Lower Stress with The Relaxation Response
In 1915 Harvard researcher, Dr Walter Cannon identified the ‘Fight or Flight’ physiological stress response in humans. Through research, Dr Cannon discovered that this survival response is triggered in perceived dangerous situations and includes:
- An urge to fight or flee
- A release of hormones
- A marked increase in heart rate
- Raised bold pressure
- Adrenaline induced energy release
- Sweat glands being activated & pupils dilating
It is our brain that lets our body know when we are in danger and our body responds dutifully by activating our sympathetic nervous system. This was very helpful survival technique for our ancestors and more presently when we are faced with imminent danger, however, it can be harmful to the body if it is called on too often.
The good news
As outlined, our brain informs our body when (if!) we are in danger (e.g. “I can’t cope with this problem. I really can’t stand it”), the good news is that we can also let it know the opposite. Interestingly, fifty years after Dr Walter Cannon outlined the causes and symptoms expressed in ‘Fight or Flight’, Harvard Professor and cardiologist, Dr Herbert Benson highlighted another survival technique, which helps us in times or crisis – ‘The Relaxation Response’. This important survival ability supports our body and mind to “heal and rejuvenate”. In his book, ‘The Relaxation Response’, he describes it as, “an inducible, physiologic estate of quietude” (Benson, 1975).
The advantages of increasing our experience of the Relaxation Response include:
- Clarity of mind (helpful when making decisions)
- Balanced heart rate
- A deeper sense of relaxation (instead of hypertension)
- Healthier, more balanced body = Healthier, more balanced mind
- Hormone balance (in men and women)
Eliciting the Relaxation Response is more straightforward than you think!
- Meditation (e.g. Mindfulness)
- Restorative exercise which includes breathwork e.g. yoga or mindful movement
- Creative visualisation e.g. Safe Place exercise
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation – involves tensing each muscle group in our bodies for 5 seconds and releasing for 5 seconds beginning with our feet and working all the way up our boy slowly
All the above approaches are better supported in a quiet, peaceful environment where you are unlikely to be disturbed. Allow 20 minutes at the beginning and ideally at the end of each day to benefit over time. You may wish to keep a Relaxation Response journal and just note the positive change in feelings and thoughts over time.
The Relaxation Response will help you identify and mange your stressors and leads to an increased sense of personal fulfilment.