By: Dr. Jan Hittelman

In 2007, the Foundation for Integrated Research in Mental Health reported that three out of five visits to doctors’ offices result from stress. Chronic stress makes us more susceptible to disease. Research has shown a link between stress and a wide variety of serious health problems including: hypertension, strokes, heart disease, diabetes, ulcers, neck or lower back pain, even cancer and possibly Alzheimer’s disease (Medical News Today 9/30/13). According to a survey by the Better Sleep Council, 65 percent of Americans lose sleep as a result of stress. The American Psychological Association noted that stress has been linked to all six of the leading causes of death in the United States—heart disease, cancer, lung and liver diseases, accidents, and suicide.

The good news is that we can easily manage stress by practicing simple techniques that take just moments to do. Here are some examples of what you can do in the next ten minutes to significantly reduce stress:

Visual Imagery: The mind is very powerful and if we focus on a very relaxing image, the body eventually experiences it as though we’re really there. To see for yourself, try this simple exercise:

  1. Identify a place where you’ve been that was very relaxing (e.g. a beach, the mountains). If needed, make one up.
  2. List everything that you might see, hear, smell and (tactilely) feel in this special place.
  3. Rate your current level of stress from “0” (not stressed at all) to “100” (very stressed).
  4. Find a peaceful place to sit, close your eyes, take a deep breath in and breathe out slowly.
  5. Try to imagine all the details that you listed in your mind’s eye, while periodically repeating the deep breathing.
  6. After about 10 minutes, slowly open your eyes and re-rate your current level of stress. Notice how much more relaxed you feel.

Deep Breathing: In our hurried world, we tend to breathe too shallow and too quickly. Try this simple breathing technique:

  1. Focus all attention on your breathing.
  2. Take a deep breath in through your nose, holding it for just second.
  3. Purse your lips and breathe out slowly through your mouth.
  4. As you exhale imagine all the worry and stress going out of your mouth and leaving your body.
  5. When your attention wanders, gently return your focus to your breathing.
  6. Repeat one more time.

You can combine these approaches for an increased relaxation response. By practicing these techniques daily and encouraging family members to do so as well, everyone will benefit both physically and emotionally.