Health and Balance: What Happens to Your Body When You Relax
What Relaxation Does for Your Body
Whether in large or small doses, stress is something we experience every day – and it’s the very reason relaxation should be a priority. Though stress can have damaging physical effects on the body, relaxation can help undo that damage. That means relaxation doesn’t just give you the sense of feeling better. It can actually have a powerful, measurable effect on the entire body and the mind in several distinct ways. Here’s how.
It slows your heart and breathing. Achieving a relaxed state can result in changes to your autonomic nervous system, which controls your heart rate and breathing rate. As you relax, your autonomic nervous system slows. This response reveals that your nervous system recognizes relaxation as a state with low threat of danger.
It lowers blood pressure. The autonomic nervous system also controls blood pressure, so relaxation can bring with it a reduction in blood pressure. This change is also related to the stress hormone cortisol. When this hormone is reduced through mental relaxation, blood pressure comes down. Because high blood pressure can damage your blood vessels and your heart, along with other organs, relaxing to lower blood pressure can make a positive difference in your overall health and wellbeing.
It improves digestion. Stress directs blood flow away from our digestive system and toward our muscles to help us engage in the protective fight or flight response. When we relax, that blood flow is directed back where it should be, aiding in digestion and reducing inflammation in the gut. Because stress can play a role in digestive conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, relaxation has been known to help ease symptoms.
It improves focus and thinking. By reducing adrenalin and cortisol hormone levels, relaxing helps us lessen anxiety so that we can focus more on what we need to do. A calm state of mind actually puts the breaks on high-frequency, overactive brain waves that make thinking clearly more difficult. In fact, meditation can even help balance brain waves to help you achieve greater attention and energy.
It can help reduce pain. By reducing muscle tension, relaxation helps reduce muscle pain. The release of endorphins can also help pain subside for those who suffer from chronic pain conditions.
It affects your immune system. After a period of short-term stress, relaxing can actually weaken your immune system in the short term. This is because stress puts your immune system on high alert. However, long-term stress can actually weaken the immune system and your health. The restoration and wellbeing that come with relaxation can help you rebuild and strengthen your immune system over time.
It helps you sleep. It probably comes as no surprise that a relaxed person can sleep more easily, even if they’re not experiencing the exhaustion that comes with stress.
Relaxation and Stress Management Tips
With so many ways relaxation can change your body for the better, it’s obvious that learning relaxation and stress management strategies is essential for your health and wellbeing. Here are some techniques to try:
- Massages and other therapies – including self-massaging pads, spas and hot tubs
- Progressive muscle relaxation – a practice in which you consciously relax muscle groups in succession, working your way from one end of the body to the other
- Meditation, deep breathing, visualization and yoga or Pilates
- Professional therapy options – including talk therapy and biofeedback
As we’ve shared previously, stress can take a physical toll on your body, even leading to chronic health conditions and health emergencies over time – so it’s important to make relaxation a part of your everyday lifestyle.