Counteracting stress with progressive muscle relaxation

- Stress. Studies show it is related to 80 percent of illnesses and 90 percent of all doctor's visits, even when you don't realize it. It's important to know there are ways to control your stress levels. For instance, you hear about meditation all of the time, but have you ever tried it? It's meant to make your mind calm and peaceful and help you be happy, even during difficult times. At the Heights of Health in Houston, one expert highly suggests it and clients there are taught how to do it correctly. The facility also offers another technique called Progressive Muscle Relaxation that can even help children.

Heather Goodwin is the director of the Holistic Behavior Division at Heights of Health. She introduced FOX 26 News to her eight-year-old client, David. He has been dealing with a few medical issues that leave him feeling stressed out. He was diagnosed with ADHD, oppositional defiance disorder, anxiety and fear issues. His mother says it was tough on the entire family. 

"Lots of exaggerated tantrums and difficulty at school," explains David's mother Rosanna. "Imagine living with three two-year olds, (that's what it felt like), there was yelling, screaming, crying."          

Goodwin explains to David how to correctly do progressive muscle relaxation or PMR, and then how he can continue to do it on his own. Like a typical eight-year-old child, he literally hops up on the table and begins to giggle and roll around. Goodwin's calming voice encourages him to calm down and close his eyes. 

"This is good for you to do before you go to sleep at night to get relaxed, but also good if you're feeling stressed, because it releases stress out of the body into the air, so that you feel calm on the inside," explains Goodwin to David. 

That's important for David. His parents aren't sure why, but he has a severe fear of natural disasters that really stresses him out. He used to have nightmares almost every night of the week about stuff like fires and hurricanes. They tried all kinds of ways to help him. 

David says what he's doing at Heights of Health, like "belly breathing," working with bio-feedback and progressive muscle relaxation, is really helping him.  

"It helped me get rid of all of this terrible badness, trouble, madness, all kind of things and fear," says David. "Before this, bad things were happening - I was lying, I was not behaving good. I just didn't have a good life at first, then when I came here, it changed my entire life the past two years."

David's mother can't believe the difference and neither can his teacher.  

"Tears come to my eyes when I think about the difference that Heather has made," says Rosanna with excitement. "I regret every office visit, every co-pay, every wasted minute before finding Heights of Health! They have been so phenomenal in encouraging me as a mom to stay tough, hang in there. They know we're in the trenches. With David, he's a force to be reckoned with, and they know what a cool strong child he is and that's okay and that we encourage him. David's teacher asked us if we put him on medication. We tried that long before and it didn't work, but I told her it was this treatment that's working."  

Goodwin believes everyone should try to decrease their stress levels for optimal health. 

"We are in an epidemic of stress," explains Goodwin. "In fact, we are exposed to more information in one day than our great-grandparent's in a year's time. We are programmed though for stress. The good news, with the new science of neuroplasticity, we have the ability to re-wire our brains for positivity and for happiness and peace."

Goodwin can even show David, through a process called bio-feedback, his progress and how his deep-breathing affects his body. She simply connects a device on his ear to monitor him. 

"All it's doing is reading your heart-rate variability, which is one measure of stress in the body," tells Goodwin to David. You can physically see how David can calm himself down, just by breathing correctly, through a process called "belly breathing."  

Just think of it as almost backwards of what we typically do. When you inhale, your stomach moves way out, and when you exhale, your stomach moves in.  Within one minute of this type of breathing, David is able to move from the unsteady red zone to the healthy green zone, on the computer screen. Goodwin says these deep breaths are causing a healthy variability in his heart beats, balancing his nervous system, which is calming for him.

Goodwin encourages everyone to take just ten minutes every day to just be...and not do. She believes stress happens "in" you, versus "to" you, and that makes perfect sense, so it's all about handling it correctly, to help make you healthier. 

For more information on Heights of Health, visit http://heightsofhealth.com/.

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