Chapter 3: Relaxation
When stress overwhelms your nervous system your body is flooded with chemicals that prepare you for “fight or flight.” While the stress response can be lifesaving in emergency situations where you need to act quickly, it wears your body down when constantly activated by the stresses of everyday life.
No one can avoid all stress, but you can counteract it by learning how to produce the relaxation response, a state of deep rest that is the polar opposite of the stress response. The relaxation response puts the brakes on stress and brings your body and mind back into a state of equilibrium. The goal is to be both physically relaxed and mentally alert at the same time.
When the relaxation response is activated:
- Your heart rate slows down
- Breathing becomes slower and deeper
- Blood pressure drops or stabilizes
- Your muscles relax
- Blood flow to the brain increases
In addition to its calming physical effects, the relaxation response also increases energy and focus, combats illness, relieves aches and pains, heightens problem-solving abilities, and boosts motivation and productivity. Best of all, anyone can reap these benefits with regular practice.
Passive relaxing does not produce the relaxation response
The relaxation response is a mentally active process best done when you’re awake, and strengthened by practice. Simply laying on the couch, reading, or watching TV—while possibly relaxing—aren’t going to produce the physical and psychological benefits of the relaxation response.
For that, you’ll need to practice a relaxation technique. Those whose stress-busting benefits have been widely studied include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, visualization, rhythmic exercise, yoga, and tai chi.