08/25/2012 10:58 am ET Updated Oct 24, 2012

A Timeless Technique for Stress Reduction

Stress can interfere with our ability to function. At high levels it impacts your physical health and can cause mental health problems such as depression.

When you're under pressure, the stress can be both overwhelming and debilitating. Often, when stressed, we suffer from symptoms while forging ahead on automatic pilot, rarely taking time to slow down or note the toll that stress is taking on our bodies and our minds.

But stress, unattended to, typically builds. When we race through our days, ignoring physical symptoms and discounting the mental anguish that can accompany stress, we miss the opportunity to give ourselves a much-needed rest, to regroup and to calm our racing minds and tense bodies.

If you are someone who goes through your days unconscious of the effects stress has on your body, you might find the following classic stress management exercise helpful.

The Body Scan

The body scan is a classic strategy to restore your connection with your body. At first it may seem counterintuitive to enhance your connection to your body when you're uncomfortable, in pain and hoping to escape physical symptoms of stress.

But the body scan, a timeless technique involving a thorough and minute focus on the body, allows you to feel relaxed and more at home in your body. The central goal of the body scan is to become aware of your body, without trying to change how you're feeling and without thinking about or judging yourself. The intention is not to try to reduce tension, but just to be aware of your body. Interestingly, when you are not trying to reduce tension -- and maybe because you are not trying to reduce tension -- the result often is the reduction of tension and other uncomfortable stress symptoms.

The body scan begins by bringing attention to different regions of your body. In The Stress Response, I suggest that you start at the top of your head, noticing sensations in your head, face and neck. You then move your attention slowly down through different regions of your body, simply becoming aware of tension, discomfort or other sensations that you might have been overlooking. The body scan can also begin at the toes, slowly working up through the body. In either case, accepting what you find as you move your attention through your body allows you to tap into new ways of feeling and being in your body.

If you practice the body scan often, even daily, without the intention of changing symptoms of stress, you just might find that you're symptoms do, in fact, change.

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