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Relaxation routine can combat effects of stress, counselor says

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–“People, and ministers especially, encounter 40 to 50 incidents of stress a day, and what it does to our bodies is deadly.”

Barney Self, LeaderCare counselor for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, speaking to participants in a stress and relaxation response workshop, noted that about 60 to 90 percent of all doctors’ office visits are directly or indirectly related to stress.

“For those of us in ministry, the guaranteed component of ministry is massive amounts of stress” that can lead to severe illnesses and possibly death, Self said during the National Conference for Church Leadership, June 24-28, at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina.

“The deal is not whether it will be there, but what we are going to do with it. If we don’t take care of it, getting sick is part of how we deal with it.”

Because stress is the perception of a threat or danger, a person’s body goes through significant changes when it is encountered, Self said.

“We go through a series of changes that incur a massive impact on every physiological component of our bodies,” he said.

Response to stress is driven by fear, and fear affects the whole body, he said, creating:

— narrowed perception;

— impaired memory;

— blocked learning ability;

— defensive posture physiologically;

— negative expectations;

— flight or fight response;

— increased body tension; and

— preparation for action.

Stress ultimately increases a person’s heart rate, blood pressure, need for oxygen, breathing rate, perspiration and blood sugar, he said.

And if that’s not enough, he added, stress affects a person’s immune functioning system, effectively inhibiting antibodies that fight illnesses.

“Our adrenaline flows during stressful situations, shutting down the digestive track, constricting the flow of blood in peripheral parts of the body and increasing the thickness of our blood. And that increases the possibility of a stroke or heart attack.”

Self said he believes the increase of colon cancer in America can be partially attributed to stress.

Stress also releases a body chemical called cortisol, which stimulates the appetite and is a major factor in stress-induced weight gain. “It makes us ravenous.”

Basically, he said, stress can break down a person’s body.

There is a way to combat stress-induced illnesses, Self noted, that does not require a pill or surgery. He said the three-pronged solution is based on nutrition and exercise, a person’s belief in God and a program of relaxation and meditation.

“Pharmaceutical or surgical approaches cannot touch stress-related illnesses,” he said. “We want to take a pill and have it fixed. We want the pain to go away and for life to be better and back to normal.”

In addition to eating right, exercising and believing in a God who heals, Self said people should take the time to relax and meditate each day.

Sitting in complete and comfortable silence twice a day for 15 to 20 minutes will beat a pharmaceutical or surgical solution to stress-related illnesses hands down, he added.

“The whole concept of the relaxation response is based on meditation. Buddhists said you must clear your mind to meditate, but that’s hooey,” Self said. “I think what God would call us to do is focus our minds on him. It is our birthright to use meditation that would honor God.”

In fact, Self points to at least two Scriptural references that address meditation. One is Psalms 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.” And the other is Isaiah 26:3: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee because he trusteth in thee.”

“Because we are never still, we don’t know God as effectively,” Self said. “And because we lead frenetic or chaotic lives, it is difficult for us to focus our minds intently on him. The relaxation response allows us to do both and get the benefit of health at the same time.”

The relaxation response is a pattern of breathing and mind/body connection through meditation that lowers metabolism and decreases the heart rate, blood pressure and the rate of breathing, which, in turn, increases immune functioning, he said.

“This is life or death stuff here,” Self said. “It really is.”

To practice the relaxation technique, it’s best, but not absolutely necessary, to find a quiet environment. However, Self said he has achieved good results in airports and waiting rooms.

Also needed are a comfortable chair with good lumbar support; a simple knowledge of diaphragmatic breathing (breathing from the diaphragm); a passive mental attitude; and a word, phrase or image to contemplate while breathing in and out.

While many phrases will work, Self’s list for focused breathing includes:

Christ (breathing in); My Redeemer (breathing out)

Jesus; Is Lord

My Lord; and Savior

God; is Love

You are: My King

Your Love; Is Real

Gracious God; Loving Father

My Father; Is Faithful

Your forgiveness; Is Real

“This is not a time for prayer,” he emphasized. “This is meditation. This is a time to focus our mind intently on God. It is a time to allow God to take a pen and write into our lives. Maybe explain some things we really need to hear.”

The specific technique for meditation through focused breathing, he said, includes:

1. Find a comfortable, supportive chair. Place both feet on the floor and your hands comfortably in your lap. Close your eyes and breath diaphragmatically.

2. On the in breath, internally say a word or phrase.

3. On the out breath, internally say a word or phrase.

4. Repeat the same words or phrases for 15 to 20 minutes, while continuing to breathe diaphragmatically.

5. When your mind wanders to a thought or concern, gently return to the breathing and words.

“What you are trying to do is accomplish this for a 15- to 20-minute period two times a day. For me, it takes about 8-10 minutes in process before I catch a breath that is just a little deeper. And from that point on, I trail off into an incredible, restful component.”

The relaxation response results in long-term changes in the body that counteract the harmful effects of stress throughout the day, Self said. “It quiets the mind and gives God the opportunity to speak to us.”

Self said one goal of LifeWay’s pastoral ministries area is to help ministers learn how to be healthy and happy.

“Our goal is to help you minister as long as you can and be as healthy as you can as long as possible.”

The National Conference for Church Leadership Church is sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Church leaders interested in attending an NCCL conference next year can e-mail [email protected] for more information.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: RELAX TO REJUVENATE.

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  • Terri Lackey