The Relaxation Response

The autonomic nervous system is part of the nervous system. It is responsible for activating either the sympathetic nervous system or the parasympathetic nervous system.

 

I sure did not know about this parasympathetic nervous system before I was diagnosed with MS.

I was all about action and stress.

Relaxation was no a part of my world.

I needed illegal drugs or alcohol to relax. They were a part of my daily routine!

 

The stress response is activated by the sympathetic nervous system when a threat or a danger is perceived. It is a life saving response when we are in a situation of danger and we need to either fight or flight.

 

In a healthy body, the stress goes down when the danger passes.

The problem arises when we are constantly in a state of stress. Imbalance begins when we are constantly activating the sympathetic nervous system.

 

We know today that most disease are stress related! All symptoms are made worst when stress is present!

 

We can activate the stress response by thought alone! We can use our imagination to terrorize ourselves as if a tiger was about to eat us. In reality there is no such threat!

 

To create balance in a healthy body, we must activate the opposite mechanism: the relaxation response. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for the relaxation response.

 

The parasympathetic nervous system is called the rest, digest and repair mode. It is important to note that it is only in this state that the body does what it does best: heal itself!

 

“In such a relaxed state, the body can get busy doing what it does best – making effort to heal itself”, Lissa Rankin, M.D., explains in her book “Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself”.

 

This was popularized by Herbert Benson is his famous book from the seventies “The relaxation response”. Dr. Benson teaches that we can elicit the relaxation response by practicing meditation. We can mentally repeat a mantra, a word, a sound, a phrase or a prayer. We do this while passively disregarding everyday thoughts that inevitably come to mind. We also disregard emotions and sensations. We practice with an attitude of non-judgment. We return to our repetition as soon as we notice we got distracted.

 

This can be done while doing some physical exercise, while doing the dishes, while driving or taking a shower. This can be done while doing any mundane task. We are always thinking. Every moment is an opportunity to control our mind!

 

It’s not just meditation that shuts off the stress response and calms the body. In her book “Mind Over Medicine”, Dr. Lissa Rankin gives a whole list of other ways to relax! “Creative expression, sexual release, being with people you love, spending time with your spiritual community, doing work that feeds your soul, and other relaxing activities such as laughter, playing with pets, journaling, prayer, napping, yoga, getting a massage, reading, singing, playing a musical instrument, gardening, cooking, tai chi, going for a walk, taking a hot bath, and enjoying nature may also activate your parasympathetic nervous system and allow the body to return to a state of rest so it can go about the business of self-repair.”

 

Also a breathing exercise with the exhalation longer than the inhalation switches us to the parasympathetic system. We inhale for the count of 3. Then we exhale for the count of 6. We do this at least 3 times.

 

There are so many ways to promotes a state of relaxation. The importance of relaxation can never be overstated! But health requires balance between stress and relaxation!

 

Not all Stress is not bad. It depends on how we react to a situation. There is positive stress. It is a natural response or instinct to an alarm signal so we can be alert to what is happening. We can deal with the danger by reorganizing ourselves.

 

Stress can become negative if we don’t deal with the threat. If we endure a situation for a long time. If we don’t do anything about it. Enduring leads to burnout.

 

Life also requires balance. Life and health are so similar!

 

How balanced do you feel you are? 💜

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