The Relaxation Response
The body’s response to chronic stress/Post-Traumatic stress is:
- The triggering of the fight or flight response/Sympathetic Nervous System.
- The continuous release of cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream for response to the perceived threat.
- Permanent hypertension.
- Heart disease, heart attacks and strokes.
- Arterial sclerosis/hardening of the arteries.
Physical changes due to the Fight or Flight Response:
- Rapid and shallow respiration rate, feeling flushed, high blood pressure, racing heart.
- Loss of executive function and decision-making capacity.
- Muscle tension, nausea, restlessness, involuntary shaking, sweating.
- Anger, agitation, anxiety, compulsive behavior.
- Sympathetic Nervous System domination.
Physical changes due to the Relaxation Response:
- Reduces the need to smoke, drink or drug.
- Can be used to help regain normal sleep patterns.
- Conserves the body’s store of energy, relieves fatigue to help manage anxiety and stress.
- Return of executive function/decision-making capabilities and increased alertness.
- Requires no special equipment, can be learned and practiced at home and used anywhere, even at work.
- Has no dangerous side effects.
- Activation of the body’s Parasympathetic Nervous System and increased production of endorphins, the body’s naturally occurring ‘feel-good’ hormone for healing and rejuvenation.
How to elicit the Relaxation Response:
- A quiet environment – Choose a calm and quiet environment with as few distractions as possible. This will make it easier to eliminate distracting thoughts. Turn off the phone ringer and any electronics. Allow yourself 15 to 20 minutes.
- A comfortable position – A comfortable posture is important so that there is no unnecessary muscular tension. Try sitting up with your spine straight. Some choose to kneel or sit cross-legged. If you lie down, there will be a tendency to fall asleep and that is okay too. Whatever position you adopt, be comfortable and relaxed.
- A mental device – Choose a word, sound or syllable to focus on, no more than 2 to 3 syllables. This can be repeated silently or aloud. The soft vowel sounds can be used for this. The repetition of the word or sound will help your mind from wandering and will help break the train of distracting thoughts. A fixed gaze upon an object is another option for reducing distraction. Attention to the normal rhythm of breathing is also useful.
- A passive attitude – When distracting thoughts do occur, they can be disregarded and your attention can be gently returned to your word or sound. There is no need to worry about how well you are doing. Distracting thoughts will occur. Do not worry about them. These thoughts do not mean that you are performing the technique incorrectly. They are to be expected. The passive attitude is perhaps the most important element in eliciting the Relaxation Response.