Iris Mini: The “Relaxation Response”

"Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor." - Thich Nhat Hanh

Life with cancer may bring multiple stressors each day. That means multiple times a day, your biological stress response is being activated. These can be actual threats in the moment or thoughts about a threat.

When your body’s stress response gets activated, it has physical consequences such as tense muscles, racing heart, and fear. Sometimes the stress response is activated so many times a day that we feel like we are in a constant state of tension and stress.

One way to deactivate our stress response is to shift to the relaxation response.

What is the Relaxation Response?

It is a way to relax your body and down-regulate your stress activation system. There are many behaviors that can downshift your stress response. These include behaviors that have these four characteristics:

  • Mental attention to a task which is repetitive

  • Letting distracting thoughts pass while refocusing on the behavior

  • Relaxing your muscles

  • Being in an environment without distractions

To keep our bodies from being in the high-alert state, it is helpful to practice this for 10-20 minutes twice a day.

What are Some of the Behaviors That Can Elicit Relaxation?

They include traditional mindful breathing, focusing on a word or phrase, and activities such as knitting or walking. Meditation or repetitive focus on your breath is probably the best-known way to practice this response, but there are other options if that is not for you. Prayer, mindful attention while walking a dog, and even mindful attention when weeding a garden are all ways to practice.

This is a highly portable skill and can be used at almost any time.