STRESS AND STRESS REDUCTION
Adapted from Engs, R.C. Alcohol and Other Drugs: Self Responsibility. Tichenor Publishing Company, Bloomington, IN, 1987. (c) Copyright Ruth C. Engs, Bloomington, IN, 1996
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Stress is thought to be an important contributor to many problems. According to Stensrud and Stensrud, early stress researchers found that regardless of the environmental stressor, a generalized physiological response was activated in the organism. This "fight or flight", or stress response was termed the General Adaptation Syndrome by Hans Selye.
When an individual encounters a stressor, the body part that first notes the stimulus passes the signal to the brain. The message passes through the reticular activating system to the hypothalamus and thalamus. When the hypothalamus experiences the stressor signal, it simultaneously activates the two major stress pathways: the autonomic nervous system and the endocrine system.
When the sympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system is activated by the hypothalamus, involuntary functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and body fluid regulation are affected. At the same time, the pituitary gland is stimulated, which in turn orders the release of several chemical hormones. The chemical cortisol provides fuel for the "fight or flight" response by increasing blood sugar so that there is energy for action. Aldosterone increases the blood pressure. Epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine are also produced, along with thyroxine. These substances in turn cause the following to occur:
1. Acceleration of heart rate
2. Dilation of coronary arteries
3. Dilation of bronchial tubes
4. Increase in force of heart contractions
5. Increase in rate of metabolism
6. Increase in anxiety
7. Increase in gastrointestinal motility
8. Increase in rate and depth of respiration
9. Decrease in feeling of tiredness
10. Decrease in Salvation
11. Dilation of pupils
The physical problems related to chronic stress include the lowering of the immune response, chronic muscle tension, and increased blood pressure. These problems can eventually lead to serious life-threatening illnesses such as heart attacks, kidney disease, and cancer. Holmes and Rahe and others have found that individuals who have undergone several stressful life events over a year's time have a much higher probability of developing these types of serious illness, within a few years of the events, than non-stressed individuals.
During the middle 1970s, research by Mason et al. And Lazarus demonstrated that vast individual differences exist in how individuals respond to stress-producing stimuli. Some individuals react with the "fight or flight" response, whereas other individuals either suppress the response or do not react to it at all. To accommodate the individual differences in the activation of the stress response, the concept of cognition was proposed. In other words, the thought process of the individual in response to the stressor is considered important. What might be perceived as a stressor by one person might not be seen as a stressor by another.
As an example, if a professor announces a surprise quiz, student "A" might then experience extreme anxiety and the fight-flight response. Student "B" may experience no activation. This could occur because student "A" had never reviewed the notes from the class while student "B" had.
This concept of selectively responding to a stress stimulus was coined by Lazarus, Stensrud and Stensrud, and others as the coping theory of stress. An individual being stimulated by a stressor appraises the stimulus to determine if it is a source of (a) threat, (b) loss or harm, © challenge, or (d) irrelevancy. If upon appraisal it is determined that the stimulus is irrelevant or harmless, no stress response is activated. However, if the stressor is seen as harmful and the stress response is activated, a coping response occurs. If the coping response, such as taking three deep breaths before beginning the speech before the large group of people, is successful, normal physiological functioning will soon resume. According to Stensrud and Stensrud, if the coping response is not successful and/or the person experiences chronic stressful arousal from a variety of stimuli, unhealthy results, including physical and psychological health problems, can occur.
According to various authors in the book The Addictive Behaviors, individuals with compulsive disorders, including alcoholism, gambling, overeating, or smoking, often increase negative behavior, or undergo a relapse, after they have been through a stressful time period. Herman and Polivy feel that emotional stress leads to increases in binge eating. Hooker and Convisser believe that anger resulting from stressful situations also plays a part in some addictive disorders. As an example, individuals who do not express anger outwardly often turn it inward. When this occurs, it may lead to depression. To relieve the discomfort they feel because they have not expressed their anger, these individuals begin to overeat or engage in other addictive behaviors.
Some researchers feel that stress contributes to addictive behaviors. Individuals begin to use the drugs as a way of relieving the anxiety and tension associated with the stress response and to feel good. However, getting involved with substances, or any other addictive behavior, only increases the anxiety and stress, thus perpetuating a vicious circle.
Why some individuals engage in an addictive behavior or develop an illness while others do not is not known at this time. Perhaps an individual inherits a "trait" to develop a health or an addictive behavior problem. Depending upon early family and environmental influences, including ways of coping with everyday stressors, the person either learns to cope with stress in a positive manner or develops physical, emotional or addictive behavior problems.
Andrews Weil suggests that we have a basic need to achieve "altered states of consciousness." He alludes to the fact that individuals from many cultures throughout history have engaged in behaviors that have produced a "natural high" and have reduced stress and tension. These activities usually involved physical exertion, quiet meditation, breathing exercises and/or risky and exciting ventures or pastimes. Herbert Benson likewise feels that many of these activities activate the "relaxation response," which is opposite to the "fight-flight" response. He suggests that activities that elicited the relaxation response became part of a society's religious and spiritual tradition, passed down from generation to generation.
ACTIVATING THE RELAXATION RESPONSE
The activation of the "relaxation response," in opposition to the activation of the "fight-flight" response, lies in the stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. When this system is stimulated by a rhythmical activity in meditative activities such as chanting, breathing in a pattern, or saying prayers over and over, the individual begins to feel calm, relaxed, and anxiety free. When the parasympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system is activated by any of these activities, the following physiological reactions occur:
1. Slowing of heart rate
2. Decrease in respiration
3. Decrease in metabolism
4. Increase in salivation and digestion
5. Decrease in blood pressure
6. Increase in alpha brain waves
7. Feeling of relaxation
8. Feeling of warmth and heaviness
In 1970, R.K. Wallace published results concerning the physiological effects of meditation, which are similar to the effects of parasympathetic nervous system stimulation. He showed that during meditation, oxygen consumption of the body was decreased. The production of lactic acid was also decreased, thus indicating a slowing down of metabolism. A decrease in heart rate and cardiac output indicated a reduction in the workload of the heart. The skin had an increased resistance to the passage of an electrical current, indicating decreased arousal of the sympathetic nervous system. An increase in slow theta and alpha brain waves indicated a more restful state. Wallace found that meditators he studied were in a restful and relaxed state after meditation. They were awake, alert, and exhibited increased reaction time, improved coordination, and improved hearing ability. Some meditators indicated that meditation resulted in a "natural high." These effects of meditation appear to result from the activation of the parasympathetic system and perhaps even the creation of natural opiates in the brain.
As has been previously mentioned, "natural opiates" and their receptor sites have been found in the brain. These brain chemicals-endorphins- have been found to block pain and to create a feeling of euphoria or a "high' much like opiates. It is thought that the "high" or euphoria from vigorous physical exertion, risky activities, gambling, meditation, and starvation may be due to the production of these brain chemicals. In theory, the endorphins, and probably other brain-manufactured "drugs," are released in response to both physical and psychological stress and/or other physiological states. This release may be induced by stimulation of the autonomic nervous system; however, research is not yet conclusive as to the mechanism of this phenomenon.
The Altered State or "Flow" Experience
Csikszentmihalyi discusses similar states that are described by individuals who become absorbed in various creative and recreational activities. A person who is completely involved in an activity, whether it be chess, rock climbing, the arts, dance, or anything else, often experiences certain subjective feelings called the "flow state." The flow state is a feeling of unified flowing from one moment to the next in which the person is in control of his/her actions and in which there is little distinction between self and environment, past, present, and future, stimulus or response. While in the flow state, the person usually does not think of him/herself as being separate from what he/she is doing. Individuals in the flow state are usually oblivious to their surroundings and describe what they experience in the following ways:
- in control of their actions, even if it is a potentially dangerous activity
- a general feeling of well-being
- an altered sense of time
- a merging of action and awareness
- clarity and manageability of limits happiness, health, vision
- integration of mind and body
- understanding of true self and self integration
- sense of place in the universe and oneness of nature
This sense of flow, or altered state, according to Csikszentmihalyi, is what causes certain individuals to sacrifice power, fame, and money for such things as artistic creativity, hobbies, and other recreational and sports activities. He implies that this flow or altered state experience can be a strong motivator for many individuals and can be an alternative to drug use.
There appear to be many types of activities that can elicit positive feelings, produce a "high" or flow experience, or reduce stress. These non-drug activities can be considered alternative highs to drugs if stress is reduced and the person is able to become involved in the positive flow experience. However, it is possible to become psychologically dependent upon anything, including any of the alternative highs, exercise, or stress reduction activities. Therefore, it is suggested that all methods that attempt to elicit relaxation, altered states, or the flow experience be done in moderation in an attempt to prevent them from becoming addictive behaviors. The activities that elicit these positive altered states fall into the categories of active and passive alternatives.
Active alternatives include vigorous physical exercise, risky ventures, and recreation and sport activities. Since at least early Greek times, physical conditioning and sport activities have been engaged in by different segments of many cultures. Individuals who excelled at various activities were often highly respected by their society.
The active types of physical activity have been found to alleviate tension once the stress response has occurred. Physical activity has also been found to produce a feeling of well-being, tranquility, and an altered state in both adults and children.
Rhythmic physical exertion such as running, jogging, fast walking, swimming, bicycling, and dancing are thought to create a training effect. In the training effect the heart and other muscles are made stronger and the respiratory system has an increased capacity to take in air and exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide. The hormonal system and metabolic reactions are also strengthened in their ability to cope with stressors. During physical activity, all of these systems are stimulated for action. However, about ninety minutes after a good physical bout of exercise, a feeling of deep relaxation occurs. To benefit from the training effect, one needs to accomplish the exercise at least three times a week for at least twenty minutes at a time. Other vigorous activities such as self defense and active sports can also promote feelings of well-being and fitness.
Jogging, Running, and Fast Walking. The cheapest vigorous exercise is jogging, running, or fast walking. You do not need any special equipment and can do it almost anywhere and in any season. This type of exercise can help you lose weight, decrease the appetite, and keep you in good physical shape besides eliciting an altered state and reducing tension. The only disadvantage is that jogging and running may cause knee injuries in some people. This is often found among those who tend to "push themselves."
Before you start a jogging or running program, you should check with your physician to make sure that you do not have a serious medical condition. This is especially true if you are over the age of forty. Many individuals have suddenly died of heart attacks after a bout of exercise, such as snow shoveling, when they had not exercised for years.
The following are some guidelines for beginning a jogging or running program:
1. Wear rubber-soled tennis or running shoes. They do not need to be expensive or "name brand." However, they need to support your foot when you run and must fit comfortably.
2. Wear Socks. In some areas of the country, it is fashionable among college students not to wear socks with shoes. However, socks help absorb the shock to the foot when it meets the ground in running, and they help to prevent the formation of blisters.
3. During warm weather wear shorts and a T-shirt. Long pants such as "long johns" and several sweaters or a sweat shirt are needed for cold weather. There are all types of fashionable exercising outfits on the market. They are not necessary for fitness programs, even though advertisements try to convince you they are.
4. Test your physical condition by doing a Fitness Test. In this test, you run or walk as far as you can in twelve minutes. After a month of exercise, take the test again and see if you have improved if you were in the "Fair" to "Very Poor" categories.
5. If you are not used to physical activity, start off slowly. You should be able to talk and jog at the same time. If you find that you are panting or that your heart rate is above 160 beats per minute, stop jogging and walk for awhile.
Swimming and Biking. Swimming is excellent for cardiovascular conditioning and total body fitness. It produces little jar to body joints. The disadvantages are that it requires learned skill and special facilities. It also tends to be seasonal unless there is an indoor pool available. There is the minimal cost of the swimsuit. If you have never learned to swim, you might like to seek out swimming lessons at your school. Most communities have lessons offered by the YMCA, Red Cross, and other groups.
Bike riding promotes good cardiovascular conditioning and aids in weight control. It is easier on the joints than jogging, running or fast walking. It is also an excellent energy saving transportation. There are several disadvantages of bike riding. It requires a learned skill, a bike is sometimes expensive to buy, and there is always a risk of riding in automobile traffic. Riding for several miles does promote tension reduction and usually a feeling of well-being. It is also an activity that can easily be done alone or with other people.
Dancing. There are many types of dancing. They aid in weight control, can be done in almost any location, and are good for cardiovascular conditioning. Dancing can include disco, rock and roll, folk, aerobic, ballet, and T'ai Chi Ch'uan. Disco and rock and roll dancing tends to be done in public places with people as a social activity. However, as an exercise and alternative, a disco tape or record can be played at home and danced to. Many university communities have folk dancing groups. At these groups various dances from different cultures are learned and practiced. Square dancing and clogging are sometimes considered North American folk dancing forms and can usually be found in rural areas of the continent. However, many college communities have clubs devoted to square dancing.
Aerobic dancing is primarily exercising to music. Various steps and body motions are performed. This is an excellent conditioning exercise and can be done in a group or at home to a tape or record. There are several books on the market that illustrate a variety of aerobic exercises.
Ballet and classical dance usually take more practice than other current dance forms. Training and instruction are required for several years to arrive at some degree of accomplishment. However, individuals who accomplish and practice ballet often report that it promotes relaxation and well-being.
T'ai Chi Ch'uan is an oriental dance and self protection exercise. It is concerned with motion and change and is done in slow motion. It also has a meditative quality. Most practitioners report an altered state plus relaxation from engaging in this dancelike activity.
Self Defense Activities. Karate, Tae Kwando, and other self defense/martial art activities promote both rhythmical exercise and meditative concentration. These dance-defense-exercise forms are from the Orient and have been practiced in one form or another for hundreds of years. In Japan the Samurai, or warrior, class was expected to be proficient in many of these defense forms. Ritual, mental, and physical discipline and concentration are found in all of the self defense activities. Practitioners often report feelings of confidence and altered states after participating in these exercises.
Risky Venture Alternatives
Seemingly risky activities and ventures have attracted many throughout the ages because of the thrill and natural high they often bring. Until recently, many cultures included risky ventures into their social fabric to fulfill this need. As an example, young males in many societies were expected to accomplish dangerous and daring missions such as hunting a bear alone, as an initiation into manhood. However, as societies changed, these risky "rites of passage" often became extinct. A need for risky ventures and excitement is thought to be one of the reasons why some youth get "turned onto drugs."
However, other individuals became involved in apparently thrilling and risky recreational activities as an alternative to drugs. Common activities, to be discussed below, tend to fall into airborne, land, and water ventures.
Airborne Ventures. Throughout history humans have wanted to fly. This dream has finally become possible during the past 100 years. Airborne ventures now include airplane and ultralight aircraft flying, soaring, hang gliding, ballooning, and parachute jumping. All of these activities take training. They are also expensive. They can be dangerous, and deaths are recorded each year of participants in these sports. As part of training, however, there is a great emphasis on safety and what to do in emergencies. Many university communities now have clubs for these activities which offer training to the beginner.
All of these airborne activities offer a challenge, a vehicle for self knowledge, skill building, feeling of accomplishment, and defiance against the elements-especially the air. It is a "high" to be flying above people, buildings, trees, and landscape with the birds.
Land and Sea Ventures. Humans have occupied caves and climbed mountains since prehistoric times. However, deep cave exploration and mountain climbing were usually thought to be fraught with danger and evil spirits and were considered dangerous. Today many individuals are becoming involved with these sports for the thrill and challenge they offer. Some training is required for spelunking (cave exploration), rock climbing, and mountaineering, but equipment is not that expensive. Deaths and injuries are reported for these activities, but safety procedures are emphasized in training to prevent accidents. Most college communities sponsor clubs for these sports, and the beginner can receive training, generally free of charge.
Some other potentially dangerous and thrilling land-based activities include motorcycle racing, drag racing and "demolition derbies" to name a few. Clubs for these activities are found in many communities. However, they tend not to be popular with college and university students. They do, however, offer an alternative.
Challenging water-based activities include white-water canoeing, kayaking, sailing, and scuba diving. These activities have long been attractive to many individuals; some have used variations on their skills as part of their occupations, a necessary contribution to community recreation or public safety. All of these ventures take some training. Though some deaths occur each year from these activities, safety is emphasized in training. There is some expense in renting or purchasing the equipment. However, most university communities have clubs for interested participants, and training and rental are often inexpensive. All of these activities offer a challenge, self knowledge, and escape from the everyday world.
Sports and Other Recreational Activities
All societies have had various sport activities for individuals or groups. The early Greeks and Romans fostered sports and built stadiums to watch the games. There are a host of sport and recreational activities that can produce the training effect, promote fitness, and reduce tension. Most of these activities require some type of skill and need some training. They tend to have minimal expense.
Among the most popular participatory sports today are tennis, squash, racquetball, and handball. All of these activities are quite active and will usually give the person a "workout." They need to be done with at least one other person. Downhill and cross-country skiing are also popular and can be done either alone or with others. They also take some training and are good for cardiovascular conditioning.
Some other recreational activities that are enjoyed by many include golfing, billiards, and bowling. These do not produce a conditioning effect but can be relaxing to some people if they are not too self critical as to their score.
A great escape for many today is camping. In the distant past, most primitive human groups survived by "camping." However, like the other basic skills of hunting and fishing, camping is now considered a recreation. Camping for escape and an altered state is wilderness camping. In this type of activity, as opposed to pulling a recreational vehicle into a campground with electricity, the individual hikes into a wilderness area carrying food and equipment for survival. This variety of camping-especially combined with canoeing or hiking-can offer tension reduction, self renewal, self awareness, appreciation for what one has back home, and a "natural high."
Most societies have developed methods to passively induce altered states and the relaxation response. For example, in most religions, prayer and/or meditation is common. It is often done rhythmically and repeatedly and, when carried out for a long period of time, a relaxed or altered state is often reached. This repeated form of prayer and meditation is common in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Roman Catholicism. Some other forms of passively induced altered states, besides meditation, are systematic relaxation, self hypnosis, yoga, and biofeedback.
Most of these passive alternatives, besides being used for tension and stress reduction, can also be used for alleviating insomnia. When using them for sleep, do them lying down. When you use them for stress reduction, sit comfortably in a chair.
There are many forms of meditation. Most trace their ancestry from ancient yoga and Zen Buddhism. Over the last decade, TM, or transcendental Meditation, based upon Hindu teaching, has become popular in the west. A secret mantra (sound) is given to the meditator by a teacher of the technique. This sound is then repeated over and over with eyes closed.
Some types of Hindu and Buddhist practices focus upon a mandala- a visualization of some object such as a thousand-petal lotus. Regardless of their origin, all the meditative techniques have at least two phases. The first is to quiet the body, and the second is to quiet the mind. This is often done in the following sequence:
1. Relaxing the motor muscles i.e. arms, legs
2. Decreasing the breathing rate.
3. Decreasing the rate of other body functions.
4. Slowing brain activities.
Meditation is often considered the process of trying to eliminate the chatter of the mind-the constant thinking, planning, and fantasizing-which occupies the conscious state of the mind every waking moment. As arousal is reduced, so is anxiety. Self transcendence, or an altered state, is then achieved. Most meditators find they feel creative, positive, calm, and energetic after meditation.
A simple easy to learn meditative exercise, which combines both a mantra and a mandala, is described as follows:
1. Find a quiet place where you can be alone if possible. (This technique may be done in crowded places as long as it is appropriate for you to close your eyes. If you cannot escape to your bedroom or other isolated spot, you can always close the stall door in a public facility to achieve some degree of aloneness and privacy.)
2. Sit in a comfortable position.
3. Close your eyes and take three deep breaths. Let your thoughts come and go.
4. Start to visualize a particular object-for example, a rose.
5. In your thoughts, start to repeat the word for the object-"rose"-over and over, at any speed or rhythm it wants to go.
6. As you continue to repeat the word, start to imagine the rose opening and closing in the same rhythm.
7. If distracting thoughts come into your mind, let them pass through. Continue to repeat your word and see its image. (Often, worries of the day, like "what shall I have for dinner" or "I have three exams to study for," will flow through your mind to distract you.?
8. Keep this process going from two to twenty minutes.
9. When it is time to stop, open your eyes slowly.
You should feel relaxed, refreshed, and less anxious after trying this technique.
Yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning "union". The practice is at least 3000 years old, and its origins can be traced to India. It is considered to be a philosophical system. There are now several sects or "paths" of yoga which have developed over the years. Bhakti yoga is a way of devotion of love and faith directed to God. It uses chants and worship, Dhyana yoga is a method of concentration. It is a purely mental discipline leading to trance states. Karma yoga is concerned with selfless work and good deeds. Charitable acts are accomplished by individuals who follow this path. Kriya yoga is primarily concerned with religious action and ritualism. Kundalini yoga theorizes potential energy coiled up in the nervous system, which can be released with the recitation of sacred mantras. Hatha yoga is the most familiar to Westerners. It is the path of health using exercise as a means to mental and physical harmony.
All forms of yoga teach methods of concentration ad contemplation to control the mind, subdue the primitive consciousness, and bring the physical body under control of the will. In Hatha yoga, slow stretching of the muscles in exercise is taught, along with breathing in certain rhythmical patterns. The body positions or asamas for exercises and meditation can be learned, with some practice, by most. These positions are thought to clear the mind and create energy and a state of relaxation for the individual.
A common breathing technique that can be done while in the Siddha, or Lotus position (sitting on the floor with the feet tucked under the knees), is as follows:
1. Sit comfortably in the Siddha position.
2. Breathe in through the mouth to the count of 6. Hold your breath to the count of 9. Exhale your breath through the mouth to the count of 3.
3. Repeat this procedure three times.
4. Breathe in through the mouth and out through the nose, using this procedure, three times.
5. Then hold the left nostril closed with a finger and repeat the procedure, breathing through the right nostril three times.
6. Continue to repeat the procedure in the following manner.
Breathe through the left nostril, breathe deeply or shallowly, hot or cold, panting, puffing, or making animal-like noises such as mooing, cooing, barking, etc. Repeat each of the breathing patterns three times for each sound or part you are concentrating upon.
These breathing exercises can then be done in the various yoga positions. After engaging in this activity, many find that they feel relaxed and are energized, alert, and calm.
Like most other mind-altering techniques, hypnosis is very ancient. The earliest documented use of hypnotherapy dates back 3000 years to the Evers Papyrus of ancient Egypt. The sleep temples of the Babylonians and ancient Greeks are other examples of early hypnosis centers. Hypnosis has waxed and waned in popularity over the centuries. Until recently, it has not been popular in North America. However, hypnotic techniques under different names, such as visualization and imaging, have been used increasingly over the past twenty years. Mental health professionals are now also beginning to use hypnosis in treatment. Many hypnosis techniques are easy to learn and can bring relaxation, altered states, and alertness. They can also relieve headaches and other chronic pain and are effective against insomnia.
When people think of hypnosis, they often think of a trance state that takes special preparation, intelligence, or skill to achieve. However, going into a trance through self hypnosis is something we do every day. For example, when you drive a car and suddenly "wake up," realizing that you had driven further than you thought, you have just come out of trance. Daydreaming in a boring lecture is another example of a trance state. Using self hypnosis for relaxation or concentration is taking this natural skill of relaxed, focused concentration and putting it to use for your benefit.
The following procedure is a simple self hypnosis technique that takes about ten to twenty minutes to accomplish.
1. Sit in a comfortable chair.
2. Close your eyes and breathe slowly in and out ten times.
3. Imagine that you are at the top of the stairs in an old mansion.
4. Each time you breathe out, start to take a step down the stairs.
5. As you are breathing and stepping down, start counting backwards from 20 to 1.
6. As you are breathing, counting, and walking, down the steps you may notice that your body is beginning to feel relaxed, warm, and heavy.
7. When you have reached the bottom of the stairs, go out a door that opens onto a beach.
8. After you have walked through the door to the beach, feel the warm sun on your body. Hear the waves washing against the shore and the sound of seagulls. Feel the warm sand flowing through your toes. Smell the fresh salt air. See the sparkling water and the blue sky above you. Enjoy the beach for a few moments.
9. When you are ready to reorient yourself back to your surrounding environment, start to count from 1 to 20. At the count of 20, you will feel refreshed, alert, relaxed, and wide awake.
You can do many variation upon this image. Instead of going to the beach, you may like to go to a favorite outdoor spot in the woods, or to the place you used to enjoy as a child. This and other self hypnosis techniques can help you to feel relaxed and calm, and sometimes result in an natural high. Biofeedback
Biofeedback is a relatively new technique. It generally relies on a machine that can measure brain waves, cardiac rhythm, pulse, breathing, muscle tension, or conduction of electricity by the skin. Since it is not a technique that you can do without purchasing expensive and complicated equipment or going to the office of a therapist who has the equipment, biofeedback will not be discussed in great detail here. Basically, biofeedback training is a conditioning process. When a more tranquil state is recorded by the equipment, the individual is rewarded by a pleasant tone or colored light. The individual attempts to concentrate so as to produce more and more of the reward in response to changes in the body system he/she is trying to control. This technique can be used to lower blood pressure, produce an increase of alpha waves, or slow pulse or muscle tension.
CREATIVE AND OTHER ALTERNATIVES
There are numerous creative activities in which an altered state is experienced by the participant. These include the arts, crafts, and hobbies.
Music. Since the beginning of time, humans have engaged in chanting, singing, or other rhythmic vocal activities. They have also devised musical instruments to accompany them in their song, and dances to graphically illustrate the story in the music. Many cultures have developed special styles of music that reflect the geography, social order, or primary occupations of the society. Males in many African cultures, for example, would partake in chanting and dancing accompanied by drums and primitive flutes. They would sing and enact in their dance movements the hunting of game in which they were about to engage on the grasslands. This type of activity probably energized them for the hunt and created a natural high.
Music in various forms is also common today in all societies. Some people musical instruments for recreation and enjoyment-the guitar, piano, and banjo are common. If you do not already play a musical instrument, you might like to learn for your own enjoyment. Most university communities have music students who would be happy to teach you for a few dollars an hour. People who practice a musical instrument often describe an altered state of consciousness during playing.
Those individuals who sing also often report a feeling of exhilaration and a natural high after practice singing for an hour or so. Most communities have singing groups of various kinds: choirs, choruses, barbershop quartets, and community theater that produces light opera. This is another activity in which you might like to participate.
Composition and Writing. Many individuals throughout history have alluded to the production of an altered state during creative writing or musical composition. Beethoven, even though he lost his hearing, could hear music in his head and could still compose. Individuals who write often mention that they get into a "creative mood" in which they lose track of time and place and are intensely self absorbed in their writing production. This again is described as a natural high by many-including the author-who write for enjoyment.
Painting and Sculpture. Some of the earliest human artistic remains are rock paintings in caves of southern France. Art was, and is, found in all cultures in a variety of forms. For example, the Islamic religion prohibits the rendering of human likeness in art. However, adherents of Islam have created elaborate designs in various mediums instead. Cultures have varied as to the emphasis they have put on art and the status of the artist. This has produced, historically, in societies where art was not highly regarded, individuals who have suffered poverty and hardships in order to paint or express themselves artistically in other ways. These artists and others have often reported spiritual or altered conscious states from partaking in their creative activity.
If you have never tried drawing, painting, sketching or sculpting, you might like it. A variety of classes are offered in these media in all colleges and universities.
Crafts such as pottery, basket weaving, and cloth and tool making have been around since early humans first began to collect in small tribes. There has been evidence of craft production throughout recorded archeological history. Undoubtedly, hand crafts were first practiced as a necessity for basic survival. However, as societies progressed, many crafts, even though they were no longer necessary for survival, remained as certain individuals took pleasure in engaging in them. There are hundreds of crafts in which you can become involved. In most cases, some item is created. Crafts can take the form of knitting, crocheting, needlepoint, tatting, furniture making, weaving, stained glass window production, flower arrangement, jewelry, carving, and woodworking, to name a few. Many individuals enjoy some type of craft activity. Becoming involved in a craft will often produce relaxation, an altered state, and pleasure in completing a project.
Hobbies and Games
It is not known how far back into time hobbies and games for fun and recreation have existed. However, the ancient Greeks and Egyptians played a chess-like game using small carved figures. Card playing was recorded in the Middle Ages, and the wealthy have always collected artistic works. Hobbies and games can include a variety of activities. They are generally done for fun and pleasure, involve minimal physical exertion, and usually do not produce a product. Some examples of hobbies include stamp collecting, art or antique collecting, ham radio operation, automobile "tinkering", purebred animal raising, and pleasure reading. Games can range from such cerebral activities as chess and "Dungeons and Dragons" to simple endeavors such as card games and charades. Most individuals express sensations of pleasure, intense involvement, and often altered states from participating in hobbies and games.
In summary, there are many activities that can be used as alternatives to drugs for reducing the stresses of life. Instead of tranquilizers and barbiturates, self hypnosis, mediation, and progressive relaxation can be used for pain and anxiety reduction and sleep. Rather than using amphetamines for weight control, one can engage in active exercises such as jogging and swimming. To escape from the same old environment, an individual can enjoy camping and other outdoor recreation sports rather than consuming alcohol or marijuana. Instead of using hallucinogens for a thrill and a high, sky diving and flying can be practiced. If you are not already participating in any of these activities, you might like to take a chance and try them.