Back to school can be a stressful time for both parents and kids, but did you know that stress can actually make you sick?
The stress response also known as the fight or flight response, when overactive in our bodies can cause illness. The fight or flight response is a normal and involuntary physiologic response to a stressor. In order to escape from the bear that is chasing us, our bodies liberate energy which allows us to fight or flee. The energy being released acts as an oxidative stress on the body.
Nowadays, we aren't faced with many bears or situations that require a quick fight or flight response. Instead, we are faced with stressors day in and day out. Our bodies cannot interpret types of stress and do not recognize that the stress the brain feels is not an urgent fight or flight type of stress. Today children and adults alike seem to live in a continuous stress mode. The stress we feel begins in the brain but affects the brain and the body. There is one response to stress in the body regardless of the cause. Acute stress causes responses in the nervous, cardiovascular, immune, autonomic and metabolic systems and lead to an unhealthy body.
What can we do to combat this trend? We can actually teach our brains how to relax and combat the effects of stress on the entire body.
Dr. Herbert Benson, a psychiatrist from Harvard describes what is called the relaxation response. The relaxation response is the opposite of the stress response. It elicits in the body a physiologic state which decreases oxygen consumption, respiratory rate, blood pressure and increases a sense of well- being.
We can actually teach our brains how to relax and combat the effects of stress on the entire body.
If we learn to voluntarily elicit the relaxation response we can combat stress and all of its ill effects on the body. People who learn how to elicit the relaxation response on a daily basis are healthier and happier. So how can we accomplish this? It's simple: practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is a state achieved by focusing on the present moment without judgment. It involves recognizing our feelings without being swept up by them.
Mindfulness is most effective when practiced routinely and not just when stressed. There are numerous apps and videos on YouTube which teach meditative and mindful techniques for adults and children alike. The technique can also be learned from Dr. Benson himself at relaxationresponse.org. Mindfulness can become a part of our daily healthy habits like eating well and exercising and its health benefits are just as great.
This blog reflects the opinion of Dr. Shaer and not Peconic Pediatrics as a whole.