Stress doesn’t have to be a constant in our everyday life, no matter what seems expected of us these days. Stress is meant to be a response by both our mind and our body to a particular experience; it never was designed to be a constant underlying emotion affecting our quality of life over a prolonged period.
Unfortunately, for many of us running in circles in this rat race, stress is always there, simmering below the surface of other more positive emotional responses. This chronic stress, whether we are conscious of it or not, eventually leads to a physical and mental breakdown.
Modern life doesn’t lend itself to having time for deep relaxation. Many of us have far too much on our plate, sometimes children, sometimes more than one job, sometimes long commutes, not to mention trying to fit in our errands and social activities in between. It’s quite common for people to have forgotten how to step back and genuinely relax; to take one moment to fully turn off their brain, and cultivate a little inner sanctuary. This deep form of relaxation has healing properties that scientists only now are starting to understand, but which are known to reverse some of the damaging effects of chronic stress.
Stress triggers the body to release certain chemicals into the bloodstream, and under normal circumstances, these compounds enable the body to ignore non-essential bodily functions (digestion and menstruation, for example) and instead focus on managing the problem at hand. In our evolutionary past, this was typically a fight-or-flight response, triggered by the release of cortisol and adrenaline.
What happens when these chemicals are released continuously, due to chronic and underlying anxiety? Chronic stress eventually causes some serious health problems within the cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, and immune systems. Instead of focusing on supporting vital systems, your body is tricked into being in constant survival mode. Stress essentially causes your body to neglect itself.
The True Meaning of Relaxation
What does relaxation honestly look like? According to mental health professionals, it doesn’t look like a couch potato watching television. It also doesn’t look like vegging out in front of your computer and scrolling through Facebook. The true meaning of relaxation is entering a meditative state where all tension is released on both a physical and mental level. That means the brain is allowed to shut off completely, and no longer concerns itself with the next task on your list, or the bill that is due next week.
Health Benefits of Deep Relaxation
Cultivating this sense of deep relaxation has been done for millennia by all cultures around the world. The practice of meditation, repetitive prayer, and yoga are by no means new, but they all have been shown to put people into this deep state of calm. They also have been shown, over and over again, to benefit your mind and body exponentially.
- Cardiovascular Protections
Not surprisingly, chronic stress puts a lot of additional pressure on your cardiovascular system. That is because the natural physical response to stress is to elevate blood pressure and heart rate, to prepare the body for a flight-or-flight situation. However, over prolonged periods, this stress and anxiety can lead to increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and other diseases. In one study that followed people practicing meditation over the course of three months, scientists discovered the participants had much lower blood pressure, and showed much lower biological indicators of stress than before the study began.
- Boosts Immunity
If your body is constantly under the impression it needs to fight for its immediate survival, it will, not surprisingly, neglect longer-term concerns, such as the proper functioning of your immune system. It’s no coincidence that people who often are stressed constantly are run down and sick. However, giving yourself time to enter a deep state of relaxation every day has been proven to boost immunity, and some preliminary research has shown it may help prevent the formation of tumors.
- Promotes Fertility
Again, your body will neglect your reproductive system if constantly stressed. At least from a biological perspective, fertility isn’t necessary for the short-term. Many people may notice their sex drive diminishes when their stress level increases. Some women who experience chronic stress stop menstruating entirely. Studies now show that women are less likely to conceive during times of stress when compared to periods of calm.
- Regulates Mental Health
After practicing meditation or other relaxation techniques, people often report feeling much calmer, and more able to control their emotional response to stressful situations. Deep relaxation promotes better mental health, including less depression, mood swings, and other emotional distress.
Deep Relaxation Techniques
Finding the right relaxation technique to suit your personality and lifestyle is essential. Not everyone is willing to dedicate themselves to repetitive prayer, or daily doses of yoga, and they shouldn’t have to do so. Here is a quick list of practices that have been shown to promote true relaxation and calmness.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation
- Guided Imagery
- Deep Breathing Exercises (which also can be considered a form of meditation)
No matter what technique you choose to research and begin practicing, it’s important to remember that all methods require daily practice. Just like learning a musical instrument, or working out, you only can get better if you practice on a regular basis. Daily commitment is essential to reap the full healing benefits of deep relaxation, even if you only can commit to ten minutes each day when you wake up or go to sleep. This ten minutes can have some extremely beneficial end results for your health.