Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Taking the Stress Out of Stress: Invoking the Relaxation Response (RR)

There is no cure for birth and death except to enjoy the interval.

---George Santyana

Lessons in life come from surprising places. Husband Richard, who survived a scary heart event in August 2008, returned from one of his cardio-rehab classes with a relaxation CD featuring Eli Bay. That instantly took me back to the early days of my career as a dietitian and public health nutritionist when I was introduced to Eli and had the benefit of taking his “relaxation response” (RR) classes. It was like I discovered a long lost friend just at the right time. Although his area of passion and interest is never out of vogue, right now it is a priority for survival.

With gross domestic products (GDP) in freefall around the world and the American consumer in a funk, rising anxiety is a given. While we’re grappling with adaptive business strategies to ride the chaotic wave, why not invoke the relaxation response more intentionally as one of the soft strategies?

Since all things financial dominate our thoughts, the relaxation response is both a hard and soft “tool” for leaders. Here’s why:

--Job stress anywhere costs billions of dollars a year in worker absenteeism, turnover, lost productivity, accidents and visits to health care providers.

--Stress in the workplace has been rising steadily for decades.

The specific numbers are well-documented by Statistics Canada, the American Institute of Stress, health researchers and various survey organizations. Unchecked and unmanaged stress costs. In today’s environment, this is an area where the actions of leaders can turn the tide.

Leaders who are positive and upbeat yet truthful about the challenges create a better context for counteracting the negative effects of stress. In effect, they set the stage for employees to open the door to the relaxation response. The perception of hope and “we can do this” more likely activates “good” hormone responses (serotonin and dopamine) than “bad” (cortisol and norepinephrine). The messaging must be repeated with substance behind it frequently as practicing the relaxation response makes us more hardy or resilient in the face of constant stressors.

Better still, this is a time for leaders to incorporate opportunities for employees to engage in stress-reducing practices. These include yoga, Tai Chi, meditation, exercise in general and simple relaxation exercises (for example, abdominal breathing and imaging).

Herbert Benson first described and pioneered the relaxation response (RR) as the physiological counterpart of the fight or flight response. Benson’s observations have since been verified. The innate RR functions as a protective mechanism against excessive stress.

The RR is a powerful tool for combating the costs of a world in turmoil and elevating the quality of our lives while we ride the wave of change.

It’s a must for all leaders.

See http://www.elibay.com/ for more information.

Tags: relaxation response, stress

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