Have you ever experienced anxiety? Most people have. Anxiety is a general term that is used to describe anything from mild worry to debilitating panic attacks. About 40 million American adults, or about 18% of people in a given year have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety can manifest itself in a variety of ways and includes diagnoses such as…
Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Social Phobia, and other types of Phobias. All anxiety disorders include physical symptoms such as sleep difficulties, muscle tension, and an inability to relax; cognitive symptoms such as problems with concentration and memory; and emotional symptoms such as feeling afraid and agitated.
Fight or Flight
You may have heard of the “fight or flight” response. This is your body’s response to threat, and results in a number of dramatic physiological changes in your body. Under conditions of threat, your body mobilizes it’s resources by releasing a number of potentially damaging stress hormones, increasing blood pressure, muscle tension, heart rate, and your blood sugar level. This stress response does not require an actual emergency. It can be triggered merely by everyday worries and pressures. And if we have too much stress in our lives, this state of physiological arousal becomes a more or less permanent condition. Fortunately this stress response is largely under our control, and by changing our lifestyle and adding regular periods of relaxation to our day, we can reverse these negative effects of stress on our bodies and minds.
The Relaxation Response
What is less known than the negative effects of stress, is the positive effects of relaxation. In his groundbreaking work as the Director of Behavioral Medicine at Harvard University, Dr. Herbert Benson has identified a unique physiological response that takes place in the body during deep relaxation which he named “The Relaxation Response”. The relaxation response is only elicited under conditions of deep relaxation such as
those achieved during meditation and other focused exercises. Just relaxing in front of the tv or in the garden is not enough. Specific relaxation techniques such as those contained in the guided relaxation exercises in our online Meditation Course, must be used to achieve this healing state. Some relaxation techniques that have been proven to produce the “relaxation response” such as yoga and meditation are ancient. Others such as “progressive muscle relaxation” are quite new. The guided relaxation exercises offered in our course cover all of these techniques so that you can find the one that works best for you.
The Healing Benefits of Relaxation
Some of the changes identified by research to occur in our bodies when the relaxation response is evoked are extraordinary. And researchers continue to identify new benefits and healing effects of relaxation. Regular periods of deep relaxation have also been shown to greatly strengthen our immune system. Not only does this make us less susceptible to everyday colds and flu, it also reverses the effect of aging and prevents more serious diseases. As early as 1984 the US National Institute of Health recognized the importance of using relaxation as a first line treatment for mild high blood pressure. A more recent study in The British Medical Journal found that patients who had been trained to relax significantly lowered their blood pressure, and maintained that reduction four years later. We all know that lowering our blood pressure reduces our risk of heart attack and stroke. In his research at the Harvard Medical School, Dr. Benson and his associates have identified a number of ways in which the “relaxation response” benefits the heart including improved blood flow and greater resistance to stress hormones.
In addition to immense physical benefits, regular periods of deep relaxation have also been associated with improvement of our psychological health, and can aid the prevention of more serious psychological disorders such as anxiety or depression. Relaxation exercises are often taught as a part of psychotherapy, and these exercises are the current treatment of choice for all types of anxiety disorders including generalized anxiety, social anxiety, and panic attacks. Our bodies cannot be simultaneously anxious and relaxed, so by learning how to induce a state of deep relaxation, we have a way of reversing the effects of our anxiety.