Benson relaxation response is of the most helpful way to turn off fight or flight response and bring the body back to pre-stress levels that I have ever tried. It is a physical state of deep relaxation which engages the parasympathetic nervous system.
This technique Benson Relaxation Response was developed by Dr. Herbert Benson, professor, author, cardiologist, and founder of Harvard’s Mind/Body Medical Institute. The response can be defined as your personal ability to encourage your body to release chemicals and brain signals that make your muscles and organs slow down and increase blood flow to the brain. Dr. Benson described many scientific benefits of relaxation, explaining that regular practice of the Relaxation Response can be a very powerful and effective treatment for a wide range of stress-related disorders.
How was it developed? Benson once wrote in his book where he demystified meditation and proved its benefits, “We claim no innovation but simply a scientific validation of age-old wisdom”. People from the Transcendental Meditation (TM) movement, who felt they could reduce blood pressure using meditation, visited Harvard Medical School in 1968, asking to be studied. The school, which at the time was studying the relationship of monkeys’ behaviour and blood pressure, told them “No, thank you, not interested.” But when they persisted, Benson told them he would study them. That is how Benson Relaxation Response was developed.
Stress is a biological and psychological response experienced on encountering a threat or pressure that we feel we can’t to cope with.
Firstly, our body judges a situation and decides whether or not it is stressful or life threatening. This decision is made based on sensory input and processing (i.e. the things we see, feel or hear in the situation) and also based on past similar experiences. If the situation is judged as being stressful, the hypothalamus is activated that is a part of the brain in charge of the stress response. When a stress response is triggered, it sends signals to two other structures: the pituitary gland, and the adrenal medulla. These short term responses are produced by The Fight or Flight Response.
One of the most valuable things we can do in life is to learn mindful relaxation – making an effort to spend some time every day quieting our wondering minds in order to create inner peace and better health.
When stress kicks in, our sympathetic system is activated that prepares the body to either fight or flight. Once the ‘threat’ is over the parasympathetic branch takes control and brings the body back into a balanced state. The Relaxation Response is a helpful way to turn off fight or flight response and bring the body back to pre-stress levels. Dr. Benson describes the Relaxation Response as a physical state of deep relaxation which engages the other part of our nervous system—the parasympathetic nervous system.
Sometimes, it’s hard to switch off from ‘stressed out’ mode or we simply don’t know how. Benson Relaxation Response is a very powerful tool and if you use it regularly, you’ll see what difference can it make to you. I practice the breathing part quite frequently when I need to calm down or just as a mindful breathing exercise and I can always feel the benefits of it pretty much within 2-3 breaths. This is powerful!
The basic technique of concentrative meditation used to achieve significant levels of relaxation is essentially very simple. Four components are basic to all techniques of concentrative meditation: a quiet environment, a mental device, a passive attitude, and a comfortable position. Here’s how it works :
- Find a noise-free place where you won’t be disturbed. Sound, even background noise, may prevent the elicitation of the relaxation response. Select a convenient, suitable place, for example, a comfortable chair in a quiet room or you may prefer to lay down.
- Find a comfortable position and sit / lay down quietly.
- Close your eye.
- Relax your muscles in groups starting at your face and progress down to your toes.
- Focus on your breathing. Breathe naturally in through your nose and out through your mouth. Avoid letting your shoulders rise as you breathe.
- In your mind, say a number such as ‘one’ every time you breathe out.
- Continue for 5-20 minutes.
- Finish in your own time.
Remember not to worry about whether you are successful in achieving a deep level of relaxation–maintain a passive attitude and permit relaxation to occur at its own pace. When distracting thoughts occur, ignore them and continue to repeat the mantra as your breathe. The technique should be practiced once or twice daily, and not within two hours after any meal, since the digestive processes seem to interfere with the elicitation of the expected changes. With practice the relaxation response should come with little effort.
Below are some more tips for reducing cortisol levels every day and naturally calm yourself down:
- Mindfulness – people who meditate daily for four months decreased the hormone by an average of 20%.
- Music – music can have a calming effect on the brain.
- Social connectivity – simply anticipating laughter is enough to reduce cortisol levels by nearly half.
- Go to bed early.
- Treat yourself for a massage
- Eliminate caffeine – 200mg of caffeine increases blood cortisol levels by 30%.
- Take anti-stress supplements such as vitamin B and minerals like magnesium, antioxidants like vitamin C or coenzyme Q10.
- Use positive relaxation imagery
- Switch off – have a relaxing bath, massage, read a book, etc.
- Keep your blood sugar stable – try to avoid sugar in the diets and refined carbs. Eat frequent small meals balanced in protein and complex carbs.
Overall, implementation of targeted dietary and lifestyle approaches is an extremely powerful way to reduce stress, improve health and reduce the risk for illness and chronic disease.
If you have any questions regarding stress management or if you want to be coached on stress, please don’t hesitate to email me direct on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keep Calm & Breath!
Benson, H. (1974). Your innate asset for combating stress. Harvard Business Review. 54, 4.
Mitchell, M., (2013), Dr Herbert Benson’s relaxation response, [Online], Available: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/heart-and-soul-healing/201303/dr-herbert-benson-s-relaxation-response
Palmer, S. and Cooper, C., (2015), How to deal with stress, Hong Kong and Croydon: Kogan Page Limited.
Svoboda, E., (2011) 8 Ways to Beat Your Stress Hormone, [Online], Available: http://www.prevention.com/mind-body/how-lower-cortisol-manage-stress