There’s a lot written about stress and how to avoid it or cope with it better. How the stresses and strains of our modern lifestyles are causing our fight or flight response to activate too often or indeed never turn off and the damage to our health this causes. Today I’m focusing on why it’s crucial to relax and how to switch on your relaxation response in minutes for a Healthier Life.
Its about a 5 minute read. Here’s a brief summary.
- Why it’s crucial to relax?
- What is the relaxation response?
- How to activate it?
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Why It’s Crucial to Relax
When we talk about finding time for relaxation many people roll their eyes and think:-
- I’ve no time for this.
- I’m too busy.
- I’ve got a family to take care of.
- I can’t relax.
- Hippy dippy nonsense.
- I can’t afford all these fancy ideas.
My no frills answer to this is ‘you have to find the time to relax as if your life depends on it because it does.’ If not your life then certainly your quality of life.
Stress is a Killer.
You don’t need much time, you don’t need any money, and you won’t be much good to your family when you’re sick or worse…
… hippy dippy nonsense or not just look at the benefits:-
Benefits of Practicing Relaxation
- Slower heart rate
- Lower blood pressure
- Improved sleep quality
- Normalises blood sugar levels
- Improves digestion
- Slows down your breathing
- Reduced activity of stress hormones
- Increases the blood flow to your major muscle groups
- Improves your moods and concentration levels
- Boosts your confidence and problem solving ability
- Reduced anger and frustration
- Fact:- Stress Makes You Fat
- Reduces muscle tension and chronic pain
- Lowers Fatigue
and all this for just a few minutes of your time…
What is the Relaxation Response?
There are 2 divisions of the body’s autonomic nervous system.(click here to learn more about the autonomic nervous system.)
- The sympathetic nervous system. When this is activated it’s known as the ‘fight or flight response’ (click for more)
- The parasympathetic nervous system. This should be our normal modus operandi, our ‘rest and digest system’ When this switches on it’s known as the Relaxation Response.
To understand what the parasympathetic system or relaxation response is, it’s revealing to look at what it’s NOT.
The Sympathetic Nervous System (Fight or Flight)
When an unexpected stressful situation occurs, and hormones are released, the sympathetic nervous system is activated, which stimulates the adrenal glands, and this releases catecholamines (pronounced kat-i-kol-uh-meen) which include adrenaline & noradrenaline.
This leads to increased blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rate and slowed digestion…
This response was designed originally to help us escape dangers like running away from wild animals. Nowadays, we live in such a full on world that it can be turned on by almost anything and everything like a traffic jam, an imminent performance, a trauma, scrolling social media, your job….
The point is we need our bodies to recover and go back to operating on the parasympathetic system. They’re not built to operate constantly in ‘fight or flight’ mode and unfortunately under our modern living conditions that’s exactly how many people are operating. This takes its toll on every aspect of our health – mental, physical, emotional and spiritual.
The Parasympathetic System (Relaxation Response)
When activated this returns the body to normal after a stressful situation. It switches off the fight or flight response and brings all bodily functions back to normal healthy operating levels.
Blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, digestion and hormone levels all normalise.
How to Activate Your Relaxation Response
There are many ways to relax which we’re fairly familiar with and many of which I’ve already wrote about:- (click links to read more)
- Sleep is the king of all relaxation
- Walking/being in Nature
- Grownup playtime
- Taking a bath
- Being Creative
- Switching off or taking a break from screens
and many, many more.
But for now I want to talk in particular about the ability to turn on your relaxation response in minutes.
No matter where you are or how little time you have you can find refuge in yourself and rest in your own body.
You can find a deep sense of relaxation, a sense of being at peace, of coming home.
Listed below are a few techniques for switching on the relaxation response. They all have one thing in common. They all centre on the breath.
Actually the more you learn about healthy holistic living, almost everything depends upon and is centred around the breath. When you think about it, this makes perfect sense since without breath there is no life.
Sit or lie (or stand even) in a comfortable position and concentrate solely on the breath with your eyes closed for a few minutes until a calmness spreads through your body. Concentrate on slowing the breath down, breathe through your nose and try not to move your body. Bring a glimmer of a smile to the mouth.
There are two particular breathing techniques that I find particularly useful in this respect. Click on either for more.
There are many forms of meditation. In it’s simplest form you are simply following the above Focused Breathing instructions, and constantly and compassionately returning to focusing on the breath when your mind wanders… which it will.
Listening to Soothing Music or Sounds
Follow the Focused Breathing instruction as above and allow yourself to float away into the music or sounds. Personal headphones or EarPods are best for this so that you are in your own world. Some sort of chill out music or the sounds of nature work best. You can find these on apps like Calm.
You can also do this in the garden with the real sounds of nature. Have you ever been lying relaxing in the garden on a summers day when everything starts to sound quieter and more distant almost like it belongs in another world. That’s you in a state of deep relaxation and meditation.
Guided Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Follow the Focused Breathing instructions above. Focusing on one area of the body at a time , tighten all the muscles then let them relax. Don’t forget to include the face which often holds stress and tension.
You can be your own guide or use one of the many on apps like Calm.
Follow the Focused Breathing instructions above. Visualise yourself at your favourite place, the beach, on top of a mountain, sitting by the river… wherever it is. Concentrate on seeing everything in detail, imagine what it sounds like and even what it smells like.
Use one or multiple of these 5 simple practices to de-activate your fight or flight responses and activate your relaxation response to enjoy the phenomenal positive health benefits they bring.
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I’d love to hear your thoughts, suggestions, comments or questions below.