Stress Release: Emerging Tool in Total
Stress Management Program
or poorly managed stress represents a threat to worker health,
safety and productivity
By Richard A. Lippin, MD, Centre Square Medical Director, Atlantic Richfield Company,
or improperly managed stress and its effect on the psychological
and physiological wellbeing of workers has gained increasing attention
by the occupational health community. Due largely to scientific
strides in stress research and advances in neuroscience, it is
now generally accepted that excessive or poorly managed stress
represents a major threat to worker health, safety, and productivity.
response to this important issue, many corporations have instituted
a wide variety of stress management programs. Most of these corporations
are now aware that, in order for these programs to achieve success,
changes must occur at both the institutional and individual levels.
Changes that have occurred on the institutional level within the
workplace setting include increased participative management,
development of so-called “quality circles” and providing flexible
employee benefit menus which may be tailored to the individual
employee’s need in an increasingly complex world. These benefits
include such concepts as flex time, day care, educational benefits
and various health care benefit choices to meet individual needs.
Also, most progressive corporations have established Employee
Assistance Programs (EAPs) which respond to a wide variety of
employee psychological needs, ranging from alcoholism and drug
abuse to family and financial problems.
Programs. In addition to social changes at the workplace,
corporations have offered employees a variety of individualized
stress management programs or techniques, Prominent among these
include educational seminars on stress, general exercise programs
and relaxation training programs.
available stress management tools or techniques individuals can
use are divided into cognitive and behavioral categories as depicted
in Figure 1.
behavioral concept that is not included in this figure and has
been largely overlooked in stress management programs is “stress
release”. Stress release can be defined as the active ventilation
of stress in a socially acceptable manner. Examples of unacceptable
reactions to stress include a range of emotional problems and
dependence on drugs and alcohol.
history of stress release, ventilation or catharsis, is not new.
In the late 19th century, Joseph Breuer (1842-1925)
a prominent Viennese psychiatrist and a colleague of Sigmund Freud
developed his “cathartic method of hypnosis” which was widely
accepted conceptually. Other prominent psychiatrists such as Wilheim
Reich, Otto Rank or, more recently, Dr. Alexander Lowen continued
to explore the value of abreaction, catharsis, or energy release.
1970, Dr. Arthur Janov published a landmark book entitled “The
Primal Scream” which defined and described an entire theory of
neurosis and psychotherapy based on the concept of repressed pain
(or stress) and the physiological need to express that pain. Although
Janov’s work has not been widely accepted and practiced in traditional
psychiatric settings, there is increasing scientific evidence
that emotional catharsis has significant and measurable benefits.
scientific studies of crying behavior, for example, at the Psychiatry
Research Laboratory at St. Paul Ramsey
by Dr. William H. Frey II suggest that weeping has definite physiological
benefits. It was noted that tears could be differentiated into
irritative (reflex) vs. emotional tears according to biochemical
analyses. Stress hormones such as ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone)
can be found in tears leading to the hypothesis that crying could
indeed be “nature’s safety valve” for humans which when practiced
in appropriate settings can reduce stress.
Cousins, a non-medically trained prominent writer, popularized
the concept that laughing has health giving or salutary effects.
Laughing, like weeping, is also being studied scientifically at
Stanford University by Dr. William F. Fry Jr. and
to date, results tend to confirm what Cousins suggests, namely,
that deep belly laughing does produce physiological changes which
correlate to reduction in stress.
classical stress reliever is the well studied sexual response
where certainly it has been proven that the orgasmic response
in particular is associated with profound physiological energy
release followed by a period of relaxation.
COMMONLY UTILIZED INDIVIDUAL STRESS
(e.g. "don't sweat the small stuff")
psychotherapy (e.g. assertiveness training)
alcohol and nicotine use.
and relaxation (vacation, hobbies)
techniques (the relaxation response, meditation, Yoga, deep muscle
Thoughts. Even writing a letter, angry or otherwise, keeping
a journal or diary, writing a poem or short story, has cathartic
value for many people. Patients have reported to me that they
experience a sense of relief when their thoughts are recorded
on paper especially if these thoughts are of an emotional nature.
specific exercises tend to fend themselves to a stress release
phenomenon. These include any exercise involving a hitting or
kicking motion, such as punching a bag, handball, any racquet
sport, golf or soccer. Martial arts also have a role to play in
stress release. For example, scientists are beginning to investigate
the physiology of karate. The scientific hypothesis pertaining
to stress releasing exercise is that when stored muscular energy
(tension) is released onto an inanimate object, muscle tension,
which is a well-known physiological concomitant of stress, is
reduced. This could be referred to as “the strike response”. The
techniques for stress release are summarized in Figure 2.
implementation of these activities or responses requires that
health professionals provide suggestions, counseling or, if necessary,
formal training on techniques leading to the incorporation of
these activities into an individual’s life. For example, one might
propose to a patient that he initiate a home library of movies,
tapes, books or letters which might stimulate or precipitate the
mirth or weep response.
there are known physiological methods, such as deep breathing
or sound, to enhance or augment the weep, laugh, strike or sexual
response. Most importantly, if the health professional simply
provides “permission” or validation to engage in these techniques,
a significant service has been done. Also, the health professional
should encourage the patient to practice and utilize these techniques
in a socially acceptable setting which is most often the privacy
of one’s own home. Patients who practice these techniques must
be sensitive to the limited ability of many others to feel comfortable
when witnessing some of these behaviors.
STRESS RELEASING TECHNIQUES
the "weep response"
the "mirth response"
the "sexual response"
the "scribe response"
or Kicking Exercises
the "strike response"
Threat. In summary, because excessively or improperly managed
stress is increasingly being recognized as a major health and
safety threat for working Americans, we must maximize our capabilities
of dealing with this problem.
accident illness model based on stressors as primary stimuli and
catharsis or normal venting as a healthy release mechanism is
depicted in Figure 3.
proven stress reduction pro grams and techniques are being successfully
implemented throughout corporate America. Scientifically-based stress
releasing techniques add yet another set of tools for use by the
stress management programs should consider prescribing one or
more of these techniques to the appropriate stressed worker.
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