How To Melt Away Stress with the Relaxation Response



“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” — William James

Do you have an effective technique for melting away your stress? 

If you can dedicate 15 minutes a day, you can rejuvenate your body and sharpen your mind, as well as reduce stress-related symptoms, such as insomnia.

In Shed 10 Years in 10 Weeks, Dr. Julian Whitaker and Carol Colman write about a technique called the Relaxation Response for reducing stress and improving relaxation.

The Relaxation Response

The Relaxation Response is one of the most effective techniques for coping with stress.  Here are the key points:

  • The Relaxation Response is a proven 15 minute technique for melting away stress.
  • The Relaxation Response reduces oxygen consumption, slows your heart rate down, relaxes your muscles and lowers your blood pressure.
  • Continual practice of the Relaxation Response improves your self-assurance and decreases stress-related symptoms, including insomnia.

You Don’t Need to Take a Pill

Your body can be trained to deal with stress more effectively and you can learn to relax.  You simply need to practice, and you need an effective technique to practice.  Whitaker and Colman use the Relaxation Response as part of their wellness program.  You can do it in your own home.

Via Shed 10 Years in 10 Weeks:

“People often believe mistakenly that in order to truly relax, they need to take a drink or take a pill.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Your body can do the job on its own if you let it.  At the Whitaker Wellness Institute we teach a technique called the relaxation response.  Developed by Dr. Herbert Benson of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at the New England Deaconess Hospital and the Harvard Medical Institute, the relaxation response can soothe the spirit and help the body wind down after a hectic day.”

Rejuvenate Your Body, Freshen Your Mind

Whitaker and Colman write that the relaxation response rejuvenates your body and freshens your mind

Via Shed 10 Years in 10 Weeks:

“The relaxation response involves a wide range of physiological changes.  Oxygen consumption is decreased, the heart rate slows down, muscles relax, and blood pressure can drop.  The best news of all, however, is that the relaxation response is a state of deep relaxation you can elicit yourself in order to rejuvenate your body and freshen your mind.

Decrease Stress-Related Symptoms, Including Insomnia

According to Whitaker and Colman, you can reduce stress-related symptoms and improve your self-assurance.

Via Shed 10 Years in 10 Weeks:

“Continual practice of the relaxation response will bring feelings of increased control over the details of your life and the sense that even your body’s physiological reactions can be brought under control.  Many people who practice the relaxation response experience a greater sense of self-assurance and a decrease in stress-related symptoms, including insomnia.”

How To Use the Relaxation Response

According to Whitaker and Colman, here’s how you can practice the Relaxation Response:

  • Step 1. Allocate 15 minutes in your schedule to relax
  • Step 2. Sit in a comfortable position
  • Step 3. Choose a focus word
  • Step 4. Repeat the word as you exhale
  • Step 5. Relax your muscles
  • Step 6. Keep breathing evenly and repeat your word

Step 1. Allocate 15 minutes in your schedule to relax

The first step is to set aside 15 minutes in your day to learn how to practice the Relaxation Response.

Via Shed 10 Years in 10 Weeks:

“Identify fifteen minutes in your schedule, preferably early in the evening, before dinner, for a regular session.  Arrange a time when there will be no distractions.  Keep a watch or clock within sight so you can check it periodically.  You want to commit the full time to this endeavor.”

Step 2. Sit in a comfortable position

Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes.  What’s important here is that you can sit in a way that doesn’t distract you.  You don’t want to be distracted by feeling uncomfortable while you are trying to focus and direct your attention.

Step 3. Choose a focus word

Pick a word to focus on.  Choose a word that means something for you.   The important point is that you can really focus on the word and what it means to you.  For example, I would choose “strength.”

Via Shed 10 Years in 10 Weeks:

“Choose a focus word or short phrase that has some resonance for you.  It could be a word such as ‘peace’ or the beginning of a prayer or saying.”

Step 4. Repeat the word as you exhale

Breath slowly and repeat the word silently as you exhale.   Don’t worry about whether you’re doing it right.  Just focus on the word.  Use the word as a magnet for your thoughts.

Step 5. Relax your muscles

In this step, you work your way down your body, relaxing each muscle.  You direct your attention to each muscle area.  As you feel each muscle area, consciously relax it.  Let go of the tension and feel your muscles relax.

Via Shed 10 Years in 10 Weeks:

“Relax your muscles, starting from your head and neck and moving down toward your toes.  Consciously sense each body part as you go.”

Step 6. Keep breathing evenly and repeat your word

Putting it all together, you are breathing deeply and evenly, repeating your word, and you’re relaxing your muscles.

Via Shed 10 Years in 10 Weeks:

“Keep breathing evenly and repeating your word.  If and when other thoughts intrude, do not rush from them but instead gently accept that they exist.  Move past them with a kind of ‘yes-but-later’ attitude.”

What’s interesting for me is that I’ve heard about various relaxation techniques, and they all seem to have the same things in common:  focus on breathing and relax your muscles from head to toe.

One technique that I liked the most focuses on a blue sheet rippling over the ocean at night, rather than focusing on a word or phrase.

It seems like all roads lead to the same destination.

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Image by Oakley Originals.