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Stress Management

sitting on the beach at sunset

I want to discuss stress management techniques that I have found to be beneficial for all the everyday stress that builds in our daily lives. Some have been researched and some have no scientific backing but have been claimed to be highly efficient by those who have benefited from them.


This simple technique has been studied extensively and found to be one of the more effective interventions through its effects on the heart rate and subsequent cardiovascular dynamics. There is evidence that regular daily meditation can reduce anxiety, moderate chronic pain, reduce blood pressure, lower cortisol levels, reduce muscular tension and reduce myocardial oxygen demand.


Guided imagery usually involves audio suggestions, such as "See yourself on a distant calm beach," etc. Visualization is a technique in which individuals create their own inner scene without the aid of outside stimulation to spark the relaxation response.


Hypnosis can either be self-induced or induced by a trained therapist. Both techniques may be effective in certain individuals. For example, Eriksonian hypnosis (developed by psychiatrist Milton Erikson) is powerfully effective in benefiting physical and mental health over the long term.

This type of hypnosis uses a prearranged script that is customized to the individual by a trained therapist.


Deep breathing works by gradually increasing oxygenation through deeper, more effective oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange. It is usually practiced with meditation.

As breathing deepens, respiration rate slows down, relaxing the individual. Yogic long deep breathing and Zen breathing, first the diaphragm expands; then each portion of the lungs, from the bottom to the top, fills with oxygen.

A mantra or healing sound may be utilized with yogic breathing, while in Zen breathing the individual usually focuses on the breath itself. In both of these techniques, the breathing is usually done through the nose instead of the mouth.


The ears are intimately connected to the brain because the auditory nerve is a major component of the central nervous system. Once the messages from the nerve reach the central nervous system, they are distributed throughout the brain.

The theory is that listening to loud aggressive music produces aggressive behavior. By contrast, listening to classical music, with its rich textures and harmonious orchestrations produces calm and tranquility. Classical music with a rhythm of 60-80 beats per minute approximates the human heart rate when relaxed.


The largest body of research on the effects of massage therapy was performed on seriously ill premature infants. The study, conducted at the University of Miami School Of Medicine, observed newborn babies in a neonatal intensive care unit.

Stress hormones, such as cortisol, were markedly elevated in these infants, and this correlated with a poor medical outcome. When touch therapy by a nurse or preferably by the infant's mother was introduced into the baby's care, the levels of these stress hormones declined helping the children heal and reverse "failure to thrive" syndrome. This research has also been carried out in adults within a similar situation.


Surveys indicate that a vast majority of Americans pray. Prayer manifests its benefits in many ways: a reduction of the stress chemicals; improved health behavior, such as not smoking; and enhanced spirituality, defined as a person's search for the sacred.

Spiritual living is linked to better medical outcomes when treatment is necessary, as well as less depression and improved longevity. While most forms of prayer are good stress management tools, short prayers that are chanted, sung, or repeated appear to be the most useful.

Jessica DeLisio, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is a Clinical Associate with Family Guidance Centers in our Powhatan office. She provides child, adolescent, and family therapy. She can be reached at 804-743-0960 or can be emailed at

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