(sorry for the lack of article last week, the Fourth of July seems to have messed up my schedule)
Now that we know a whole lot about the science of stress, let’s talk about it’s antidote: The Relaxation Response (coined by Dr Herbert Benson in 1975). While some feel that this is just a fancy or mainstream-friendly term for meditation, it goes deeper than that. Benson’s own work describes the relaxation response as being something elicited by meditation, not the meditation itself. It seems to be the biochemical opposite of stress, a hypothalamic response which is consistent with a state of decreased sympathetic-nervous-system activity.
- MRI shows increased activity in the higher-functioning portions of the brain (the areas associated with reasoning and rational thought, rather than instinct)
- Breathing slows while oxygen concentration in the blood remains constant or increases slightly
- Blood pressure lowers
- PMS symptoms improve
- The frequency of premature ventricular contractions in patients with proven, stable ischæmic heart-disease decreases
- Brain chemistry over time, even when not in meditation, improves during stressful situations
While most articles seem to fixate on one technique for prompting the relaxation response, there is no one single method that works for everyone. Some options include meditation, prayer, yoga, tai chi, physical activity, knitting, and playing a musical instrument; anything that breaks the train of everyday thought. There are even “mini-sessions” that can be done to relax in a hurry.
What are the techniques you have tried for breaking out of the stress reaction? How well have they worked for you? Let me know in the comments!
This article is part of a series on stress that posts (almost) every Wednesday.