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  • Resilient Practice

How to Relax

Updated: Jun 19, 2021

"Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are”

Chinese Proverb

Physical tension in your body takes its toll. It is associated with headaches, poor sleep and a general feeling of fatigue.

As mind and body are inextricably linked, then the tension in our muscles will generate ‘tension’ in our thoughts and feelings that we commonly recognise as ‘stress.’

Have you ever suddenly noticed that you seem to be frowning all the time or your shoulders are up around your ears?

This is usually associated with feeling overwhelmed.

We all react to stress in different ways.

Some stress can motivate us but excessive or persistent levels are harmful.

Common responses to stress are irritability, poor performance, feeling upset and anxious, and the physical symptoms of anxiety; increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, chest pains and headaches.

The stress reaction has been described in our article ‘How to stop a Panic Attack.

In that we also touched on the ‘Relaxation Response.’

This was described many years ago by a cardiologist Herbert Benson.

This response is the opposite of the stress response with a reduction in both respiratory and heart rate, a resulting decrease in blood pressure and a feeling of wellbeing.[1]

The relaxation response is mediated by the parasympathetic nervous system.

The benefits of relaxation are many fold.

The lowering of heart rate and breathing helps reduce blood pressure and improves blood flow from the core blood vessels into the muscles.

This in turn helps to reduce tension in those muscles and can improve healing and alleviate chronic pain.

Activation of the parasympathetic nervous system helps our body digest food and maintain blood sugar levels.

It also results in a reduction in the circulating levels of stress hormones leading to better cognitive function, memory and concentration.

Our sleep improves as does our mood and our ability to solve problems and manage our emotions.

While the stress response is involuntary, the relaxation response is voluntary this means that we can evoke it whenever we want to.

There are many ways to achieve deep relaxation:


Breathing techniques




Tai chi


Visualisation exercises.

How to Rise – A Complete Resilience Manual’ from Sheldon Press has a specific tool for evoking a deep relaxation. It has over 60 additional tools and techniques to help improve your mental wellbeing, reduce burnout and allow you to take control of your life.

[1] Wallace RK, Benson H, Wilson AF. A wakeful hypometabolic physiologic state. Am J Physiol. 1971;221(3):795–9.

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