pattern are stress management, diet, and exercise. Exercise breaks up both physical and mental tension.
The physiological effects of light exercise for high blood pressure are comparable if not greater than those brought about by drugs. The information is in medical literature but is not taught in medical schools. How often does a doctor put a hypertensive patient on an exercise program?
Post heart attack victims often undergo a conceptual shift in thinking, so that afterward, things that were considered highly stressful are no longer perceived as so potentially perilous. This process is something like, “I just looked at all the things that used to bug me, and I said to heck with it.”
This is the change all patients should strive to produce in themselves—to learn to decide whether a given event is life-threatening or not.
It’s a mistake then, to think that all stress is bad. There are times when the stimulus of stress can save your life. The error comes in when you start interpreting relatively nonthreatening situations—like balancing your checkbook or dealing with a certain person—as though they were life threatening. Then you are creating the crisis in that life event. All the same responses take place as if a car was coming at you at 80 miles per hour.
You can achieve the conceptual shift in any number of ways, one of which is the painful, involuntary way through severe illness that forces you to look at your values. Illness can be a very creative experience—a potential source of regeneration and renewal instead of just a breakdown.
There are many symptoms before actual illness strikes. You’re being told that you’ve pushed yourself beyond a level of healthy functioning. Too many people miss the early signals and get the opportunity to examine their lives—perhaps for the first time—at the cost of a serious illness.
Many people recognize a physical symptom and instead of realizing this calls for a change to correct it, they say, “This is something to worry about.” This further adds anxiety, and gets them deeper into a chronic stress cycle. You can run from a snarling dog and be attacked or stand your ground, stay relaxed, and relate to the dog.
What can people do to minimize the feeling of stress in their lives? Any activity that you have in your life can be used as a meditation. Prayer, walking, sex, running, singing, listening to Bach—it can be anything. An activity that you invest with prolonged and focused attention can be a form of meditation.
Self care is paying attention to a beneficial way of living your life so that your exchanges and interactions with other people are loving and caring, and your attitudes toward yourself are that way, too. People come to meditation by very different roads. For some people, paying attention to nutrition leads to paying attention to other areas of their lives. Others come at it through exercise.
They realize they can’t even run around the block if they’re feeling tense, and they get interested in meditation. Another might start meditating and become conscious of being overweight. Meditation leads to self-discovery and self-care.
Pay attention. The unexamined life is the unlived life. Invest your life with attention. Henry James said, “Try to be someone to whom nothing is lost.”
All the things we do to ourselves by eating a nonoptimal diet make us more susceptible to specific disorders so try decreasing your intake of refined sugars which are uniformly destructive; decreasing your fat consumption; diversifying your protein base away from meat into non-meat sources of protein; and eating more fresh fruits and vegetables.
People who have a slight to extreme overweight problem eat as a form of tranquilization. That relaxed feeling after a large meal is something they seek again and again.
You can get this same feeling from meditating or running several miles a day and this changes your perspective on food. But remember—all things should be fun. Too many people are so dour. They’re going to become healthy if it kills them.
If you drive yourself to do anything, you’re sunk. There must be a spark, an element of vitality, of discovery, that makes it really exciting. You’ve got to follow the little messages from inside that tell you what’s right for you, no matter what any expert says.