Stress and Relaxation

December 11, 2017
Stress and Relaxation Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

We all know what stress feels like. In today’s world, many of us feel stressed by work demands, responsibilities at home, tension in our cultural and political climate, concerns about our planet, or simply trying to keep up with the fast pace of modern life.

The body’s natural stress response (flight, flight, or freeze), allows us to respond to challenges and is vital to survival. When stressed our body releases stress hormones such as cortisol, our heart rate and blood pressure increase, our muscles tense, and our breathing accelerates (or we might even hold our breath). Our bodies stress reaction helps us respond to threatening or challenging situations and is perfectly healthy. However, when we are under chronic stress and these physiological changes persist over time, stress can become unhealthy and interfere with our physical, emotional, psychological, relational, and spiritual wellbeing.

In contrast to stress, the Relaxation Response is a term described by Dr. Herbert Benson that describes a physical state of deep rest that can be thought of as the opposite of the “fight or flight” response. When we are deeply relaxed our heart rate slows, our blood pressure drops, our breathing slows, and our muscles become less tense. Subjectively we feel more comfortable, at peace. There are a variety of practices that can promote the relaxation response including meditation, guided imagery, yoga, and other stress-reduction techniques. Here are a few practices that promote the relaxation response. I suggest trying a variety of practices and finding something that resonates with you, then committing 10-15 minutes to daily practice.

Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine