How To Reduce Your Stress Response

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

In the 1960s, Dr. Frank Jones of Tufts University was conducting experiments to understand how people respond to fear and stress. In one of these experiments, Jones asked the participants to stand in comfortable position. When they became comfortable and relaxed, he startled them with a loud noise. He tested a thousand people in this manner and observed a consistent pattern in how they reacted to such an experience. They tightened their neck muscles, held their breath, and contracted their body, particularly their shoulders and backs. Jones called it a "startle stress response."

Today, it is common knowledge that most people react to fearful or stressful situations by stiffening their neck, holding their breath, and stiffening their body as if to protect themselves from an outside attack. The body becomes the armor and the shield while the mind becomes engaged in defending against the feared outcome.

When everyday tasks, work, and family life continually evoke tension, worries, and threat, then fear gets locked in our bodies. We begin to continually exhibit startle stress response; this response becomes even more pronounced as we begin to habitually worry about future and/or past problems. The startle stress response is insidious and occurs automatically outside our awareness. Most of us become aware of our stress only when we experience a full-blown attack of anxiety. Then we notice such symptoms as the sweaty palms, racing heart, and gasping for breath.

As a result, headache, neck pain, and stiff shoulders are a common complaint in society.

Learn to recognize and release unnecessary patterns of tension. Become conscious and alert to this type of tension. Several times each day, scan the area of your body from tail bone to your upper back, neck, and the crown of your head. Draw an imaginary straight line through the entire upper body. Then imagine the entire upper body elongating as if it’s trying to reach up to the ceiling. This will help you to gradually break up the stress startle response.


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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 


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