Power Pause

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What does it really mean to ‘relax’?

If you enjoy reading science fiction, checking out You Tube, golf, handball, gardening, reading, shopping for shoes, fishing, gaming, going for ice cream with your kids, or watching an episode of 24, these are stress reducing activities…but not relaxation. For sure, these are constructive ways to use leisure time and these activities intervene in the stress cycle…they help us slow down and take it easy. They also divert our attention from stressors and help maintain balance in our lives…but it is not relaxation. True Relaxation is a mind and body state that is the opposite of the stress state. Relaxation is a natural and innate protective mechanism each of us possesses. Relaxation involves learning a simple set of skills that produce a very specific biologic response –the relaxation response— which I call experiencing a PowerPause. The PowerPause triggers the release of anti-stress hormones, decreases your heart rate, and lowers your metabolic rate and your rate of breathing. Here is a critical point.  The Stress response is automatic. It can literally save your life when you need to run across the stress to get out to the path of a speeding driver. The relaxation response is a not automatic. YOU have the control and can learn the power to manually trigger the life saving relaxation response.

Okay, so now that I have your attention, here is the plan. When you complete this seven minute read,
you will know the “how to” of relaxation. But first, we need to start by reviewing for a just a minute the
‘why’ of relaxation.

Why do I need to relax? What’s the benefit of the PowerPause?

Critical problem-solving and decision making, creative thinking, juggling multiple family and personal
commitments, last minute deadlines, quarterly profit reports, readjusting to illness or death of aging
parents, a ‘hot’ date, or the phone call notifying you of a car crash involving a family member— all create
a state we commonly experience as STRESS. Stress hormones are necessary for these peak
experiences; joy, top level performance, meeting new challenges and maximum productivity. This is
when we are functioning in what I call the BestStress Zone.

Here’s the problem…

Stress hormones are great, but after a certain point, stress hormones rapidly
become counterproductive or even dangerous. Outside of your BestStress Zone—that is —beyond your
personal ‘tipping point’, stress hormones work against you. Pulling you down into mediocre performance,
inability to concentrate, anxiety, depression and ultimately lead to the development of heart disease,
diabetes, obesity, eating problems, substance abuse, premature disability or death. Yerkes and Dodson
in 1908 described this relationship, often dubbed The Stress Law. See Figure 1 below.


What is the BestStress Zone?

Grounded in principles from the Stress Law, the BestStress Zone is a virtual space & state of mind. It’s a place to view, organize and shape your world that enables resilience and healthy responsesThe BSZ is a place for optimal stress. You experience spiritual, physical, emotional and mental well being.

In the BSZ you achieve the highest levels of energy, satisfaction, happiness and productivity at work or at home. Daily living in the zone you experience control, clarity of purpose, commitment, and challenge. In the BSZ you are not merely a thermometer-a bystander keeping track of amount of stress you can cope with. Instead you function as a thermostat, effortlessly assessing and regulating your mind and body responses to stress. Finally, in the BestStress Zone, your day-to-day actions are unconsciously anchored in your life purpose, passions and priorities. See Figure 2 below. The key question to ask yourself right now is, “…how do I know when I have reached that point where stress isn’t working for me—when I am leaving the Zone? “ When does that stressful ‘edge’ turn from something positive — providing you with forward momentum into something that is uncomfortable and beginning to work against you? What are your warning signs? Obviously your signals are personal and
unique. It may be a block on creativity, irritability, nail biting, a headache, or excessive anxiety, procrastination or suddenly finding yourself with a donut in your hand and realizing you arent even hungry!

For the purpose of this discussion I want you to think of that personal sign or signal as the message that you need to relax—and take a  POWERPAUSE.

How does the PowerPause work?

Taking a PowerPause lets you achieve true relaxation. True relaxation is biologic state that is the opposite of the stress state. The stress response and the relaxation response are at opposite ends of a spectrum—and– the control mechanisms are distinctly different. The stress response is automatic and almost instantaneous. The ‘turning on’ or triggering what Herbert Benson has termed the ‘relaxation response’ which is at the core of the PowerPause requires conscious intentional effort. A The best stress zone you understand the power of emotions. The PowerPause incorporates what we know about the value of positive emotions. This is based on the groundbreaking work of Dr. Barbara Frederickson at UNC Chapel Hill. Prior to her work, most emotional theory focused on negative emotions; anger and fear and the associated action tendencies. For instance fear is linked with the urge to escape. Anger is linked with the urge to attack. These emotions are often linked with the release of stress hormones and help us focus to address an immediate need. Dr. Fredrickson developed the broaden and build theory to describe and capture specifically the unique aspects of positive emotions. Positive emotions seldom occur in life-threatening stressful situations where quick decisive potentially life-threatening actions are needed. Positive emotions broaden your attention and your thinking in a way that enhances your well-being. And guess what, positive emotions help eliminate the harmful biologic effects created by negative emotions. Positive emotions help you spiral upwards instead of downwards. Joy for instance creates the urge to play and be creative. Contentment creates the urge to sit back and relish the moments. Humor and love are also important positive emotions. Longterm, positive emotions can help you build your resilience in your network of resources. Think about the sense of well-being you experience during the December holiday season when someone in a crowded subway perhaps actually gives UI contact and merely wishes you a “ happy holiday”. it’s viral. The PowerPause allows you to self generate a sense of well-being by conscious and deliberate generation of positive emotion. Once mastered, the PowerPause generates powerful chemical reactions throughout the body that decreases heart rate, lowers the metabolism and decreases rate of breathing, release ‘feel good’ hormones including endorphins, serotonin and nitrous oxide. Relaxation is a natural and innate protective capacity in each of us. It must be cultivated and developed. It is a learned skilled.
“PowerPause” is a practical approach for elevating and training your mind. It provides a decisive disruption from prior thought patterns-particularly negative thoughts and emotions. This pause allows you to disregard self or performance for a moment and shift focus to new possibilities. It can be used to prevent or provide relief from the harmful effects of stress in your life. Being able to self regulate a PowerPause is a key skill for not going beyond your tipping point. And, the preventive medical benefit is undeniable. A PowerPause is a way to integrate ‘recovery’ for your body from the various biologic processes of the good and bad stress of everyday living. The body needs this recovery and relaxation throughout the day– Not just at the end of the day. The usual mantra of high achieving individuals is,” I can’t wait to get home to relax”. The reality is that this approach can be derailed by the heart attack you have on the train ride home!

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