The Definition Of Relaxation Response

Meditation can be grasped even by beginners.
Meditation can be difficult for beginners, but there are ways to make it simple. Compassionate Eye Foundation/Taxi/Getty Images

Definition: The counterpart to the fight-or-flight response, the relaxation response occurs when the body is no longer in perceived danger, and the autonomic nervous system functioning returns to normal.

During the relaxation response, the body moves from a state of physiological arousal, including increased heart rate and blood pressure, slowed digestive functioning, decreased blood flow to the extremities, increased release of hormones like adrenalin and cortisol, and other responses preparing the body to fight or run, to a state of physiological relaxation, where blood pressure, heart rate, digestive functioning and hormonal levels return to their normal state.

During acute stress, this response occurs naturally. This worked well for us in our ancient history, when the stress response was triggered somewhat rarely, and often meant fast-moving physical threats like predators.  However, in modern times, as the stress response is often triggered multiple times throughout the day, the relaxation response doesn't always have a chance to naturally follow.  For example, in times of chronic stress, the body is in a constant state of physiological arousal over perceived threats that are numerous and not life-threatening, and the body's relaxation response doesn't always have time to kick in before the next stressor hits.  This can lead to decreased immunity and increases in negative emotional consequences like anxiety and burnout.

In times like these, the relaxation response can be induced through techniques that relax your body or your mind.  (If you can relax both simultaneously, that's even better.)  The following are some of the most effective and convenient strategies for inducing the relaxation response in your body if you don't experience it automatically when you need to.

 Practice these, and you'll find it easier to relax during times of stress and minimize the amount of time your body spends in its stress response.

Meditation

Meditation is a powerhouse of a stress reliever because it works well for calming body and mind, and helps you to build resilience over time. Some people find it difficult to get the hang of meditation at first, but trying different types of meditation and maintaining realistic expectations can both be helpful.

 Learn more about different types of meditation.

Breathing Exercises

Stress relief breathing can be highly effective in calming the body as well.  I highly recommend breathing exercises because they can work to calm the body at any time and place, even in the middle of stressful situations that are ongoing.  There are different types of breathing exercises to practice, so try a few.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

These exercises involve tensing and relaxing different groups of muscles in your body until it becomes more natural to find and remain in a state of physical relaxation.  This technique takes a little time and practice, but eventually you should find yourself able to fully relax your body in a few minutes, if not a matter of seconds.  Learn more about PMR.

Yoga

You may not be surprised to hear that yoga can be wonderful for relaxation.  This technique works to relax your body and mind simultaneously, incorporating breathing exercises as well.  A good yoga session can require time and even a teacher, but there are also poses that can be practiced relatively quickly, and even some you can do at your desk.

 Learn more about the benefits of yoga.

For more stress management tips, research, and strategies, connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest, or check out my book, 8 Keys to Stress Management.  And make some of these techniques a regular part of your life.  When you regularly practice these techniques, your body may become more adept at reversing its own stress response when necessary, so you don't remain in a state of stress for an unhealthy length of time.

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