Developed by the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, the Stress Management and Resiliency Training (SMART) program helps participants achieve greater quality of life and an enhanced sense of well-being. The program teaches self-care practices that help buffer daily stress, making participants less emotionally and physically vulnerable to it.
It is thought that 60-90% of doctor visits are for problems related in some way to stress. Many of the physical symptoms we experience, such as headaches or sleep disturbances, are exacerbated by stress. In addition, chronic medical conditions, including autoimmune disorders and gastrointestinal problems, manifest with symptoms that wax and wane in direct correlation with stress levels. With tools in hand for coping with the stressors encountered in day-to-day living, participants in the course can experience a significant reduction in symptom burden.
The program begins with a one-on-one appointment with the instructor who will take a detailed history and formulate an individualized plan for each participant. This is followed by eight weekly two-hour group sessions during which participants develop greater awareness of their own stress “warning signs” and learn to cultivate more adaptive perspectives. The program uses strategies drawn from cognitive behavioral therapy, such as recognition of thought distortions, and the field of positive psychology. It also emphasizes the importance of restorative sleep, healthy eating, physical activity, and social connectedness. Each of these topics is explored in detail in the group setting, and individual support remains available throughout the course.
Finally, each week participants learn a new technique for eliciting the relaxation response, the cornerstone of the program. This response was first described by cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson, who studied practitioners of Transcendental Meditation in the late 1960s. He documented the physiologic effects of meditation including reductions in muscle tension, breathing rate, heart rate, and blood pressure. Regular practice of the relaxation response becomes the foundation for a more resilient self and the impetus for continued self-care.