“The stress response is a set of biological changes that help us to survive immediate danger. It is our best ally during difficult or dangerous situations.”
In Step 2 (Threat) and Step 3 (Reality) of the S.T.R.E.S.S Process we saw that the moment we perceive a threat to our physical or emotional well-being, we experience fear or anxiety (Step 4). In response to the fear or anxiety our amygdala reacts instantaneously triggering a STRESS RESPONSE.
The Stress Response
During the stress response hormones and neurotransmitters, like adrenalin and cortisol are released. These hormones and neurotransmitters prepare our body or physical action - to combat (fight) or escape from (flight) the real or perceived threat. As a result, our heart pounds, our muscles tense, and we are suddenly on high alert.
Can we control the Stress Response?
We can’t switch the response off in the moment it’s activated, because it’s automatic and happens in an instant. However, once we become aware that we are experiencing stress we can make a conscious decision to switch the response off by activating the Relaxation Response.
The Relaxation Response
The relaxation response was defined by Herbert Benson, MD, in 1974 when he found that there was a counterbalancing mechanism to the stress response (the fight-or-flight response). The relaxation response is a state of deep rest that changes the short and long-term physical and emotional responses to stress (e.g. decreases in heart rate, blood pressure, rate of breathing, and muscle tension). Plus, when we activate the relaxation response anabolic hormones are released to rebuild our depleted energy stores so that we have fuel to draw on next time we are called into action to survive a threat.
If practiced regularly the relaxation response can have lasting beneficial effects.
How can we consciously activate the relaxation response?
There is no single method that works for everyone, and it may take some practice before you find the method that's right for you. Popular methods include diaphragmatic breathing, self hypnosis, meditation, mindfulness, visualization, progressive muscle relaxation, tai chi, and yoga.
Here is the generic technique for eliciting the relaxation response as taught at the Benson-Henry Institute:
- Pick a focus word or short phrase such as "peace," “calm” “tranquility” or “rest”
- Sit quietly in a comfortable position.
- Close your eyes.
- Relax your muscles, progressing from your feet to your calves, thighs, abdomen, shoulders, head, and neck.
- Breathe slowly and naturally, and as you do, say your focus word or phrase silently to yourself as you exhale.
- Assume a passive attitude. When other thoughts come to mind, simply say to yourself, "Oh well," and gently return to your repetition.
- Continue for 10 to 20 minutes.
- Do not stand up immediately, just continue sitting quietly for a minute or so, allowing other thoughts to return. Then open your eyes and sit for another minute before rising.
- Practice the technique once or twice daily. Good times to do so are before breakfast and before dinner.
To find out more about how you can overcome anxiety and reduce stress, simply invest in a no obligation complimentary 60 minute consultation. It could prove to be the most valuable and life changing 60 minutes of your life.
Have a safe and relaxing week.
P.S. Please do ask me any questions you may have about anxiety and stress - I am always delighted to answer them.
Tony Yuile is hired by people seeking help to perform at their best in one or more areas of their lives. He's a personal performance coach & hypnosis professional based in Wellington NZ, where he specialises in helping people perform under pressure, reduce anxiety and manage stress. Tony’s solution focused approach to coaching uses a range of techniques drawn from the fields of co-active coaching, hypnosis, positive psychology and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP).
Contact Tony today to discuss how he can help you, or if you think Tony could help someone you know, you might like to encourage them to get in touch with him.