It’s no secret that stress can have a damaging effect on one’s health. The good news is, understanding the relaxation response, may help us to counter it.
That said, relaxation is “the state of being free from tension and anxiety.” This outcome is essentially what is referred to as the relaxation response.
“The relaxation response” was first coined by Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School. According to Dr. Benson, it is “a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress and the opposite of the fight or flight response.”
Consequently, we won’t elicit the relaxation response by lounging around the house all day or sleeping. Instead it involves using proper tools to better manage the negative stress in our lives.
Stress and the Relaxation Response
Stress is a part of everyday life. However, when the nervous system is overwhelmed by stress, it inundates the body with chemicals that prepare it for “fight or flight.” Yet while the stress response is needed for learning, creativity, and can be beneficial in situations where you need to act quickly, it wears the body down when there is constant activation.
Additionally, abnormal responses to stress can have a negative effect on us behaviorally, emotionally, physically and cognitively. Research even shows that stress plays a role in the onset of many illnesses and conditions, such as high-blood pressure, anxiety, heart disease, headaches and depression. This is why it is so necessary to know how to utilize proper relaxation strategies.
The Benefits of Eliciting the Relaxation Response
Studies reveal that relaxation may reduce the damage caused by the negative effects of stress and have a positive effect on our health. Essentially, when we activate the relaxation response, it enhances our immune system functioning. This means an improvement in breathing, sleep patterns, digestion and mental clarity occurs. Moreover, when we allow the system to experience this rest, it creates a balance awareness that enables us to make healthier and wiser lifestyle choices. It also empowers us to pursue and embrace more joy and peace within.
Utilizing Relaxation Techniques
The most common and effective relaxation techniques involve meditation and proper deep breathing exercises.
In the American Heritage Dictionary, Meditation is defined as: a devotional exercise of or leading to contemplation. The word meditation is also synonymous with words like thought, reflection, concentration, and even prayer. Therefore, as essential as these all are, meditation is more than just a practice; it is a lifestyle. For instance, with scripture meditation, the goal is to seek to commune with God by contemplating on His Word. This basically allows us to continuously build our faith, by connecting more with scripture and applying it to our everyday lives.
When it comes to proper breathing, our souls (mind, will and emotions) as well as our bodies, were not meant to function in a healthy way without our natural breathing pattern. This is because the breath is what essentially makes us a living soul. However, for many us, due mainly to the pressures of life, our breathing tends to become more and more shallow over time. Yet this creates an imbalance that can hinder our overall health and well-being. Hence the reason why proper breathing exercises often play such a key role in our pursuit of greater well-being.
Managing the Negative Stress in Our Lives
In our everyday lives, we all have to figure out our stress triggers and how we react to them. In other words, know what situations tend to make you stressed and understand those you can and can’t control. It may also be helpful to prioritize tasks and/or prepare for stressful events in advance.
Finally, knowing how to relax and be still are vital aspects of effective stress release. And, ultimately, they both contribute to the maintenance of our overall health and well-being. So don’t rule out visiting a community health and wellness center or consulting a licensed professional if you are having difficulty managing stress.