Regular elicitation of the relaxation response
has been scientifically proven to be an effective treatment for a wide range of stress related disorders.
(Prof. Herbert Benson MD, Mindbody Medicine
Research indicates that people
with stress related problems like insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, depression etc., can have an oversensitive
stress response and have higher levels of stress hormones in their blood stream than people without anxiety or depression. Higher than normal levels of stress hormones can affect our brain chemistry and physiology
and this can be one factor in triggering and maintaining chronic stress, anxiety and depression. A useful strategy to learn is relaxation which helps to reduce this arousal of the sympathetic nervous
system that triggers the stress response creating the opposite biochemical and physiological effect to the stress response.
We are often told to learn to relax but we are not taught How to relax. Relaxation
is a skill that has to be learned. Fortunately just as our bodies have an inbuilt
stress response mechanism it also has an inbuilt mechanism for triggering relaxation.
This is called The Relaxation Response.
Research has indicated that
stimulating the hypothalamus gland in the brain by practising relaxation helps to turn off the stress response and causes
a wide variety of beneficial physiological and biochemical changes that are the opposite of the stress response and restore
our bodies homeostatic balance and improve our disease resistance.
BENEFITS OF PRACTISING
Just as there are many physiological
and biochemical changes triggered by the stress response, practising relaxation can have beneficial effects on our physiology
and biochemistry which helps to reduce stress, anxiety and depression such as:
- Boosts serotonin levels
- Decreases heart rate
- Decreases respiratory rate
- Decreases lactic acid levels
- Improves sleep
- Increase in salivation and digestion
- Increase in alpha brainwaves indicating restful state
- Decreases blood pressure
- Boosts immune function
- Decreases anxiety
- Decreases muscle tension
- Decrease cortisol levels
- Decreased cardiac output
- Blood sugar levels are more stable
- Skin has increased resistance to passage of electrical impulses which indicates that sympathetic nervous system which
triggers stress response is less aroused
WHAT ACTUALLY IS RELAXATION
Many people think relaxation
is sitting with our feet up watching the television or reading a book but this is not so, relaxation is a totally different
state you do not get the same beneficial biochemical and physiological changes while watching TV as you do when practising
relaxation. Research using EEG monitors to monitor brainwave patterns, of people
watching television and others using relaxation, show that practising relaxation causes the brain to switch to alpha type
brain waves that indicate relaxation.
HEALTH CONDITIONS HELPED BY
Research has indicated that
regular elicitation of the relaxation response can have a beneficial effect on a number of physiological and psychological
health problems such as:
- Angina Pectoris
- Back Pain
- Diabetes Mellitus
- High Blood Pressure
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Pain in General
- Panic Attacks
- Post Surgery
- Pre Menstrual Syndrome
- Skin Problems
TYPES OF RELAXATION
There are many methods of stimulating
the relaxation response, what type you want to use is totally up to you. All
these relaxation techniques have been shown to work and its a matter of personal choice which you use:
- Guided Imagery/Visualisation
- Passive Muscle Relaxation
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation
- Tai Chi
HOW TO ELICIT THE RELAXATION RESPONSE
Professor Herbert Benson states that there are only two basic
steps to elicit the relaxation response:
- Repeat a word,
sound, prayer phrase, or muscular activity.
disregard everyday thoughts that come to mind, and return to your repetition.
Benson teaches the following nine step, generic technique (p136)
to his patients:
Step 1. Pick a focus word or short phrase that is firmly
rooted in your
Step 2. Sit quietly in a comfortable position.
Step 3. Close your eyes.
Step 4. Relax your muscles.
Step 5. Breathe slowly and naturally, and as you do,
repeat your focus
word, phrase, or prayer,
silently to yourself as you exhale.
Step 6. Assume a passive attitude. Dont worry about how well you are doing.
thoughts come to mind, simply say to yourself, Oh well,
return to the repetition.
Step 7. Continue for 10 20 minutes.
Step 8. Do not stand up immediately. Continue sitting quietly for a minute
or so, allowing
other thoughts to return. Then open your eyes and
sit for another
minute before rising.
Step 9. Practise this technique once or twice daily.
Battino, R. (2000), Guided Imagery and Other Approaches to Healing,
Crown House Publishing.
WHERE TO OBTAIN RELAXATION AUDIOTAPES
There are a variety of sources from where you can purchase relaxation
audiocassettes. Local bookshops, Health Food shops and your local Library are
a few sources. The local Library is possibly the best place because you can try
different cassettes till you find one that you like and then you can purchase a copy.
There is also a link to a company specialising in stress/relaxation audiotapes called talking life at the end of this
RELAXATION MINI (THE
60 SECOND TRANQUILLISER)
When stressful events occur in our lives at home or at work we
can help to calm ourselves and reduce out stress by practising a very shortened form of relaxation called relaxation minis
that take only a minute or so to practise. These minis can even be used while
receiving dental treatment or undergoing other uncomfortable procedures.
- Repeat I
CAN DO ANYTHING I WANT TO breathe out slowly
breathe in and allow your abdomen to soften and rise
breathe out, slightly longer than breathing in
- Say to yourself
I AM BREATHING IN PEACE AND BLOWING AWAY TENSION
- Each time you
breathe out relax your face, jaw, shoulders and hands
and TALK more slowly
- Repeat again
until you feel fully in control.
(Source: Tyler M.
(2001) Stress Trainers Course)
- Do not practise
relaxation when driving or operating machinery or where you need to concentrate or drive straight after you have practiced
- Always check
with your GP that you are fit to practise relaxation, especially if you have a chronic health problem.
USEFUL WEB SITES
USEFUL ARTICLES ON
- Benson H. (2000) The Relaxation Response, Bantam.
- Craze R. (1998) Teach Yourself Relaxation, Hodder and Stoughton.
- Davis M. (2000) The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook.
- Sutcliffe J. (1993) The Complete Book of Relaxation Techniques, Headline Books.