You are an amazing being and Mother Nature has provided for you well: she’s given you Two Perfect Systems.
Once upon a time, way back in the Stone Age when humanity was in its infancy, we developed a survival tool – a hormonal and chemical spending spree if you like – called the fight-or-flight response. The fight-or-flight response evolved so that when the larder was bare and bellies were empty, and Fred, our friendly caveman, had no other choice but to get the spear out, he had the faculty to summon that extra drive needed to make the kill. This faculty operated so that as he and the rest of the hunters drew near the hunting ground, they started feeling revved up: the brain telling the body to release chemicals priming the hunters for fighting or fleeing, so that by the time they had the brontosaurus in their sights, they would be fully focused and ready to make the kill. That effort, then the dragging of the beast home, would use up the discharged chemicals so that complete recovery came naturally after the inevitable celebration shindig and rest to follow.
It’s as simple as that: a perfect system, the stress response.
Our biology still provides for such emergencies, although these days we rarely encounter a brontosaurus on the warpath. These days our stressors are quite different to Fred’s (and Wilma’s, who stoically endured the pre-hunt revving-up ceremony and post-hunt boasting!). Nowadays instead of a brontosaurus, we have a difficult boss. We have no need to go out hunting but most of us feel we have to show up for work five or six days a week. We rarely feel hunger in our bellies but we do spend hours ingesting radio waves from telephones; suffering badly-programmed cyber assistants from call centres; waiting in traffic jams and choking down plastic food. Unfortunately, these days, spear throwing just isn’t on the agenda; that kind of physical action went out with clubbing Wilma on the head. However, we find our stress response activated in situations where as much as we’d love to, there’s just no opportunity to discharge those chemicals and hormones without the possibility of ending up in jail.
Stress takes its toll on the body and mind, not to mention soul. With the complications of our modern society, stress may continue indefinitely, which is very damaging and can end up compromising the whole system, leading to dis-ease in every way. But do not fear: clever Mother Nature also gave us the antidote. Just as we have the stress response as one of the body’s built-in systems, so there is the innate relaxation response, programmed to come to the rescue by undoing the effects of stress: another perfect system, a system that is REALLY good for you.
There is, however, a slight difference: a loud bang would probably startle you and get the stress reaction going through your body, and the sight of a sabre-toothed tiger in the back garden would have you up the nearest tree in a nanosecond. Why, I’ve even seen my mother jump on top of the coffee table that fast at the sight of a field mouse, and that was when she was eighty-two!
Well, maybe eventually you could train yourself to relax and go into a trance when prompted in that way, but generally it just wouldn’t happen. The relaxation response needs to be purposefully sought and practiced. There are times when the relaxation response does occur naturally, for instance when you sit on the beach watching the ocean, but let’s face it – how often does that happen?
So unlike its stressful counterpart, the relaxation response is not automatic; you must deliberately put time aside for it and practice! In other words, you need to learnto relax. It’s really quite simple: find the time and space, somewhere comfortable where you will not be disturbed, find a method that suits you and then practice, practice, practice! “Don’t worry, just relax and let me guide you…” Honest, it’s that simple.