Relaxation is Vital for Relieving Killer Stress

by Blake Herzog

Stressful situations are more harmful to us than many people realize.

The “fight or flight” response gives us the energy we need to handle troubling situations. It raises our heart rate and sends more oxygen to our brain and muscles and sends out chemicals that lead to inflammation, which ideally reverts to a more neutral, healthful balance as soon as the stress dissipates.

But when it doesn’t, either because we’re experiencing prolonged stress — our reaction to it lasts well beyond the stressful moment — or we have an excessive response to occasions that should not be overly taxing, the chemicals and inflammation can cause headaches, fatigue, anxiety, depression.

In the long run it can contribute to heart disease, dementia, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and other chronic illnesses.

Alternative practices include meditation, yoga, tai chi or breathwork, or less formal routes to relaxation such as socializing or light exercise.

We can reap numerous benefits from controlling our response to stress, in the near term and far into the future:

Lowering blood pressure

As we learn to relax and stop our bodies from overreacting to every annoyance and bump in the road, our heart rate slows down, which reduces the force at which our blood is coursing through our veins.

This reduces our blood pressure, which in turn reduces our risk of heart attack, stroke, aneurysm, kidney problems and other issues if the high blood pressure is not treated.

Reducing anxiety symptoms

Those who are prone to feeling anxious or have an anxiety disorder need to be especially conscientious about developing relaxation skills. Anxiety is a prolonged or unwarranted reaction to stress, so they’re particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of stress, not to mention its impact on their mental health.

Improving sleep

Stress can contribute to insomnia and other sleep disruptions, so calming the activity in our minds, especially in the evening, can be a big assist for getting the amount you need to function at your best.

Meditation in particular has been shown to be helpful for calming the mind because it can increase serotonin and melatonin. However, research has shown that meditation can worsen the same health issues it is known to help, like anxiety and depression. Be aware of how you feel while meditating and stop if you become more anxious.

Easing digestion

Our digestive tracts are especially vulnerable to stress. It’s one of the systems that the fight or flight response draws energy from to handle situations that appear to be an imminent threat, slowing or even shutting down the digestive process.

Learning how to relax can prevent or reduce Crohn’s disease, GERD, gastritis and ulcers. Stress can also spike blood sugar levels.

Lessening pain

Meditation and mindfulness can help some people suffering chronic pain to control their response to the sensation and reduce their sensitivity to it.

Recent studies suggest that over time, meditation can affect our brains in ways that reduce our sensitivity to pain and activate neural mechanisms that reduce our cognitive engagement with pain.