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Home | Session 1: The Science of Stress | Session 2: Relaxation and Stress | Session 3: Exercise and Stress | Session 4: Stress Resistant Eating | Session 5: Stress Resistant Thinking

Stress Management for Health Course

Relaxation - Introduction


"It is crazy to believe that we will have a stress (pressure) free life.  The goal here is not to allow the stress to build and build without some kind of recovery time for the body." (

We all experience pressure and stress at some time in our lives. Fortunately for most these are brief episodes, but we cannot keep over-taxing ourselves without it affecting us at some time.  If the flight-flight response is triggered too frequently or goes on for too long it can put us at higher risk of developing a number of different stress related health problems.

When we become tense one of the actions of the fight-flight response is to cause the muscles in our body to become tense.  This is useful in the short term (ie to deal with the threat), however it can cause problems in the long term.  When we become chronically stressed the fight/flight hormones remain elevated and this can cause chronic muscle tension resulting in pain.  Chronic muscle tension can cause headaches, neck and back pain, plus it also maintains our anxiety even after the original difficult event has been resolved.

One useful strategy, to help us turn-off the fight/flight response, make us more aware of and reduce our muscle tension, and help us increase our stress resistance, is learning relaxation techniques.  Relaxation helps to reduce the arousal of the sympathetic nervous system creating the opposite biochemical and physiological effect to the fight/flight response. (See Session 1 Fight/Flight Response).

Research by Professor Herbert Benson and Colleagues, on people under stress who practised regular relaxation, showed that their body organs were less affected by stress hormones than people under stress who did not practice relaxation.

Sometimes people say they have not got the time to relax.  If this is correct, then it's exactly the time to make time to practise relaxation.  Our lives have speeded up; we barely have time to take a breath from finishing one task before we have to start another task.  People who live in urban areas even walk faster than people in rural areas. 

Our fight/flight response has become overactive without time for pause as an Arab Proverb so eloquently sums up:

If a man travels faster than the speed of a camel he is in danger of losing his soul. (Arab proverb)

Some people are taught that you must always be active, busy and productive and that to sit down doing nothing is almost a sin.  Sitting down doing relaxation is not sitting down doing nothing and is not being unproductive.  In fact, the opposite is true; if you regularly practice relaxation it will actually make you more efficient and productive. Relaxation is a chance to re-charge our batteries.

Relaxation training is a skill and like any other skill it takes time and practice to get the maximum benefits from it; it needs to be practised on a regular basis, not just when we are having difficulty.     It can take a few weeks of practising relaxation to start to feel the benefits.  The benefits are cumulative and regular relaxation practise supplies the best benefits.

Relaxation works because it is impossible to be relaxed and tense at the same time and fortunately, just as our body has an inbuilt fight/flight response mechanism, it also has an inbuilt mechanism for triggering relaxation.  This is called The Relaxation Response.

There are some stressors that are impossible to remove from our lives but that doesn't mean there is nothing we can do to reduce their impact.  Practising relaxation techniques on a regular basis can help to reduce the impact of these stressors. Relaxation is an excellent cushioning technique that can be used when it's impossible to remove the stressor. 


Click here to be taken to What is the Relaxation Response?