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Managing Stress with the Relaxation Response Method

By Camilla Moore December 18, 2022 Health and Fitness

We have all experienced stress in our lives. It’s a normal and natural part of life. But did you know there is a difference between the stress response and the stress reaction?

To understand this, we must look to the pioneering work of Dr. Herbert Benson, who coined the term “Relaxation Response” to explain how to manage our response to stressful situations. So, let’s explore this and how it can help us manage everyday stressors.

The Stress Response

The stress response is an innate physical reaction within your body when faced with a stressful situation. For example, you may experience increased heart rate, shallow breathing, muscle tension, or even sweating when stressed.

This universally experienced “fight-or-flight” instinct can be helpful in certain situations as it allows us to respond quickly on a gut level. However, this quick action can lead to more harm than good if not managed appropriately.

The Stress Reaction

The stress reaction is a controlled reaction that comes after the initial stress response has been triggered. It allows you to use conscious thought processes and become aware of your body’s responses so that they can be managed appropriately for each situation.

By acknowledging these physical reactions and employing mindful techniques such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation, you can gain control over them – allowing them to dissipate rather than escalate into full-blown distress or panic attack.

The Relaxation Response

Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School developed a systematic approach based on his research into how people respond to stress and anxiety called The Relaxation Response. The Relaxation Response is the physiological antidote to the stress response. By understanding the body’s physiological responses to stress, the relaxation response can provide a solution for managing stress.

Practical tools for managing one’s reactions in a stressful situation, such as simple mindfulness exercises, deep breathing, meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, and progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), can be practiced daily.

The Relaxation Response can be elicited through numerous techniques and has been studied through the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. Consistent practice is the key to both improved stress reaction and calmness daily. This response can be elicited easily with just four simple steps:

1) Sit comfortably and in a quiet room with no distractions.

2) Close your eyes and focus on the task at hand.

3) Gently, breathe normally, and focus on your breath.

4) Repeat a word or phrase silently (such as “calm” or “relaxed”).

5) Practice for 5-10 minutes.

With practice, this technique will cause physiological changes in your body that will help reduce feelings of distress associated with stressful situations leading to better overall mental health and well-being.

Numerous practices provide an opportunity for calm and peace. However, when faced with stressful situations, it is essential to understand the difference between the stress response and the stress reaction to manage both effectively.

With practice, managing your physical reactions during times of distress can provide lasting benefits for overall mental health and well-being – allowing you to feel calm even during chaotic times in life!

Let’s Have a Conversation:

How do you manage stress and stay calm? What is your usual stress response? What about your stress reaction?

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Sometimes when I am stressed, it helps to vent to someone who will just listen and not try to fix my situation.

The Author

Dr. Camilla Moore is a Lifestyle Medicine Chiropractor and a freelance medical and health writer. She is a self-published author and you can read her other articles at her blog, The Wellness Cabinet where she writes about exercise, fitness, nutrition, and mindfulness.

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