HMS Study Explores Stress Management

As response papers and problem sets cloud your mind with worry this week, the best solution may be to attend yoga classes and think more reasonably, according to a Harvard Medical School report released last week.

The comprehensive report is an up-to-date summary of stress management and research, according to Herbert Benson, president of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at the medical school. It is one of about 40 health studies HMS releases annually.

The guide recognizes the physiological and psychological benefits of meditation, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and “mindfulness meditation”—focusing on thoughts that arise during the meditation session instead of clearing the mind as commonly believed.

The report also recommends popular recreational exercises, such as yoga, tai chi, and Qi Gong, as well as repetitive prayer and “cognitive restructuring,” or thinking more rationally about daily problems.

Sources of stress can include broader influences, such as the social pressure to maintain a “washboard stomach” or terrorism threats since September 11th, according to the study. Cultural labels—such as “stay-at-home mom,” “retired,” or “laid-off”—may stereotype individuals and also cause them further stress.

Job-related stress typically arises from high-pressure demands and the lack of control or social support at work, the study finds. The final portion of the guide reins in more current research about the effects of stress on cardiovascular disease, cancer, the immune system, and gastrointestinal disorders.

Some students said that they appreciated the study’s advice to think rationally.

“I guess how I deal with stress is usually a combination of procrastination and sleeping,” said Michael R. Small ’09. “The only way I’ve seen students deal with stress is through lashing out at those around them.”