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Stress: Public Health Enemy Number One

The evidence is in and it is overwhelming: stress plays a vital role in the origin and development of a number of diseases. Stress significantly contributes to coronary artery disease. Stress depresses the immune system making us more susceptible to cancer, autoimmune diseases, and infections. Stress makes us age faster. Get the point? Today, we are just beginning to appreciate the profound effect the mind exerts on the body especially in causing and curing disease. The role that stress plays is stunning. Estimates suggest that as many as 80 percent of all visits to the doctor stem from stress-related problems. As mentioned, stress directly impairs the immune system and can act as the single most damaging factor to our overall health and well beingùbut only if we let it. According to a 1996 survey of corporate executives, 44 percent of the employees questioned said their work load is excessive as compared to 37 percent in 1988. A quarter of these people felt stressed at work every day, and another 12 percent felt it almost every day. When we feel stressed, whether it is conscious or not, the brain instantly stimulates the adrenal glands to produce hormones called cortisosteroids, which enter our circulatory systems and inevitably put strain on our immune responses. Consequently, our body becomes more vulnerable to neoplastic (cancer-causing) processes. These hormones, including cortisol, adrenaline and prolactin, inhibit the activities of white blood cells, inhibit the amount of lymphocytes produced and cause the thymus gland to actually shrink. Studies have found that the incidence of breast cancer was significantly higher in the women who had experienced a traumatic emotional experience during the six years before they developed the tumor. Many other studies support the very damaging effects of stress on immunity, indicating that that T-cell activity is dramatically impaired in people who lose their spouses, lose their jobs or experience other emotionally upsetting events. When the stress becomes chronic, chemical changes occur in the body, inadvertently creating an environment which predisposes to disease.

The Power of Meditation
Meditation can take all sorts of forms. It can include yoga with deep breathing, biofeedback training or formal training such as transcendental mediation. All of these types of meditation have one thing in common: they achieve a state of mindfulness, the ability to let the mind go completely blank by not concentrating on one particular thought. (Ironically, while the term mindlessness may seem more appropriate, the fullness concept refers to the notion that while the mind is full, it is not focused on any one subject. Because I have had considerable experience with acupuncture, I have always leaned towards Eastern meditative techniques. I strongly advise everyone to become involved in some form of meditation on a daily basis. One of the best meditation programs is found in Dr. Herbert Benson's Timeless Healing. The method he uses consists of selecting a word or phrase (a mantra), finding a quiet place to sit in, breathing in and out through the nose and with every exhale, repeating the word once in your mind. Words such as sky, peace, love, and tranquility work well. Benson found that using words with a particular positive religious connotation greatly enhance the meditative session. Select a word or phrase that is spiritual in nature. His method is simple to learn and to implement. Whether it be his way or another, we should all practice meditation regularly for 15 to 20 minutes every morning or at least 10 to 15 minutes twice a day. Meditation dissipates the cumulative effects of stress. The health benefits of learning to remain in a quiet state are tremendous. Meditaion can enable us to improve many medical and nonmedical conditions. Don't expect overnight results. Just keep at it and practice regularly. Research has shown the positive effects of meditation will last 2 to 3 weeks after one stops,

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