Triggering Your Relaxation Response and Reducing Your Stress


We continue this month’s focus on anxiety with another powerful way to reduce stress: by initiating the body’s own, natural relaxation response. You’ve heard of the “fight or flight” response, where adrenalin rushes through your body and encourages you to either fight back against a threat or run away as fast as you can. The “relaxation response” is the opposite of the fight or flight response, relying on deep breathing and repetition of a calming word or phrase to activate the systems in the body that counter stress and create deep relaxation.

If you’ve tried meditation or breathing exercises before, TCNM’s approach to the relaxation response is a simpler but equally powerful way to counter the toxic effects of stress and invite greater peace, confidence, calm, and wellness into your life.

Why Use the Relaxation Response?

Chronic stressful situations and thoughts are the most common causes of anxiety that we come across in our practice, and there are plenty of ways to address this type of stress: yoga, tai chi, meditation, energy work and dozens of others.

One of the problems that many people face as they struggle to lessen their anxiety, though, is the dizzying array of options that promise to bring them inner peace and stress relief. With so many types of meditation and inner work available, trying to choose one to pursue can seem like just another source of stress.

The relaxation response is simple, takes no more than ten to twenty minutes a day, and anyone at any age or fitness level can learn it.

If you need another reason to try it, consider the science. According to Herbert Benson, MD (a cardiologist and the man credited with bringing meditation into the mainstream in the West), research has shown that although breathing rate goes down during meditation or deep relaxation, the oxygen level in the bloodstream stays constant or even increases. After relaxation, the blood oxygen content rises sharply, providing body and mind with greater energy and clarity.

Meanwhile, blood lactate levels – a stress marker – decrease during relaxation and stay lower afterward. In the long run, studies have shown that hypertension, chronic pain, insomnia and premenstrual syndrome (PMS) all respond favourably to relaxation and meditation.

How to Enact the Relaxation Response

The average person is triggered into fight or flight responses several times a day – enraged by a difficult customer at work, stuck in traffic or upset by financial worries. Most of these issues are frustrating but not life-threatening, yet they trigger that primitive response all the same.

In contrast, the relaxation response only happens with deliberate intention, but it doesn’t have to take hours of meditation or weeks of spiritual retreat to get there. All that’s required is conscious, regular breathing, and focusing on a single uplifting word, phrase, or thought for a few minutes at a time.

In our practice, we guide clients to try the relaxation response for ten to twenty minutes at a time, once daily. It usually takes one to two months to see the effects of relaxation on your blood pressure, muscle tension, pain, digestion, and more but once it starts to work, the changes can be dramatic.

Contact us at or call our offices today if you’re interested in learning more about the relaxation response or how to alleviate everyday stress and develop better stress management in your life.



Posted: 2013 March 11