How to Relax Naturally
This is a transcript of podcast EP006. If you like, you may listen here. (I get small commissions for purchases made through the Amazon affiliate links on this post.)
Do you want to know how to relax naturally? In an earlier episode of the Self Powered Healing podcast, I talked about the stress response, which is sometimes called the fight or flight response.
Constant stress takes a toll on the body. Long term exposure to cortisol and epinephrine, which is also known as adrenaline, can result in health issues such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, chronic pain and more. But you can also create the opposite response.
Today, I'm going to share five ways you can reverse the effects of stress. Let's look at those hormones related to relaxation.
Hormones of Relaxation
You have the endorphins, which are neuro peptides that are usually released during exercise. They're responsible for that runner's high. )ne of their purposes is actually to mask the pain you might experience during your run.
Dopamine is another hormone of relaxation. It's the feeling you get when you've accomplished something. It's also why we add things we've just completed to our to do list just so we can check them off. I do that, do you? And also they are why we need to write down our goals.
Dopamine can be highly addictive, though, and it's dangerous if it's left unbalanced. Dopamine may be released when you check that item off your list or when you accomplish a goal, but it's also released by alcohol, nicotine, gambling, cell phones, even sugar.
Serotonin is another hormone of relaxation. It's released when we're recognized by others, feelings of pride and status. It can reinforce relationships, say between a parent and a child or coach and an athlete.
But, you can trick serotonin. Those feelings of status can become shows of wealth. All those designer clothes with those labels that are impressive to some people. And it's not the same though because there's no relationship to it. So we try to accumulate more and more material goods. Perhaps that's why there's so much clutter in our world and it's a big topic today.
Oxytocin is another hormone of relaxation. It is produced in response to feelings of love, trust, friendship, and safety. There's a huge surge of it released during childbirth. oxytocin is also known as the cuddle hormone, the hugging hormone and the love hormone. It’s released in response to generosity and kindness as well. It can work to lower your blood pressure and is also cardio-protective so it protects your heart. Oxytocin also decreases inflammation. It makes people happy and can be an antidote to depression and stress. Oxytocin inhibits addiction, boosts your immune system, makes you healthier, improves your creativity and helps improve your problem solving ability. In the long run, oxytocin is a feel good hormone you want to stimulate?
Ways to Relax Naturally
Here are just five of the ways that you can relax naturally and stimulate that oxytocin:
Give hugs. Get hugs. They're free, and they're good for you. In our disconnected world, with most of us hiding behind our screens, more hugs are needed.
Even a loving touch can release oxytocin. Ask your cat or your dog. I know Nancy, my cat, will come to me sometimes just to get some loving. She knows what oxytocin is about.
I also remember years ago, there was a DJ on the radio and this was long before hugging had become part of our culture. He would end his show every time with: “Hug someone. It'll make you feel good.” He was already on to something.
Dr. David Hamilton has written a book called “The Little Book of Kindness.” He earned a PhD in organic chemistry and worked for four years in the pharmaceutical industry. According to his Facebook page, this is what he does now: “I am an advocate for kindness and I am passionate about helping to inspire a kinder world.”
He lives in Scotland and has a lovely Scottish accent that I could listen to all day. Then again, I have a thing for accents. I also like to imagine we are cousins, since my maiden name is Hamilton and my family traces back to Scotland.
He has a TEDx talk on why kindness is good for you. In his book, “The Little Book of Kindness,” he has several suggestions of ways that we can practice kindness: holding a door for someone, paying someone a compliment, sitting with someone who needs to talk, helping others, even smiling at someone. Have you ever smiled at someone and watched their face just light up. It brighten the day for both of you!
Another thing he talks about in there is to be kind to yourself. I think we're not always kind to ourselves in our world, and it's important. Go out and take a walk. Say NO! Schedule time for yourself. Spend some time with friends. Take a yoga class. Meditate.
If you want more ideas on kindness, his book has a lot of suggestions on meditations and practices.
Relaxation Response (Meditation)
Dr. Herbert Benson, MD is the founder of the Mind/Body Medical Institute. He coined that term “relaxation response,” and brought the relaxation response into the mainstream in the ‘60s and ‘70s. You probably know it better today is meditation.
The relaxation response is often called the opposite of the fight or flight response. It produces a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional response to stress. He's also written a book about it called “The Relaxation Response.” And he lists his steps for the relaxation response in the book. They’re also listed on his website.
Meditation is something that I've been practicing recently. A friend who encouraged me to meditate for 30 minutes a day. And at the time, I thought, “Oh, that's a lot of time!” Since then, I've been doing more than that actually, I started in February and decided that I was going to meditate every day for at least 30 minutes, and I haven't hundred percent done that there's been a couple of days where I had to cut it short. And when we had company I just couldn't fit it in. I’ve actually meditated over 100 days in a row now, with an average slightly over 30 minutes each day.
The fourth and the fifth ways of relaxing come from the work of The HeartMath Institute. From their website, this is what they're about. “The HeartMath Institute (HMI) researches heart brain communication and its relationship to managing stress, increasing coherence, and deepening our connection to self and others. HMI scientists also explore the electrophysiology of intuition and how all things are interconnected.”
Here are two techniques discussed in their book, “The HeartMath Solution:”
Quick Coherence® Technique
Coherence can be defined as the logical connectedness, internal order, or harmony among the components of a system. When a living system, such as our human body, is coherent, virtually no energy is wasted because of the internal synchronization among the parts. Stress destroys coherence and incoherence causes stress, so it could become an endless loop.
When our system is not coherent, our heart rhythms become disordered and the higher centers of our brain are inhibited from efficiently working. Have you ever thought of the perfect come back when someone angers you? Only it's too late because the conversation happened hours ago. Once we've been able to calm down, our entire system functions more coherently. And when it's back in balance, we can think better without the stress and that's why that happens.
- Focus your attention in the area of your heart. As you breathe, imagine that your breath is going directly into and out of your heart. Breathe slowly, in for five and out for five. Do this a few times.
- Think of an experience or a person or a place or a pet that brings you a feeling of love or calm or ease. And just stay there for a few minutes. Do this anytime, especially if you begin to feel a draining emotions such as anger, frustration or anxiety.
Freeze Frame Technique
Freeze Frame is a technique developed by The HeartMath Institute. It's a technique you can use to stop a reaction you may be having and shifting your perspective. The steps are:
- Recognize a stressful feeling.
- Shift your focus away from the emotion or thoughts. Instead, focus on your heart.
- Think of a positive fun feeling or time you've had, try to experience it in your mind.
- Using your intuition, ask your heart what a more efficient response to the situation might be.
- Listen to your heart for the answer.
There's much more detail in the book. The Freeze Frame Technique has been shown to help people to calm their heart when they were overly stressed.
In today's world, we seem to have more stress than in times past. I know I feel that way. Electronics haven't helped the situation at all. It's too easy to pick up phone rather than really relaxing and unwinding. Plus, I find myself instead of just having the landline that I used to have to communicate with people I have a landline, a cell phone for phone calls and text messages. I email and can get messages through Facebook and other social media sites.
There are a whole lot of things to deal with and ultimately they can lead to more stress. So we need those techniques that can help us to heal from chronic stress. Those that I've talked about today, hugs kindness, meditation, quick coherence and freeze frame have all been shown to reverse the effects of chronic stress. I'm working on bringing more of all of these into my life. I hope you do too.