Medical study proves relaxation techniques reduce stress

thinking businessmanPeople deal with job search-related stress in various ways. Some of these ways are healthy, like exercise, getting sufficient sleep and eating a proper diet. Some are not so healthy, like an obsession with the Internet, overeating and turning to alcohol or drugs. An increasingly popular and effective way to deal with stress of any kind is practicing such relaxation techniques as meditation, yoga, deep breathing or prayer, and a recent study by researchers in Boston is just the latest to confirm the value of these techniques by studying what’s known as the relaxation response.

The research, conducted by investigators at Boston’s Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, found that when people are able produce the relaxation response – a physiologic state that alters the physical and emotional response to stress – immediate changes occur at the genetic level in their bodies.

Previous studies have documented how the relaxation response both alleviates symptoms of anxiety and many other disorders and also affects factors such as heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen consumption and brain activity. A 2008 study found that long-term practice of the relaxation response changed the expression of genes involved with the body’s response to stress. (Gene expression is a way that genes convey information that is used in the creation of certain products like proteins.)

The current study examined changes produced during a single session of relaxation response practice, as well as those taking place over longer periods of time.

Although many studies have proved that the relaxation response can reduce stress and enhance wellness, for the first time the key physiological means by which these benefits might be induced have been identified, according to Herbert Benson, MD, director-emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute. And now researchers have a better understanding of how this might work.

Effect of relaxation response

The study enrolled a group of 26 healthy adults who had no previous experience in relaxation response practice. They completed an eight-week relaxation response training course, which began by them listening to a 20-minute health education CD about relaxation. Blood tests were given before and after they listened to the CD, as well as after the training was completed.

A set of blood samples was also taken from another group of 25 participants –  people who had between four and 25 years of experience using different techniques to elicit the relaxation response – both before and after they listened to the same relaxation response CD as those going through the eight-week program.

The blood samples revealed significant changes in gene expression, or the way several important groups of genes conveyed information, between the initial samples and those taken after the training was completed. Pathways controlled by the activation of a protein called NF-κB – known to have a prominent role in inflammation, stress, trauma and cancer – were suppressed in the bodies of the participants after they were able to produce the relaxation response they learned in the training program.

While this and other research helps doctors and scientists better understand exactly what impact relaxation techniques have on the body, it’s just a beginning. The same researchers who conducted this study are expanding their efforts to examine how the changes induced by mind/body interventions affect pathways involved in such diseases as hypertension and inflammatory bowel disease.


For more information, visit the Massachusetts General Hospital’s website at

For more information about the benefits of meditation see Action Plan, Meditation Why Bother?: A Taste of Mindfulness Meditation at

Many hospitals, doctors, social workers and others across the U.S., including Kaiser Permanente in Northern California, teach classes in mindfulness based stress reduction that focuses on meditation and relaxation. The courses are based on the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor-emeritus of medicine and founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts. You can find a program in your area by visiting

For online meditation instructions and places to learn and practice from a Buddhist perspective check out


CareerBuilder surveys employers on their hiring of ex-offenders

Hiring and human resources managers across the nation filled out surveys concerning ex-offender hiring.

Most employers are open to hiring ex-offenders, at least according to a major study from CareerBuilder. In fact, 51 percent of those surveyed reported that their organizations have at one point hired someone with a criminal record.

The online survey of 2,298 U.S. hiring managers and human resource professionals was conducted by Harris International on behalf of CareerBuilder between May 14 and June 4, 2012. CareerBuilder, a company specializing in human capital solutions, is best known for its job-search website, which receives more than 24 million unique visitors per month.

Why the attention to ex-offenders? “CareerBuilder looks at a variety of employment issues throughout the year,” says company spokesperson Michael Erwin. “This was our first survey that focused on criminal backgrounds and based on the positive response to it, we will most likely redo it next year.”

The survey respondents made many recommendations on what job seekers with criminal records can do to make themselves more marketable to employers. Those who work with ex-offenders have no doubt heard most of these recommendations before but may not realize where they rank in importance among hiring and HR managers.

“The number one recommendation hiring managers have is to own your past and focus on what you learned from it to grow professionally and personally,” said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder. “You also want to stay active. Taking classes, volunteering and tapping into social networks can be good ways to help overcome obstacles associated with job hunting with a criminal past.”

What things – in order of importance – that ex-offenders can do to make themselves more marketable, according to the survey results:

  • Be up-front and honest about the conviction and stress what you learned from it (68 percent)
  • Be willing to work your way up (48 percent)
  • Stay positive (46 percent)
  • Prepare while you’re in prison by taking classes or getting a degree or vocational training (39 percent)
  • Don’t apply to jobs where your record would automatically disqualify you (31 percent)
  • Volunteer (31 percent)
  • Take freelance or temporary assignments (26 percent)
  • Consider joining the military (18 percent)
  • Start your own business (16 percent)
  • Monitor what is said on social media (13 percent)

Those looking for a job should follow these recommendations and might also want to check out, which includes listings for a wide variety of jobs, from construction and customer service to restaurant and retail and opportunities in countless other fields.

For more information, visit


MDRC/DOL study tests effectiveness of employment programs

RecycleForce employee at work.

RecycleForce of Indianapolis has not only found success in hiring ex-offenders, it managed to win a $5.5 million grant to participate in a large-scale federal research project. That research project, involving seven grantees across the nation, may assist U.S. government agencies to better understand how to help those with serious barriers find employment.

Known as the Enhanced Transitional Jobs Demonstration and sponsored by the Employment and Training Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor, the project is funding and testing employment programs for ex-offenders and noncustodial parents.

Of the seven groups chosen, three – RecycleForce Inc., the Doe Fund Inc. of New York City and the Tarrant County Workforce Development Board of Fort Worth, Texas – are concentrating on ex-offenders, at least for this study.

The other four groups – the Center for Community Alternatives in Syracuse, N.Y., Goodwill of North Georgia in Atlanta, the City and County of San Francisco, and the YWCA of Greater Milwaukee received grants to work with non-custodial parents.

Although the groups may seem to be different, there are many overlaps, according to Cindy Redcross, senior research associate of MDRC, the social policy research organization hired to lead the project.

“About one-third or even up to one-half of the participants in the noncustodial program may have some type of criminal background,” she says. Regardless of the group, however, the study is conducted in the same way.

When the DOL announced the availability of grant money in the spring of last year, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis made her department’s goals clear.

“Helping Americans get back to work is a priority for the Department of Labor. Work is about dignity, about providing for one’s family and strengthening the U.S. economy,” she said. “This grant program makes possible work experience and support that will enable low-income non-custodial parents and ex-offenders to become independent and able to support families.”

Participating groups were chosen from more than 100 applicants through a process initiated by the Department of Labor, which selected the finalists. MDRC then sent an evaluation team to determine whether the groups could in fact implement what they had proposed to do in their grant applications. Each was also required to have established relationships with service partners, who would help them carry out the program.

The seven groups began enrolling people last November and will continue to do so for two years. Each will enroll 1,000 randomly selected individuals from its target population. In the case of ex-offenders, participants had to have been released from prison not more than 120 days prior to enrollment, are high risk and have never had a job for more than a year.

Five hundred of the 1,000 individuals enrolled by each group will be given transitional work assignments with support services. The other 500 will be part of a control group that receives the usual community services that ex-offenders and non-custodial parents would have access to.

MDRC will look at what happens to those who were employed and how they fared compared with those in the control groups. It will also track post-program outcomes.

The project is a major undertaking and one that hopefully will lead to improving the lives of ex-offenders and non-custodial parents.

“A lot of agencies will be looking closely at the findings from this study, and we hope it will influence policy and inform the U.S. Department of Labor and Department of Justice on how to help people in these target populations be able to find employment,” MDRC’s Redcross says.

For more information about MDRC and its projects, visit the organization’s website at