What is relaxation?
Relaxation is an acquired skill which improves every time it is practised. It is worth noting that relaxation is time given to you to concentrate on your physical and psychological wellbeing. It is NOT watching television or reading.
What are the benefits of relaxation?
- Assists in pain control
- Alleviates muscle tension
- Lowers blood pressure
- Combats fatigue and promotes better sleep
- Decreases / prevents the physical and psychological effects of stress through a reduction in stress hormone
- Speeds up digestion and helps towards achieving better health
- Conserves energy
- Promotes awareness of your physical body and mental state
- Helps you feel more in control of day to day issues
Tension and Relaxation
Simple observation of other people shows how many of us carry round large amounts of physical tension. The posture in which we sit is likely to be slumped, putting strain on the spine and internal organs. The way in which we walk may be lopsided or stiff.
As we grow older most of us become so accustomed to this tension that we are unaware that it is there. Common areas in which we hold tension are the shoulders (hunched and raised), the stomach (knotted) and the face (frowning, clenching the jaw, chewing the mouth). However, tension can be lurking in practically every part of the body!
Causes of Tension
It is generally agreed that unwanted tension comes from the misuse of the “fight or flight” mechanism. This is the name for the psychological changes which occur when we experience a threatening situation. For instance, if we are facing danger our breathing becomes faster and shallower to enable quicker absorption of oxygen, our heart rate increases, and our blood pressure rises so that the lungs and muscles are primed for action and our muscles tense, ready to move.
All these changes are autonomic – beyond our conscious control. It has been found that the stresses of modern life have put people into the “fight or flight” mode inappropriately. Arguments, disputes at work and other road users can all activate our bodies for physical action which will be inappropriate in these situations. Some people who face a lot of stress may unknowingly be in “fight of flight” mode most of the time.
How tension can affect us
These unwanted physical changes will have a negative effect on our bodies, causing many of the signs of physical tension, and in some cases leading to stress related illness such as high blood pressure, stomach disorders etc.
But tension can also come in the form of mental and emotional, such as; mood swings, worry, forgetfulness and getting things out of proportion. When we are faced by outside stress, such as pressure at work or relationship problems, these three types can interact and reinforce each other, leading to severe stress problems.
The role of relaxation
Relaxation techniques are a way of releasing unwanted tension by gaining control over the autonomic nervous system. By consciously letting go of tension from the muscles and creating an environment which is safe and quiet our body naturally relaxes. Similarly, mental relaxation techniques work directly on releasing mental tension and this promotes physical relaxation.