Your body’s natural self-repair mechanisms only activate when your body is in a relaxation response.
– Lissa Rankin, MD & Author, Mind Over Medicine
We live in an always-on society with no shortage of things to stress us out. Our habitual state of too little sleep, too much caffeine, and too many pressures can exhaust our adrenal glands, harm our guts, disrupt our immune system, lower our thyroid function, and inflame our whole bodies. This is the sympathetic nervous system “fight or flight,” pro-disease state.
To heal or prevent disease, we must proactively engage the parasympathetic nervous system’s “tend and mend” (or “rest and digest”) state. Herbert Benson, MD and founder of the Mind/Body Medicine Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital, coined the term “relaxation response” – as a proactive means to counter the habitual stress response.
So what can you do to get into this calming state without taking a vacation, quitting your job, or going to a spa? There are many things you can do to actively engage the relaxation response – without much time or money. The key is to find ones that you enjoy and will actually do. Here are several backed by science and personal experience for your consideration:
Surrender Your Stressors
Take stock of your life and write down everything that causes you stress. What can you eliminate, minimize or outsource? If it’s all on you, then you need to learn and practice stress reduction techniques. For the things you can’t control, surrender them to a higher power or the universe.
Do Things That Fill You Up
Make a list of things that nurture you. These can be easy to do and free, like calling a good friend, taking a bath, doing some gentle yoga poses, or going for a walk — or just being — in nature.
Catch and Replace Negative Thoughts
Often the biggest source of our stress is our own mind. Research shows that we have about 60,000 thoughts each day and most are negative. Worrying, catastrophizing, mind reading and all-or-nothing thinking are examples of distorted, negative thinking. The antidote is to become aware of your thoughts and challenge the unproductive, distorted ones. Just because you had the thought, is it true? Can you be sure it’s true? Consider getting and practicing Byron Katie’s wonderful book, Loving What Is, Four Questions That Can Change Your Life.
Do a Daily Calming Practice
Deep breathing, yin (restorative) yoga, hypnosis, progressive relaxation, and meditation are all calming practices that activate the relaxation response1The therapeutic use of the relaxation response in stress-related diseases, Esch T, Fricchione GL, Stefano GB, Med Sci Monit. 2003 Feb;9(2):RA23-34, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12601303. Do one or more of these daily – even for 5 minutes. Don’t have 5? Start with 1.
Be Kind to Yourself
Self-compassion is nurturing and healing.2http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/just_one_thing_have_compassion_for_yourself Be aware of how you talk to yourself. Use positive language and treat yourself as you would your best friend or a child. Remember that negative self-talk is harmful self-abuse. How can you be kinder to yourself today?
Help Others Less Fortunate
Studies shows that when we spend time helping others, we receive health and longevity benefits.3Altruism, Happiness, and Health: It’s Good to Be Good, Stephen G. Post,International Journal of Behavioral Medicine 2005, Vol. 12, No. 2, 66–77, http://ggsc-web02.ist.berkeley.edu/images/uploads/Post-AltruismHappinessHealth.pdf Volunteering is a great way to help others and help yourself, whether it’s making a meal for a friend in need, taking an elderly neighbor to the grocery store, or helping a child learn how to read.
Ask For Help
Ample studies show that being on the receiving end of generosity and compassion has a positive effect on your health and well-being.4Why Kindness Heals, James R. Doty, M.D. Professor of Neurosurgery, Stanford University School of Medicine; Director, Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-r-doty-md/why-kindness-heals_b_9082134.html Who can you reach out to today? Remember that help can come in many forms, for example, having someone do errands, having a friend to just listen, or receiving healing energy and prayers.
Which relaxation practice will you do for yourself today? Take heart in knowing that when you proactively engage the relaxation response, you will be improving your immunity, repairing damaged tissue, increasing the bonding hormone, oxytocin, and becoming more resilient to life’s inevitable stressors.
Take good care!
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Image Credit: Nathalie Désirée Mottet