This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 14 table of contents.

Stress Reduction

Stress management techniques fall into two categories. Category #1 is a set of techniques that promote relaxed or calm feelings, addressing the biological state of over-arousal or exhaustion caused by stress. Category #2 is a set of techniques that treats stress by attempting to change a person's appraisal of the stress-causing situation.

What are two categories of stress reduction technique? How can sleep influence stress?

Category #1 includes the lowest-tech remedy: sleep. Stage 4 sleep—the type of deep sleep during which there is deep breathing, a slow steady heart rate, and little body movement—increases after stressful events and helps people recover from stress. Conversely, lack of sleep due to a sleep disorder such as apnea (periods of breathlessness) can mimic the effects of stress.

Meditation is enthusiastically endorsed by some people as a stress-reducer. Relaxation training can have similar effects. Herbert Benson of the Harvard Medical School made a career out of promoting the relaxation response which is simply the ability to let go of muscle tension and stressful thoughts in a "physiological state of deep rest." People who learn to relax have reduced adrenaline levels when stressed, although their heart rate and blood pressure responses are similar to other people (Hoffman and colleagues, 1981). The reduction in adrenaline should reduce the health risk for people who learn to relax, because it is the adrenal response to an emergency that affects the immune and cardiac systems in negative ways, not the temporary changes in heart rate and blood pressure.

What are techniques for producing calm feelings?

Exercise can reduce stress. For many people, the after-effect of exercise is a satisfied feeling, followed by a good sleep at night. Different forms of exercise can have this effect. Weightlifting, although it activates anaerobic muscle fibers different from those activated by jogging, has much the same stress-reducing effects as jogging.

How can loving interactions benefit people? Rabbits?

Loving interactions reduce stress. Relaxed, friendly conversations, hugs, or patting a puppy or kitten can reduce stress. When humans stroke animals, the humans may experience a drop in blood pressure. Animals also seem to benefit from this type of interaction. In one study, rabbits fed a high-cholesterol diet did not develop atherosclerosis (fat in the arteries, which can lead to heart disease) if they were petted and handled every day by the same person (Nerem, Levesque, and Cornhill, 1980). A control group given the same diet developed serious heart disease.

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