Mind-Body Skills Offer Way to Regulate Stress

by U.S. Medicine

March 10, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC—Mind-body skills offer a way for individuals to self-regulate stress and can often be done in various settings.

These techniques include practices such as meditation, breathing exercises, imagery, and yoga. At the Warrior Resilience Conference held last month, a panel described how these skills could help servicemembers build resiliency and handle stress.

Nisha Money, MD, from the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE), explained in a presentation that many in the active duty and veteran populations—one-third to one-half—are already using integrative health skills, much of it mainly for psychological and physical pain.

Servicemembers may be reluctant to seek care for psychological issues and conventional therapies do not always work as well as desired, according to Money. “This makes more of an argument for why we would need to bring some of these mind-body health skills into our environment.”

DCoE has been developing a program to assess the scientific evidence for and evaluating best practices in integrative health and complementary and alternative medicine. Money said that DCoE is working to create a hub of best practices and resources available on the different types of practices in use.

Mind-Body Skills

The nervous system is a bridge between the mind and the body. If an individual is able to access their nervous system and control it to some degree, then they can have an internal way to regulate their own stress and response to stress, Money said. “Through these mind-body techniques you have an empowerment tool within you that you can access at any point of time.”

Matthew Fritts, MPH, a senior program manager at Samueli Institute, said that mind-body skills are designed to interrupt the ‘fight or flight’ response that a stressful situation can cause and to prevent a build up of chronic stress responses from escalating to the point where they lead to disease. “They are armor, they are mental and spiritual armor, that can really block and buffer these stressors, whether they are physical or psychological.”

Fritts said that once these skills are learned they can be used anytime, anywhere and not just to recover during a stressful situation, but to also enhance wellness and readiness. Breathing techniques can be learned that range from very basic to very complex.

Mark Bates, PhD, director of DCoE’s Resilience and Prevention Directorate, said simply focusing on breathing can relieve stress. “The value of just paying attention to breathing and slowing it down and making it more rhythmic … [T]his is something you can do at any time.”

Focusing on breathing is a tactic that a person can do during a tense situation. “You can be being chewed out by your boss and focusing on your breathing,” said Bates. “It works.”

Devices can also help in performing mind-body skills, the panelists said. The National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2) has designed and developed a tool called iBreathe®, which is a portable stress management tool built on the iPhone® mobile app platform. The tool is a hands-on diaphragmatic breathing exercise that can be used to help decrease the body’s ‘fight or flight’ stress response and help with mood stabilization, anger control, and anxiety management. The tool, which will be renamed, is anticipated to be available in March.

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