Engaging Your Relaxation Response
I know that when I want to create something, whether that’s something as mundane as a car park in London right near where I want to be, or a little more complex like sitting here allowing my creative brain to take over and write this post, something else is at play. And that something else is “being relaxed.”
I used to wonder what was at play when I always managed to find a car park and also when I didn’t find one. I imagine that as you’re reading this, you are probably nodding and smiling to yourself in recognition that you’re one of those people who always manages to find a park. You might not tell people this – but it’s become such a common occurrence that it’s just one of those magical things you do.
You may visualise your park first before heading out or you may have an innate trust that you will find the right car parking space. Regardless of ‘how’ you go about it, what I have come to appreciate is that every time, without fail, when I am totally relaxed, and I put myself in that relaxed zone, I find a car parking space. And when I am not relaxed, and I haven’t put myself in that relaxed zone, I don’t find a park. Interesting isn’t it?
Medical literature states that we have more than 50 stress responses a day – and if you are suffering from depression, are lonely, or unhappy at work you will experience twice that number a day. When you trigger your stress response, your body releases a cascade of hormones to help you fight, freeze or take flight – an age-old response when we used to fight those saber tooth tigers.
“Feel good hormones can be released by engaging in activities that relax you”
However by turning off your stress response and switching on your parasympathetic nervous system (which calms your autonomic nervous system), you start to release a number of healing hormones such as oxytocin, endorphins, dopamine and nitric oxide. Dr Herbert Benson from Harvard describes this as the “relaxation response” and these feel good hormones can be released by engaging in activities that relax you.
“When you are relaxed your mind takes a back seat and your body flips on its natural self-repair mechanism”
You have probably heard about people bending spoons, walking on hot cools, free diving to unbelievable depths and the placebo effect where people are able to heal themselves from threatening illnesses. I believe however, that one common dominator exists within all these examples, and that is relaxation. When you are relaxed your mind takes a back seat and your body flips on its natural self-repair mechanism. Things start to happen, often beyond what you believe is possible – like healing yourself or free diving for instance or coming up with a brilliant creative solution to a problem.
So how can you take this state of being relaxed when finding a car park into other areas of your life to create things that are truly important to you?
There are three things I believe that work – in the long term and immediately.
The first is to start filling your day with activities that actually relax you over time (see my list below). These activities will help switch off your sympathetic nervous system and switch on your parasympathetic nervous system. In other words, your body, mind and spirit will start to become a lot more relaxed.
The second is to get yourself in the relaxation zone when you have something to do that is a little more immediate. So for instance, if you have to write a report at work, come up with a creative idea or simply find a car parking spot close to where you need to be, then try this exercise as it will put you in the relaxation zone:
“Close your eyes and imagine a time in your life when you experienced true relaxation. Maybe you were on holiday having a massage. Maybe it was when you were playing with your pet or holding your new born baby. Whatever the experience was, call on that direct experience and bathe in it for a bit. Then write your report, brainstorm a creative idea or set off in your car with the knowledge that you will get a car park”
The third is to LET GO and trust that it will happen. Say you're stuck on a solution at work and can't figure something out. Say to yourself that the answer will come to you, TRUST that the answer will come to you and then let it go. Really let it go. Stop thinking about it. You know how things come to you when you least expect it like when you're out walking or in the shower?
For real lasting change, start to engage in activities that bring you pleasure and put a smile on your face as these will switch on your body's natural relaxation response.
- Do mindful meditation – an outcome of being more mindful is relaxation, calmness and peace. Mindfulness triggers your parasympathetic nervous system
- Go out with your friends
- Have sex!
- Do yoga, qi gong, or any form of exercise that you love
- Do something creative
- Go and have a massage
- Have a holiday
- Play with your pet
By beginning to engage in those things that relax you or by getting in the relaxation zone, you might just start to observe how much stress is currently in your life. That’s ok. It all starts with awareness. If you tell yourself that you are too busy to do an activity that relaxes you (like above), then start small, like stopping and simply doing two minutes of deep breathing. Every mindful out breath engages your parasympathetic nervous system which will relax you. Or if you’re up for a challenge, get relaxed and go find your very first car parking space, exactly where you want it to be.