What is Relaxation

Relaxation is the opposite of stress. It is a physiological state in which our body is relaxed and our mind is calm, yet focused and alert. When we are relaxed, we deal better with stress AND we also learn new things easier.

Herbert Benson >>, who did some of the very first research about relaxation and stress, talks about relaxation as a “state of quietude”. [from The Relaxation Response, pg. 9]

Relaxation is not being lazy or zoning in front of TV or computer. Although you may enjoy watching TV (for example), relaxation and enjoyment aren’t the same thing.

The Relaxation Response

The man who first used the term “relaxation response”, Herbert Benson, believes that just like the stress response, the relaxation response is a survival tool.  But, this response helps us survive by giving us a way to heal and rejuvenate. When we no longer have a stressor to deal with, we start to move back to normal.

When we trigger the relaxation response, some of the results are that our:

  • Oxygen consumption decreases
  • Respiratory rate decreases
  • Heart rate decreases
  • Blood pressure decreases (if person has elevated blood pressure)
  • Muscle tension decreases
  • Alpha waves (the normal electrical activity of the brain when conscious and relaxed) increase
  • Mind becomes focused

It is the opposite of the stress response.

The Relaxation Response is NOT always automatic.

Unlike with the Stress Response, we have to take action to trigger the relaxation response when we experience chronic stress.

This is especially important when we worry a lot. When we worry over past things we cannot change, or future things, we trigger a stress response:  we constantly ready to fight, flee or freeze.

But in these situations that cause us worry it’s usually inappropriate to fight, flee or freeze! So we keep on worrying, we keep on triggering the stress response, and we eventually get sick.


That’s right. There are specific things we can do to help our bodies and minds achieve that “state of calm” when our body feels relaxed and our minds are focused and alert.

Triggering the relaxation response doesn’t prevent stress.  But if we regularly trigger the relaxation response we can better handle stressful situations AND we are much less likely to get sick from stress.  It’s as if we are increasing our resilience to future stress.

Interested in learning how you can trigger a relaxation response?  Check out our Relaxation Techniques in the Strategies and Techniques section >>