“Meditation is the easiest and most accessible way to relieve stress”

Doctor of Medical Sciences Larisa Smekalkina about modern and conventional methods of stress relief

“Everything that is connected with ancient rituals really works. But no systematic scientific research has been conducted on this subject. There are separate publications in different countries, but this is usually the level of small observations. Meditation is very popular in the East. And since the process of integration of the East and the West is now quite active, and meditation in its various manifestations is becoming more and more popular in Europe, the United States and Russia," said Doctor of Medical Sciences Larisa Smekalkina in the interview with Realnoe Vremya. She also talked about how singing, dancing and walking relieve stress.

“You can put an equal sign between stress and passivity”

Larisa, what methods can be used to relieve stress without antidepressants?

First, we need to understand what stress is to know how to relieve it. At the biochemical and hormonal level, this is the body's response to increased external and internal stimuli. It is also a psychoenergetic phenomenon that is completely natural for our body. Our homeostasis system is designed to survive by any means. Therefore, when there is a threat to health or life, there is a cascade of physiological and psychoenergetic reactions aimed at overcoming stressful factors and the consequences of their influence.

Stress means pressure, load, tension. At first, the concept of stress was used by English engineers to describe the ability of a bridge to withstand a load. Later, Hans Selye extrapolated the concept of stress response as adaptive to animals and humans.

So, stress is tension, both physical and mental. And the goal of coping with stress is to control its level and manage stress.

Have you noticed how tense people's reactions to external events are now? Stressfulness (the degree of influence of an event on a person's experience) is off the scale. Stress can be acute and chronic, and if acute stress is quite easy to stop with appropriate psychotropic and neuroprotective drugs, then with chronic stress, when chronic stress accumulates, it is much more difficult to cope, and here pharmacotherapy alone is not enough.

Photo: Maksim Platonov
Physical activity, walking, running, yoga — these are natural methods that allow you to relieve tension

There was a social survey conducted by the Institute of Public Opinion on the site Anketolog.ru, 864 respondents were asked how they deal with stress — 78% of them said that by doing sports. For 71%, it is regular nature walks, 66% said that full sleep, and half of people said that medication and travelling. All that people have listed are eco-friendly natural methods of stress relief, which first of all remove only excess tension, while maintaining a certain level of basic healthy muscle tone.

There are stressors that we call “green” or “useful”, they are used to create the effect of training, in order to increase stress tolerance. For example, it can be hardening, creative impulses (drawing, singing), taking up a new activity.

What are famous methods of stress relief known for a long time?

Since the beginning of civilisation, in order to survive, a person had to learn to quickly mobilise in times of danger (for example, when encountering a wild animal). This is a well-known “hit or run” reaction. The central nervous system receives an alarm and then transmits it to the autonomic system, which controls internal organs and tissues. The production of hormones causes your muscles to tighten, your blood pressure to rise, your heart rate to increase, and your breathing to quicken — all in order to hit, fight back, or run away if that's impossible.

Our brain is organised in a subject-image way and does not distinguish a real threat from a virtual one, so we are able to speculate a lot... This means that it is not so much the extreme event itself that matters, but how we perceive it. But how to channel tension in our time if you do not need to “beat or run”. That is why physical activity, walking, running, yoga — these are natural methods that allow you to relieve tension.

By the way, yoga requires a lot of effort and concentration. And one of the markers of stress is difficulty concentrating. Yoga allows you to concentrate, focus, direct mental and motor processes in parallel. Various motor exercises are great for relieving stress. As a rule, passivity is always accompanied by rigidity, stiffness, provokes and aggravates stress. You can put an equal sign between stress and passivity. People under stress often go into their “shell”, close up, avoid communication.

Сommunication with people has considered to be the biggest stressogen, according to a survey conducted on the Internet portal самопознание.ру. Many people believe that interpersonal relationships are harmful for them, so, of course, they are closed. This means that any methods with an antidepressant focus are necessary in such cases.

People's well-being improves when they are engaged in any kind of sports. But here, too, individual approach is necessary. You can't say that everyone needs to swim and it will definitely relieve stress. For some, swimming will only add to the stress. If a person once drowned, choked, was very scared at this moment, then he has a fear of water in his memory. Swimming should be in pleasure first of all! You don't have to run to relieve stress, either. You can do something else that requires effort, such as doing something at home with physical or mental effort: cleaning the house or learning a foreign language.

Photo: Maksim Platonov
People's well-being improves when they are engaged in any kind of sports. But here, too, you need an individual approach

“Folk, ritual, new-age songs activate self-healing resources”

What methods of stress relief are scientifically proven?

We studied the effectiveness of bioacoustic psychocorrection, which is based on the principle of biofeedback in patients with post-traumatic stress disorder. A person was placed in an isolated room, connected to a device, recorded an electroencephalogram, transformed the electrical activity of the brain into sound vibrations, and then his own “brain music” was returned to him in headphones. The person who at first heard a set of disharmonious sounds, as in an untuned orchestra, involuntarily self-organises and after a while, due to self-regulation, “adjusts the instrument” and gradually, from session to session, begins to hear an increasingly pleasant melody.

Patients with neurotic reactions were also given a sound-shifted spectrum of vibrations of a healthy person, with alpha-rhythm dominating (long waves characteristic of a state of rest, sleep or harmony) through headphones. In this case, the melody resembled Bach's preludes played on the organ. After a few sessions, the stress symptoms subsided noticeably, and the subjects noted an improvement in their overall condition. In this way, you can control the seemingly unmanageable rhythms of the brain, and you begin to understand how powerful our internal resources are!

By the way, classical works with regular listening are really able to harmonise a person, cheer up or calm down. There have been many scientific studies that have proven this hypothesis.

To dive into meditation, you also need to make mental efforts, you need to concentrate. Can it relieve stress?

Yes, absolutely. To learn the techniques of meditation, you really need to first make some effort, strain, gather yourself. Any new business requires concentration and effort. As you train, you get more pleasure than you spend energy and learn to relax in a matter of minutes. Meditation is the easiest and most accessible way to relieve stress. It is effective and safe and does not require much time and material costs. Now it is convenient to study using Internet resources with the possibility to choose certain techniques to your liking.

Everything that is connected with ancient rituals really works. But no systematic scientific research has been conducted on this subject. There are separate publications in different countries, but this is usually the level of small observations.

Meditation is very popular in the East. And since the process of integration of the East and the West is now quite active, and meditation in its various manifestations is becoming more and more popular in Europe, the United States and Russia. Although in the second half of the 20th century in medical and preventive institutions of the Soviet Union, autogenic training was included in the complex of rehabilitation measures, the basis of which was the same self-immersion, achieving maximum muscle relaxation and a state of rest, as in meditative techniques. Relaxation in the modern interpretation combines two approaches — self-training and meditation.

Classical works with regular listening are really able to harmonise a person, cheer up or calm down. There have been many scientific studies that have proven this hypothesis

Can listening to songs get you out of stress?

The song has not only music but also the words, and this is also a certain meaning. As a rule, any song addresses us to universal values, because it is sung about love, acceptance, forgiveness. When listening to such songs, there is a transformation in the human psyche, a change in his attitude to himself and to the world. Folk, ritual, new-age songs activate self-healing resources.

In songs there is a metaphorical meaning that allows you to bring to the surface and realise the inner experiences of a person. This is like a fairy-tale therapy, when a person perceives himself as a particular hero, lives a story and eventually understands something new for himself. Or a person can watch a movie and associate themselves with some hero. The song is about the same.

There are still vocal therapy as a form of art therapy, used by psychotherapists specifically. It helps to cultivate willpower and optimism. In Soviet times, there was a slogan: “The song helps us build and live”. Indeed, it is true.

Can dancing bring you out of a stressful state?

As for dancing, it has been considered a way of expressing your feelings and thoughts since ancient times. Dance is also used by psychotherapists to relieve mental and physical stress. This is the so-called dance-movement therapy or dance therapy.

In modern society, there are limitations in terms of expressing strong feelings. The person must be socially acceptable. To be a convenient employee, a family member, he should not vent emotions actively but should be restrained.

But emotions accumulate, tear us apart and then shoot at our target organs, which leads to psychosomatic diseases after a while. Muscle blocks are well known to everyone, they are markers of constricted and unreacted feelings. Dancing is just an excellent method of expressing difficult to verbalise feelings and emotions. In America, since the 1940s, military neuroses and post-traumatic stress syndrome were treated with dancing. It was believed that this is the way to a constricted consciousness through experiences.

I've watched a dance therapy seminar recently. Young people of working age took part. Young people now have a lot of problems with the musculoskeletal system, back pain appears early, and osteochondrosis has “rejuvenated”. Accordingly, earlier there are problems with internal organs, because innervation is difficult. However, as it was noted at the seminar, young people now do not know how to dance and move like this, this is especially noticeable in pair dances, as a person of their age should move, and this, of course, is a reflection of their general “blocking”. The goal of a psychotherapist is to help a person who is secretive and cannot express their emotions just like that.

Photo: Maksim Platonov
Dancing is just an excellent method of expressing difficult to verbalise feelings and emotions. In America, since the 1940s, military neuroses and post-traumatic stress syndrome were treated with dancing. It was believed that this is the way to a constricted consciousness through experiences

“The mental state directly affects the physical well-being and health of a person in general”

If a citizen who rarely leaves home or office starts walking in the forest or park at least three times a week, how will this affect their health?

If a person lives in a city, then walking is very important for them. But saying that he needs to go out three times a week is like saying to everyone “you need to take three pills”. We have such a routine that we prescribe three tablets a day to a girl of 18 years old, weighing 50 kg, and we also prescribe three tablets a day to a man over 60 years old under 100 kg. It is nonsense.

And it's also not entirely correct to prescribe three walks a week for everyone. Maybe you need to walk every day or three times a day? Especially men who are used to feelings and save the stress; and they have nowhere to go without a good reason, walking down the street needs a purpose, for example, to go shopping or to go to work. Just go out for a walk, as a rule, men consider it a waste of time and are unlikely to go out in order to relieve tension. Although, in fact, it is necessary first of all. As our great sage and philosopher Plato said: “Health is not all that is needed, but without it, nothing is needed”.

There are scientific observations concerning dog owners who are forced to walk several times a day for half an hour daily with their pets. It turned out that they live longer and feel better compared to their peers who do not have dogs.

Regular walks are good, no matter how many. The main thing here is that a person does not just go for a walk, but first sets a goal: “I go for a walk in order to relieve tension, reboot, improve my health, and relax”. Before you do anything, create positive attitudes. First thought, then action.

Photo: Maksim Platonov
If a person lives in a city, then walking is very important for them. But saying that he needs to go out three times a week is like saying to everyone “you need to take three pills”

What diseases does a stressful state lead to?

You can imagine a pyramid where a healthy, viable person with a good quality of life and an optimistic attitude stands at the top. At the heart of this pyramid there will be a triangle, where the three corners that determine our viability will be: immune, nervous and endocrine systems. When there is chronic stress and the production of stress hormones that are not channeled anywhere: a person does not run from “danger” and does not play sports to relieve excess tension, the pressure rises regularly, and there is no way out.

As a result, a person accumulates this ability to narrow blood vessels and increase pressure, as a result — hypertension, stenocardia, atherosclerosis and other problems in the cardiovascular system. The respiratory system responds to stress with hyperventilation syndrome, asthmatic syndrome. Irritable bowel syndrome is in the top ten diseases-leaders. Gastrointestinal tract is our immune system, and if it suffers, there is a risk of infection with infectious diseases, and this is additional stress.

There is a vicious circle, and the mental state directly affects the physical well-being and health of the person as a whole, so mental self-regulation is of paramount importance.

By Matvey Antropov