Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Hypnotherapy, Relaxation and Health

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) has studied the effect of hypnotherapy and other relaxation strategies on health outcomes.  Here is an excerpt from their website:

Hypnosis (also called hypnotherapy) has been studied for a number of conditions, including:
  • state anxiety (e.g., before medical procedures or surgeries)
  • headaches
  • smoking cessation
  • pain control
  • hot flashes in breast cancer survivors
  • irritable bowel syndrome
If hypnotherapy is a form of relaxation, then learning more about relaxation techniques may be helpful to understand the connection between intervention and recovery/healing:

Relaxation techniques include a number of practices such as:
  • progressive relaxation
  • guided imagery 
  • biofeedback 
  • self-hypnosis
  • deep breathing exercises
The goal is similar in all: to consciously produce the body’s natural relaxation response, characterized by slower breathing, lower blood pressure, and a feeling of calm and well-being.

Relaxation techniques (also called relaxation response techniques) may be used by some to release tension and to counteract the ill effects of stress. Relaxation techniques are also used to induce sleep, reduce pain, and calm emotions. 

Relaxation is more than a state of mind; it physically changes the way your body functions. When your body is relaxed breathing slows, blood pressure and oxygen consumption decrease, and some people report an increased sense of well-being. This is called the “relaxation response.” Being able to produce the relaxation response using relaxation techniques may counteract the effects of long-term stress, which may contribute to or worsen a range of health problems including depression, digestive disorders, headaches, high blood pressure, and insomnia.

Relaxation techniques often combine breathing and focused attention to calm the mind and the body. Most methods require only brief instruction from a book or experienced practitioner before they can be done without assistance. These techniques may be most effective when practiced regularly and combined with good nutrition, regular exercise, and a strong social support system.

People may use relaxation techniques as part of a comprehensive plan to treat, prevent, or reduce symptoms of a variety of conditions including stress, high blood pressure, chronic pain, insomnia, depression, labor pain, headache, cardiovascular disease, anxiety, chemotherapy side effects, and others.

To understand how consciously producing the relaxation response may affect your health, it is helpful to understand how your body responds to the opposite of relaxation—stress.  When you’re under stress, your body releases hormones that produce the “fight-or-flight response.” Heart rate and breathing rate go up and blood vessels narrow (restricting the flow of blood). This response allows energy to flow to parts of your body that need to take action, for example the muscles and the heart. However useful this response may be in the short term, there is evidence that when your body remains in a stress state for a long time, emotional or physical damage can occur. 

Long-term or chronic stress (lasting months or years) may reduce your body’s ability to fight off illness and lead to or worsen certain health conditions. Chronic stress may play a role in developing high blood pressure, headaches, and stomach ache. Stress may worsen certain conditions, such as asthma. Stress also has been linked to depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses.

In contrast to the stress response, the relaxation response slows the heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and decreases oxygen consumption and levels of stress hormones. Because relaxation is the opposite of stress, the theory is that voluntarily creating the relaxation response through regular use of relaxation techniques could counteract the negative effects of stress.

The brain needs oxygen to think clearly so when you are stressed - take 3 slow belly breaths to nourish your brain.

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