- Mental Health
Stress Reducers: How to Achieve Natural Stress Relief By Activating the Relaxation Response
Activating the relaxation response is the most effective way to achieve natural stress relief and prevent the harmful effects of stress on your body. The relaxation response, which is the physiological counterpart of the stress response, can also be activated by other stress reducers.
When faced with a stressful situation, the body triggers the stress response or fight-or-flight response. This leads to the secretion of cortisol, adrenaline and other stress hormones along with an increase of blood pressure, breathing and heart rate.
The relaxation response produces the exact opposite effect of the body’s physiological reaction to stress. The state of deep calm produced by the relaxation response results in a decrease in blood pressure, breathing and heart rate as well as muscle tension and oxygen consumption.
By taking advantage of stress reducers that trigger the relaxation response, the damaging effects of stress to the body can be prevented.
Chronic stress can increase your risk for numerous health problems, including obesity, stroke, heart attack, high blood pressure, accelerated aging, heart disease, digestive problems, memory impairment and decreased immunity as well as worsening of cancer and other diseases.
Dr. Herbert Benson at Harvard Medical School did the earliest scientific research studies on the relaxation response. In his book, “The Relaxation Response,” he describes the steps to trigger the relaxation response.
Here’s a simple way to get the effects of the relaxation response:
- Sit quietly and comfortably.
- Close your eyes then relax all your muscles from head to toe.
- Breathe slowly and deeply. To help yourself focus and avoid distractions, you can count your breaths, repeat a sound, phrase or motion slowly. Another approach is to visualize a meadow, lake or some other relaxing image.
- Do this for about 10 or 20 minutes. Do not use an alarm. When you finish, sit quietly for a few minutes and then get up slowly.
- Just allow relaxation to occur at its own pace. Don’t worry about achieving a deep level of relaxation. When distracting thoughts occur, don’t dwell on them and try to ignore them. Just return to counting your breaths, repeating a sound, phrase or motion slowly or visualizing a relaxing image.
- Practice the relaxation technique once or twice daily, but not within two hours after any meal; the digestive process can interfere with the effects of relaxation response.
Of course, there are other stress reducers that can trigger the relaxation response including, deep breathing, physical exercise, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation as well as other relaxation techniques and stress management techniques.
Not only can chronic stress lower your quality of life, but it can also shorten your life. Using stress reducers that trigger the relaxation response can provide natural stress relief effectively and prevent the health-damaging effects of stress.