LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES
Interview With Herbert Benson
Aired May 30, 2003 - 20:25 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: It is time to get de-stressed. Our next guest says with the right strategy, stress can actually be converted into something powerful and potentially creative.
Dr. Herbert Benson of the Harvard Medical School tells us about this theory in a new book. It's called "The Breakout Principle." And he's joining us from Boston to talk about it.
Dr. Benson, good evening. Thanks for being with us.
DR. HERBERT BENSON, HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL: Thank you for having me.
KAGAN: So as I understand it, you're saying stress isn't necessarily a bad thing.
BENSON: No. You see, as stress increases, so does performance and anxiety. But only to a point. If the stress continues to increase, performance and anxiety drop off. So stress does lead to positive changes, but too much is detrimental.
KAGAN: OK, so I have ask about this thing called the breakout principle. Because, doctor, if I'm stressed, yes, there's a breakout principle, a zit on the chin or something like that. But I don't think that's what you're promoting.
BENSON: Not really. Think of a four-step process. First, there has to be a struggle. And you could view stress as that struggle. But to be able to get a proper amount of achievement or performance from stress, one has to back off completely.
And that is the second phase. You can call that the release phase, or the, if you will, the trigger phase. And when that occurs, when you're able to back off from the stress completely, or reasonably completely, then what occurs is, you have a breakout. There's a peak type of experience. Whether it be in creativity, productivity, athletic performance, better health or well-being, or even spirituality, you can have that type of peak experience.
KAGAN: And then what's the fourth step?
BENSON: That brings you to a fourth...
KAGAN: Yes, what's that?
BENSON: The fourth phase is when you are at a new plateau, Waiting to indeed respond to the next struggle you have to undergo.
KAGAN: OK. Dr. Benson, let me...
BENSON: And Daryn...
KAGAN: ... ask you about -- let me ask you about this second step. I want to take you back here, because it's the idea of, you just back off and you let go. Frankly, if most people were able to do that, they wouldn't be stressed in the first place. That's the problem. We can't let go.
BENSON: Well, yes, but there's so much in our world which is so stressful, the economy for many people. For example, SARS epidemic, the interpersonal relationships, the terror problems. These are very difficult to get away from. And we respond to that by eliciting the fight-or-flight response. But you can learn to back off from that by a number of different strategies. One can be...
KAGAN: Yes, let's look at some of these specific ideas of how people can specifically implement. Here we go. Engage in repetitive activity. Like knitting?
BENSON: Certainly, one can sit -- yes, exactly, exactly. But also, one can sit quietly and focus on a repetitive word, sound, prayer, or phrase, and disregard other thoughts. The other is the repetition of jogging. The repetition, for example, of focusing on a type of prayer.
All of this can lead to a set of physiologic changes in the body, in -- which are opposite to those of stress. And specific types of brain wave patterns in which the left hemisphere and right hemisphere of the brain become more integrated. And that leads, we believe, to a trigger, if you will, that will then lead to the peak experience.
KAGAN: Well, as you said...
BENSON: Other ways of doing this...
KAGAN: I'm sorry, I -- we're just -- we're just wrapping up on time here. I just wanted to say, as you were saying, there is just so much stress out there, and I wanted to add, your voice, your voice is very soothing, kind of calmed everything down in here for a little bit.
Dr. Benson, I just want to thank you for stopping by and helping us de-stress a little bit on this Friday night. Appreciate it.
BENSON: Thank you for having me.
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