In part 1, we discovered an emerging trend of evidence linking the Relaxation Response to the healthy function of Nuclear Factor kappa-beta, or NFkB. This is very important to cancer survivors: dysfunction of NFkB promotes cancer initiation and development, by means of increased inflammation, increased damage to DNA, increased cell proliferation and suppression of cell death.
The Relaxation Response is essentially the opposite of the Stress Response. Our bodies know how to generate it, and every one of us can summon it at will. But most of us don’t. High-pressure jobs, over-busy schedules and our internal litany of condescending or fearful thoughts keep our Stress Response going, with potentially disastrous consequences for our wellness.
If you’re a regular meditator, congratulations – you’re practicing a well-proven way to activate your Relaxation Response. But what about those of us who aren’t inclined to classic sitting meditation – what can we do to get the benefits of the Relaxation Response?
Here are Five Tips for Nurturing Your Relaxation Response, Even If You’re Not a Meditator:
1. Pause and Breathe: it sounds too simple to be true. But pausing from the swirl of daily life to take a few intentional, delicious breaths is a remarkably effective way to interrupt the Stress Response and send messages of calm to your cells. It’s effective any time of day, but particularly when you feel stress coming on: the space of just a few intentional breaths allows you to consciously choose your response to the stress, rather than get sucked up in its vortex.
2. Get Mindful: mindfulness is the art of truly noticing what’s going on in the present moment, taking it in with all your senses. Next time you eat, pause before you start and really notice the colors and the aroma of your food. As you take your first bites, notice the textures. Savor the taste before you swallow. How is that experience different from the way you usually eat? Whether it’s eating, appreciating a beautiful flower or gazing at a baby’s face, we walk past so many miracles every day. Taking the time to drink in life’s details through our senses removes us from the highway of stress by involving us thoroughly in the present moment.
3. Do What Makes You Lose Track of Time: what activity so captivates you that you forget what time it is? Whether it’s a physical activity, an engrossing hobby or some form of play, the activities that fully engage us make the stresses of daily life seem far, far away. Build time for these activities into your schedule every week (if not every day!)
4. Got Gratitude? It’s simple: gratitude and stress can’t exist in the same moment. Gratitude is one of the most healthful states you can be in: focus on it enough, and you’ll send stress packing. Like intentional breathing, gratitude can be sprinkled throughout your day. Increase your dose, and you’ll find yourself calmer and calmer, even in the face of stressful circumstances.
5. Talk to Yourself Like You’d Talk to Your Best Friend: much of our stress is generated within our own minds through shrill or condescending self-talk. If you’re hearing critical thoughts, ask yourself, “would I say that to my best friend?” If you wouldn’t, it’s time to revamp that internal conversation, because it’s triggering your Stress Response. What could you say instead to encourage yourself, like you’d encourage a friend? (If you struggle with this, you’re not alone. Stay tuned for more on how to silence your inner critic.)
Whichever way you choose to activate your Relaxation Response, it’s important to persevere. Per the study that linked the Relaxation Response to beneficial cellular behavior, you benefit from any and all time spent activating the Relaxation Response. But the greatest benefits were found in those who practiced Relaxation Response activities at least 15-20 minutes every day.
Your turn: what activities make you lose track of time? Which of these stress-busting suggestions will you try this week?