Manage Your Toxic Stress

Toxic stress is emotional overload, negative overflow, sometimes expressed but mostly suppressed. Toxic stress is not the circumstances we are experiencing. It is the perception with which we are processing our experience. These perceptions are experienced in our mind independent of the circumstances. Importantly, these perceptions are under our complete control.

Toxic stress adds to the physical and mental anguish breast cancer brings. Stress works at crosspurposes to health, putting the mind in a state of confusion, blurring the focused peacefulness needed for healing.

There is something you can do about this perception. It’s called the “relaxation response.” First named and described by Herbert Benson, M.D., a cardiologist and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, the relaxation response is a simple, effective, self-healing meditation technique for reducing the detrimental effects of all kinds of stresses of everyday life, particularly stress associated with a life-threatening illness.

Benson found that the relaxation response is even more effective when one chooses a focus word or phrase that is closely tied to one’s spiritual beliefs. The idea is to pick a word or short passage that has meaning for you: a Christian might use The Lord is my Shepherd from the Twenty-third Psalm; a Jewish person might choose shalom; a nonreligious phrase might be used, such as the word peace.’’

Pick a phrase with significant personal meaning. Dr. Benson calls this the “faith factor” and explains that it can greatly contribute to helping our minds manage stress more effectively.

The quest for daily self-renewal starts with a decision to handle our problems with a sense of equanimity. Eliciting the relaxation response, especially when coupled with the faith factor, results in our minds working for, rather than against, our healing.

A Call to Action:

Triggering the relaxation response is simple. Try these steps:

1. Find a quiet place, free from distractions, and sit in a comfortable position.
2. Pick a focus word or short phrase that is deeply rooted in your spiritual beliefs.
3. Close your eyes and relax your muscles, from toe to head, particularly relaxing the shoulder and neck area where most tension is carried.
4. Breathe slowly and naturally. Repeat your focus word silently as you exhale.
5. Assume a passive attitude. When a distracting thought comes to mind, simply dismiss it and return to your focus word.
6. Practice this response for ten to twenty minutes twice a day.

Check your daily schedule. Do you have time blocked, twice a day, for stress management?

Schedule it. Honor these appointments