Harvard physiologist Walter B. Cannon’s discovery of the fight-or-flight response in the early 1900’s is closely tied to the Relaxation Response which refers to the body’s innate ability to regain homeostatic balance following a threatening or stressful situation.
Labeled “The Relaxation Response” by Harvard Medical School research fellow, Herbert Benson, M.D., this biological polar opposite to the “Stress Response” is responsible for providing the necessary stabilizing counter-reactions to the chemical and physiological changes that stress initiates.
Stress is responsible for the release of several hormones including Adrenaline, better known to our American cousins as Epinephrine.
Adrenaline is released into our bodies whenever we are placed in danger or experience stressful situations and has a powerful impact on the way that our brains distribute energy throughout our bodies.
As the terms fight or flight suggest, when perceived as required, the stress response, or rather; reaction, arms our limbs with energy to assist our escape from danger or to ready us for defensive aggression against an assailant. In addition to these two modes of protective reactions, “freeze” is a recently understood addition to our survival resources.
Freezing is an instinctive reaction that evolved to allow us to appear dead to a preying mammal or aggressor that serves little purpose these days. Like some other instinctive responses, freezing is not a rational response, showing itself repeatedly, particularly during pedestrian encounters with an impending collision with beasts of the road; automobiles.
We may not often come face to face with wild animals hungry for flesh or protective of their young today, but the stress reaction is still prevalent and is unfortunately continuing to increase in its impacts. In our technologically bombarding society, there are many more elements than a simple animal attack that have the power to trigger our stress reactions.
These discomfort provoking sources come from every direction and are almost a constant for us; fear of job-loss and recession, the hyper-vigilance of continued terrorist activity, the inability to “keep up with the Jones”, uncertainty over the future of our offspring and a fear of being audited!
Some people even recklessly engage in dangerous recreational activities such as gambling, bungee jumping and the danger of being caught having an affair, in part because, just like any drug, Adrenaline is addictive. In addition to its addictive qualities, an Adrenaline addiction is no less harmful than a heroin or cocaine addiction. In fact, given the ease of availability and ease of administering, Adrenaline is likely far more dangerous and its addiction far more widespread than meth-amphetamine.
As mentioned previously, it is the perception of danger or threat that initiates the flood of harmful chemicals to our system and pumps our muscles full of energy to the point of fatigue or chronic pain.
Every activity that takes us out of our comfort zone, whether truly dangerous or not, keeps us alerted to the potential for harm, even if the harm is merely to our ego or sense of self.
Elicitation of The Relaxation Response allows us to switch off the array of chemical reactions and re-balance our minds and bodyies in a natural and healthy way.
When we are calm and find the semblance of inner peace, we are far more able to think clearly and respond to any situation with a significantly higher measure of rationality. Connecting with these moments of balance has a positive influence over almost every facet of our daily lives and actually assists us in living longer, healthier existences.
Learning to perceive situations in a more healthy way is a simple process that, once learned will continue to benefit both our health and our happiness. It is within the capacity of people from any walk of life to develop a resilient and healthy attitude - all it takes is a simple commitment to learning to respond in a more effective way.
In my practice, my goal is to educate individuals on the most useful techniques for eliciting the Relaxation Response in addition to teaching a variety of proven coping methods that assist people in developing a healthy outlook on life so that stress-related illness and injuries due to the chronically high stress can become a problem of the past.
So if you’d like to live a long and happy life, there is only one question you need ask yourself; are you ready to do something about it?