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Reverse the Health Consequences of Chronic Stress with ‘The Relaxation Response’

Invest 10 minutes a day on your health and happiness and never get stressed out again.

Stress takes its toll…but with tools like the relaxation response you can limit the mental and physical health consequences of a stress filled modern lifestyle.

Stress triggers the body’s flight or fight response, causing a surge of adrenalin, increased heart and respiration rate, increased blood flow to the muscles and a great many other physiological responses - all of which are quite helpful if you need to fight off a pack of wolves - but not so helpful when you’re infuriated by red tape at the DMV!

And unfortunately, the long term consequences of chronic stress can include conditions like high blood pressure, chronic muscle aches and pains, fatigue, sleeping problems, lowered immune system functioning and an increased risk of anxiety and depression.1

But it’s not all bad news, if you’re willing to learn techniques like the relaxation response and able to invest a little time for stress reduction each day then you can do a lot to reverse the harmful consequences of a stress-filled lifestyle.

The Relaxation Response 

Stress amps you up – the relaxation response calms you down.

The relaxation response is a state of peace and resting that causes a reversal of many of the physical and mental consequences of stress. During a relaxation response your metabolism slows, your heart and respiration rate decrease, your blood pressure falls slightly, more blood flows to your brain and your muscles relax.

Once in a relaxation response you feel the stress-busting benefits right away, and even better, if you practice the relaxation response regularly you’ll notice that the calm and serenity you feel during the exercise will soon expand across the rest of your day to day activities.2

And that’s not all; research shows that people who make the relaxation response a regular practice can achieve lasting mental and physical health benefits, such as:

  • Decreased chronic pain
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Lower stress hormone levels
  • Better thinking and decision making
  • More energy and motivation
  • Less muscle tension
  • Less fatigue
  • Less anxiety
  • Less irritability3

In fact, making the relaxation response a daily habit may well increase your longevity. When researchers looked at how the practice influenced things at the genome level they found that people who did regular relaxation response exercises experienced anti inflammatory and anti oxidant changes that protected cells from the toxic effects of chronic stress. 4

So, are you ready to invest 10 to 20 minutes a day to feel more calm across all situations, to protect yourself from disease, to feel more energy and decisiveness, and maybe even to live a few years longer?

How to Do It - Achieving the Relaxation Response

Here’s how to do it, as taught at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Before You Start

  1. Think of a phrase, prayer, word, sound or even a muscle movement that you’ll repeat over and over for 10 to 20 minutes. If you can tie this into your belief system so much the better – so if you’re Christian you might use a line from the Lord’s Prayer, for example.
  2. Understand that you are going to try to clear your head from any extraneous thoughts while you do your practice. That being said, thoughts are always going to drift into your mind no matter how you try to stop them, so when this happens, you just try to let them float away as you refocus your attention on your repetitive mantra.

Getting Started

  • Sit comfortably and close your eyes
  • Begin progressively relaxing your muscles. Start with your feet and focus on relaxing them as much as you can, then move to your calves and then thighs and buttocks, to the abdomen and all the up to the shoulders and neck.
  • Try to breathe slowly and calmly and start silently repeating your chosen word or phrase on every exhale.
  • Don’t worry about how well you’re doing or whether you’re doing it right and when thoughts intrude, just let them flow past and refocus your attention on your word or phrase.
  • After 10 to 20 minutes, stop repeating your word or phrase, but continue to sit with your eyes closed for another minute or so as you allow your thoughts to return slowly to your conscious awareness.
  • Open your eyes but sit for another minute before getting up
  • Do this once or twice a day

Take Some Time for Yourself

You probably won’t find getting into a relaxation response very difficult, and if you can find the time to do it regularly then you’ll experience some great health and wellness rewards, but if you try this method and find that it’s not for you, you can achieve the same types of results through other activities that pull you into a similar state of mindfulness.

Other activities that can induce a similar relaxation response include:

  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Relaxation with imagery techniques
  • Repetitive praying
  • Progressive muscle relaxation

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