3. The Life Science Stress-Management Program
3.1 Sweating Away Stress: Exercise!
Exercise is your best friend in combating stress. The value of exercise as a stress reducer is well documented by many researchers. Why should exercise, which is a vigorous activity, have the power to relax us and eliminate stress? The answer is this:
Exercise channels the excess energy created by stress into a natural and positive outlet. As you learned earlier, stress causes the sympathetic nervous system to prepare for immediate physical action. The muscles become charged with fuel and the entire metabolism quickens. Unless this excess energy is released through exercise, it can overload and “burn out” the body’s nervous system.
If stress becomes habitual and no exercise is taken, then the excess energy is internalized as tension within the muscles. When this occurs, the muscles and tendons themselves shorten and thicken. Excessive connective tissue is deposited, and a general consolidation of all the tissues occur. In other words, holding in the stress and tension has destructive effects on the muscles of the body.
When you exercise vigorously, you dispel this muscular energy in a natural and beneficial way. After all, stress produces the “fight-or-flight” reaction. If we can quite literally “run away” from stress by jogging or other forms of exercise, then we use the energy created by stress in a constructive manner.
A young man of my acquaintance was an aspiring body builder who went away to college. He was afraid that the time demands of college study would mean an end to his body-building program. After a year of school, he returned with an amazing physique. I told him that it certainly looked like college agreed with his exercise routine after all.
He smiled, and said: “You know it’s funny. I found out that the best way to get rid of tension and anxiety about my college studies and tests was to lift weights. The more anxious I got about my courses, the better it felt to work out with weights. It helped me burn up nervous energy that would have driven me crazy otherwise.”
Exercise does reduce stress and aid relaxation. In his book, Learn To Relax, C. Eugene Walker concludes that exercise has the specific ability to reduce anxiety and tension. People on regular exercise programs tend to be more healthy, have better vital capacity, and in general, can cope with life in a more satisfactory way.
Regular exercise not only makes you feel better, but also makes you become more optimistic, and have a better self image. So not only does exercise reduce anxiety, it seems to be a good preventive for developing future fears and stress problems.
Some people have downplayed the importance of exercise in stress reduction. They say that stress is “all in the mind” and the only effective way to combat stress is through mental or emotional avenues. Not true.
In research conducted by Richard Driscoll, groups of people who were suffering from high anxiety and personal stress were given four types of treatment. One group simply used visual imagery and imagined themselves relaxed, happy, and free from stress. Another group used only exercise. A third group used only physical relaxation techniques, and the last group combined exercise with a positive program of mental optimism.
The group which used exercise in addition to positive thinking had the highest success rate in reducing stress. The groups which did not use exercise programs with their other stress-reducing techniques had a much lower rate of success.
The evidence is in: to reduce stress, you must exercise.
3.2 Stress Management Through Diet
“Sure, I use diet to take care of stress. When I get tense, I just stuff my face!” The young man laughed, but his overweight figure showed the truth behind his joking.
Unfortunately, many people respond to stress by overeating or by indulging in drugs or other destructive habits. To make things worse, the types of foods usually favored under stress—ice cream, candy, soft drinks, coffee, alcohol, junk foods—have the effect of making us more susceptible to stress and illness.
Diet and nutrition play an important role in stress management. By simply avoiding destructive foods and following a wholesome diet, you can withstand normal stressful situations in a cheerful and optimistic fashion. A junk food diet, on the other hand, can make us crumble under the slightest bit of tension. Why is this?
3.3 How Diet Affects the Stress Response
A strong and healthy nervous system is our first defense line against stress. Good nerves and a steady disposition allow you to shake away stress and handle tension effectively. Although many factors ensure a healthy nervous system, most nutritionists believe that B vitamins play the vital role in good nerve health.
If you follow the natural Life Science diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and sprouts, you will have a super abundance of all needed nutrients—including B vitamins as well as important minerals and trace elements that build strong nerves.
On the other hand, junk foods, refined sugars and starches, processed foods, nonfoods like alcohol and coffee, and many of the other substandard foods commonly eaten deplete the body of B vitamins during the metabolism of these foods. These types of foods are nutrient destroyers. In this case, the nutrients being destroyed and depleted by junk foods are the exact same nutrients that your body needs to withstand stress.
Perhaps now you can see how the stress junk food cycle gets started. A person feels stressed and insecure; he or she then reaches for a sugary “reward” food, such as ice cream or candy. After the food is eaten, additional B vitamins and other nutrients are depleted. This nutrient loss predisposes the nervous system to more stress attacks, and more junk food is eaten, and so on.
Why do people use food as a refuge from stress? First of food is a very reassuring substance. Our earliest memory of security go back to being fed by our mother. Feeding or eating, then represents a way back to security.
Food or digestion, is also used to deaden the feelings of stress.When the body is loaded down with a mess of food to digest, the mind becomes cloudy, dull, and desensitized. Food is used as a drug to obliterate feelings of tension, obsession, despondency, or stress.
Eating while under stress is actually one of the worst things you can do. Under any type of stress—physical or mental—the digestive faculties are inhibited and digestion ways suspended. What this means is that if you eat when suffering from stress, indigestion will surely result.
A favorite quote from Dr. Herbert M. Shelton is: “Whenever you are uncomfortable in body or mind, skip the next meal.” If you ever suffer from feelings of stress or fear, resist the temptation to eat. Fast for awhile. A short fast will do much to dispel feelings of delusion, insecurity, and stress. At the same time, the fast allows the body to rebuild itself and strengthen the nervous system. The result of proper diet and occasional fasting is you receive immediate “stress relief”.
The wholesome Life Science diet provides all the nutrients we need to build body and mind that can cope with stress. No foods are included which disrupt the body’s balance or deplete the vital nutrients that we need to withstand stress. A proper diet, coupled with exercise can be your best partner in stress management. But there is another important factor in effective stress mangement, and that is: relaxation.
Rest, sleep, relaxation, poise, equanimity—whatever want to call it—is absolutely essential to the continued health of the organism. In fact, the opposite of stress is recreation. Every muscle, cell, and portion of the body is in a continually alternating state of stress and relaxation. s long as we alternate periods of stress with periods of relaxation, then all is fine. At times, however, stress gets upper hand and relaxation—true and total rest—never occurs, even while asleep.
A young woman who had just accepted a top executive position with one of the nation’s leading banks was sitting in a dentist’s chair. She had a strange problem, but one this dentist had already seen in dozens of his patients: When she was asleep at night, the woman ground her teeth continually. She had so much tension and was going through so much stress with her new job that she actually ground her teeth down through a gold crown covering, and now grinding away at the tooth underneath.
“It’s a common problem of the last ten years,” the dentist told me. “People have so much stress in their daily lives that the only way they can release it is by grinding their teeth in their sleep. Some patients have to wear plastic in their mouth when they go to bed so they won’t grind the teeth down to the bone.”
Just because you get seven or eight hours of sleep does not mean that you are getting adequate rest and relaxation. No, relaxation is different from sleep and strangely enough, you may have to learn how to relax in order to offset stress.
Dr. Herbert M. Shelton wrote in his book Human Beauty: Its Culture and Hygiene: “Worry, strain, and stress exhaust the nervous system more rapidly than physical activity, producing such danger signals as tension, irritability, and a tendency to worry over trifles. If we neglect the necessity for adequate relaxation and repose, we have no chance to replenish our energies or repair our worn tissues.”
Dr. Shelton then concludes that “relaxation is an essential condition of continued healthy existence. Without it, the most vital and necessary processes of life are not carried on or they are conducted with much lowered efficiency.”
But how can we relax if we are feeling stress? The trick is to relax before stress develops and tension sets in. After all, doesn’t it make more sense to use relaxation as a preventive treatment for stress instead of as a “curative?”
Just like regular exercise and a sustained good diet, relaxation and rest should be a normal daily activity that you engage in—whether you need it or not! Modern life can sometimes fool us that we have no time or no need to relax. We feel that we can handle anything, and we take on more projects, more work, and more responsibility. Eventually, the body that has been continually deprived of rest, and relaxation will rebel, and illness may result.
Rest and relaxation must become a daily part of your activities. Give up an hour a day to constructive rest and contemplation. You may engage in some restful hobby or activity that makes no mental or physical demands. You may take a walk by yourself or listen to some music. There are many ways to relax, but don’t fool yourself that you are relaxing when actually you are just doing some other type of work or watching television.
Many people are worried about the “right” way to relax. Some people have been told that meditation is essential, and others believe that relaxation can only come by taking some course or by reading a book.
As far as stress reduction goes, it makes absolutely no difference which relaxation method you use. The important thing is that the relaxation be total: both body and mind must be free from tension and stress.
3.5 Relaxing the Mind
Much stress and tension is in the mind, but as we saw, that does not make it any less “real.” The mind can also be relaxed in a manner similar to the body. First of all, the mind must be used constructively—”exercised” if you will. Mental laziness breeds anxiety and a lack of self-worth. These feelings lead to stress.
If you diligently apply your mind to new tasks and learning, it will be more eager to relax and let go of the petty worries that sometimes occupy the thoughts.
Along with working or exercising the mind, you must give it time to relax, wonder, and dream. Daydreaming is not bad at all, if it doesn’t interfere with our daily lives. Giving the mind free reign to explore and visualize can do much to dispel the mundane worries that can dominate our thoughts.
Listening to fine music, painting, reading inspiring books, and just quietly sitting in contemplation are excellent mind relaxers. Whichever way is best suited for your temperament, find a way to relax your mind and leave your worries behind for at least a small time every single day.
Simply relaxing and “doing nothing” may be very hard at first, but if you give yourself the scheduled time to do it every day, you will eventually look forward eagerly to your “relaxation period.”
3.6 A Case History
The man before me should have been at the prime of his life. Forty-five years old, the man had started his own computer company three years ago and was now earning over a hundred thousand dollars a year. Yet he looked distinctly unhappy.
I can’t enjoy life anymore. Food I eat doesn’t agree with my acid stomach. I worry I’m getting ulcers. After a day of work and dealing with problems, I don’t want to even talk to my wife—much less make love to her. I’ve got everything I want except peace of mind, so I guess I really don’t have much at all.” The man folded and unfolded a piece of paper in his lap. His hands shook, and he couldn’t meet my eyes.
After talking some more, I discovered that his diet was typical for business executives: a breakfast of coffee and orange juice and toast, a fast-food lunch, and a supper of beef and potatoes. His only exercise was taking his sailboat to the lake on summer weekends, and he had no other interests outside of his work.
The first thing we worked on was his diet. He wasn’t about to give up meat or some of his “favorite” foods, but he did agree to practice the rules of food combining. He lived about a-mile-and-a-half from his office, and he decided that he would walk there and back at least three times a week, weather permitting. Finally, he renewed an old interest in music, and told me that he was going to start practicing on the piano he had bought for his children.
Two months passed. I met the man again, and noticed his relaxed and smiling expression. “No more ulcers or acid stomach” he told me. “I don’t know if I believe that food combining stuff or not, but something sure worked on that diet. And I also realized how much I missed being outside as I walked to my office. Now I’m riding a bicycle to and from work about every day.”
And his new hobby? “Ah yes, music. It sure is soothing my savage beast after a day of work. I gave up on the piano,” he confided, “but I got an excellent classical music library now, and I’m taking a music appreciation course.”
It all seemed so simple. Just a consciousness about the diet, minimal daily exercise, and a relaxing outside interest were all that was needed to turn the man’s stress-filled life around. The Life Science approach to stress management is simple. Only a small amount of commitment and personal effort is required. And the reward? The greatest of all—a stress-free, healthy, happy, and productive life.