Relaxation in psychology, is the emotional state of a living being, of low tension, in which there is an absence of arousal that could come from sources such as anger, anxiety, or fear. According to the Oxford dictionary relaxation is when the body and mind is free from tension and anxiety. Relaxation is a form of mild ecstasy coming from the frontal lobe of the brain in which the backward cortex sends signals to the frontal cortex via a mild sedative. Relaxation can be achieved through meditation, autogenics, and progressive muscle relaxation. Relaxation helps improve coping with stress. Stress is the leading cause of mental problems and physical problems, therefore feeling relaxed is beneficial for a person's health. When we are stressed, the sympathetic nervous system is activated because we are in a fight-or-flight response mode; over time, this could have negative effects on a human body.
The idea of relaxation in psychology became popular when Dr.Edmund Jacobson published his book Progressive Relaxation. It was a technical book geared toward doctors and scientists. His book describes tensing and relaxing specific muscles at a time to achieve overall relaxation in the body. Jacobson then published another book called You Must Relax published in 1934 that was geared towards the general public. According to Jacobson, his research started in 1908 at Harvard University, and later moving on to Cornell and University of Chicago. His research was aimed at improving the general human well being.
In 1975, Herbert Benson and Mirium Z. Klipper published a book called The Relaxation Response, which gives instructions on tying meditation techniques into daily activities the average person could do.
Although stress levels vary across society, the fact remains that stress can be detrimental to one's health. In order to combat this stress, there have been a variety of methods developed that have been proven to reduce stress and its consequences in everyday life. The majority of techniques can be classified in to either Physical, Mental or Therapeutic techniques.
Physical relaxation technique
Breathing techniques is one of the easiest ways to reduce stress. It requires little effort and can be done anywhere at any time. Proper breathing techniques that incorporate deep abdominal breathing have been shown to reduce the physical symptoms of depression, anxiety and hypertension as well as everyday emotional symptoms of anger and nervousness.
Progressive muscle relaxation is a relaxation technique that requires an individual to focus on flexing and holding a certain set of muscles and then slowly relaxing those same muscles. As the individual flexes and releases those muscles from top to bottom they will feel a deep sense of relaxation. Progressive muscle relaxation is a somewhat adapted version of the Jacobsonian Relaxation Technique developed in the 1920s. Progressive muscle relaxation is currently used in clinical and non-clinical settings to reduce the effects of anxiety and sleeplessness brought upon by stress. The long-term goal of this relaxation technique is to be able to identify when your body's muscles are suffering the effects of stress and to be able to relax the individual and the individuals muscles when directed.
Meditation has long been practiced in other regions around the world. However, it is a practice that is fairly new to North America and it is gaining attention quickly for the physical and psychological benefits it provides to your body. Studies have shown that in addition to reducing physiological and psychological stresses placed on your body, individuals who practice meditation have much fewer doctor visits for both physical and psychological illnesses.
Hypnosis relaxation therapy has recently become another technique used among healthcare professionals to promote relaxation. When performed correctly, hypnosis has the ability to put an individual in a deep state of relaxation. During this state the individual is vulnerable to suggestions stated by the person performing the hypnosis. Not only will the hypnotized individual be stress free and in a deep state of relaxation but it is thought that when the individual is out of hypnosis they will be less susceptible to the effects of stress as suggested by the person who performed the hypnosis on them. In addition to relaxation, hypnosis therapy is being used to treat a variety of conditions. Treatments for conditions using hypnosis that are currently being promoted by The Mayo Clinic are; smoking addiction therapy, pain control therapy, weight loss, coping with chemotherapy, asthma, and allergy relief.
Relaxation techniques used in therapy by a certified counselor or therapist could include any of the previous techniques discussed. Professionals in the fields of psychology or counseling will have the ability to administer a variety of these techniques. If they feel it is appropriate they may prescribe medication to assist the patient with relaxation. Although a number of these techniques are simple and can be performed on one's own time, patients may receive better results if they are guided by a professional who is very familiar with the techniques.
Herbert Benson, a professor at the medical school at Harvard University, discovered the relaxation response which is a mechanism of the body that counters the fight-or-flight response. The relaxation response reduces the body’s metabolism, heart and breathing rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and calms brain activity. It increases the immune response, helps attention and decision making, and changes gene activities that are the opposite of those associated stress. The relaxation response is achieved through meditation. Benson's meditation technique involves these four steps:
- A quiet environment to help focus
- A mental device to help keep attention constant (a sound or word said repeatedly)
- A positive attitude to avoid getting upset over failed attempts
- A comfortable position
Autogenics was invented by Dr. Johannes Schulz in the 1920s. The process of autogenics is by relaxing muscles deeply, and by doing so, the mind follows through and relaxes as well. There as six parts to autogenics training:
- Heaviness in parts of the body (arms and legs feel heavy)
- Warmth in parts of the body (arms and legs feel warm)
- Heartbeat (heart is calm)
- Breathing (breathing is calm)
- Warmth in the abdominal area
- Forehead is cool
Progressive muscle relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation helps relax your muscles by tensing certain parts of the body (such as the neck), and then releasing the tension in order to feel the muscles relaxing. This technique helps for people with anxiety because they are always tense throughout the day.
The benefits of relaxation can be found in three main areas of an individual’s health, including; mental, physical and physiological health. Being relaxed can do positive things for someone’s health from just elevating your mood to helping with insomnia. All of these things can help an individual live a happier and healthier life and may increase the longevity of one's life. There are not many draw backs of relaxation. It is an easy technique to understand and follow through with. Three categories that relaxation can help with are mental, physical, and physiological.
Mental health is very important and needs to be worked on every day. Relaxation can help with many impairments that can occur in one's mental health. There is a higher mood and lower anxiety in those who practice relaxation techniques. Those who are relaxed have much slower and clearer thought processes than those who are not relaxed; this can be shown on an EEG. It is well known that relaxation can help reduce stress. With reducing stress, a person can help reduce the negative things that stress can do to the body. Coping mechanisms are also improved with relaxation techniques in both mental and physical pain.
Sleep disorders are an area that can produce stress and mental health issues. Relaxation may help reduce insomnia in those who have sleeping disorders. Those with insomnia may even give up sleeping aids just by practicing relaxation techniques. Being off of unnecessary medication or sleep aids will help health as an over all. Even though relaxation cannot get rid of chronic diseases, it may help dull of the symptoms one may have. Many cancer and AIDS patients are taught relaxation techniques.
Physical health is also something that needs to be worked on daily, whether it is exercise, healthy eating, or relaxation. states that blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration rate will all decrease when one is relaxed. This means that a person's heart does not beat as fast and their breathing is shallow, helping one's body have time to rest. This will reduce the extra stress that these things can do to the body if they are over worked. Muscle tension will decrease. If one's muscle tension is decreased they are not burning up extra energy that they may need later in the day. Metabolism can also decrease; this is mostly seen in hibernation and sleep and that gives the body extra time to rest and focus on other aspect that it needs to. This could be seen as a good or bad thing, depending on the overall quality of health. People who practice relaxation have said to be able to tolerate pain better both mentally and physically.
In regards to the nervous system, relaxation can also play a big role. An individual will go from active and alert, which is the sympathetic, to parasympathetic which is rest and digest. When they are relaxing, it gives the body time to catch up. A person does not need to worry about running, because they are sitting still and allowing “rest and digest”. Immune systems will increase with increased relaxation which is why relaxation can be seen as part of treatment for AIDS and cancer patients.
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