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How Regular Relaxation Will Make You Happier, Healthier, and Wiser

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Not only does relaxation feel good, science has shown it's good for us in a multitude of ways.

"We must go beyond the constant clamor of ego, beyond the tools of logic and reason, to the still, calm place within us: the realm of the soul."

- Deepak Chopra

Staying calm, keeping cool, keeping your head when all about you are losing theirs (to paraphrase Rudyard Kipling), is vital for a happier, more self-directed, and healthier life.

Conversely, worry, fear, anger, and panic block clear thought, paralyse decision making, and can lead us to make terrible decisions.1 The severe stress of depression2 causes us to think in all-or-nothing ways,3 which causes us further problems and adds to our stress in a kind of vicious cycle. A stressed brain can quickly turn into a miserable one.

Now, of course, the antidote to all human problems isn't just greater physical and mental peace and calm, but it can certainly contribute to greater wellbeing.

When we are calm:

  • we are better able to see clearly, so have a better chance of solving problems
  • we more often see 'problems' as simply challenges to overcome
  • things that seemed like issues may no longer seem that way.

Not only can relaxation improve our mental health, it can improve our physical health too. Just as too much stress weakens the immune system,4 regular relaxation helps our immune system function better.5 Relaxation also supports the cardiac autonomic nervous system, which regulates heart function.6 Hypnotic relaxation can even control pain7 and accelerate wound healing after surgery.8

And this is just anecdotal, but I and other practitioners have noticed that when clients start to relax through hypnosis, they start to look younger too.

Whether we relax through being in nature,9 mindfulness,10 meditation,11 massage,12 or regular self-hypnosis, the benefits can be amazing. And our relaxation sessions don't have to be long to be effective.

So, as obvious as it sounds, regular relaxation is an antidote to stress. The effects of deep and regular calm can seem quite miraculous.

Here's a great way to think about it.

Keep your bucket empty.

Recently I worked with a highly anxious hypnotherapy client. She told me in her first session that feeling stressed all the time had sapped her sense of humour and hope. But she had a deeper fear.

"Every smallest mishap seems to upset me more than it should," she told me miserably. "I feel like crying about stuff I know doesn't matter, and I keep getting angry or scared at things I would normally take in my stride." I could see she was really concerned. "Am I going mad?" she asked plaintively.

I suggested she most certainly wasn't, but that ongoing stress can make us feel as though we are. I asked her to imagine someone carrying a metal bucket around with them.

"Imagine if that bucket were always full to the brim with water. Now if that person even so much as stumbled slightly, they might spill water all over themselves. But if they carried a bucket that was empty or barely had any water in it, then even a major stumble might not cause them to spill any water.

"We all carry stress around with us, but if we keep it at a relatively low level then when stuff happens in life - small stuff, or even bigger stuff - we take it in our stride. It doesn't trip us up."

She got the point. I taught her very quickly to keep her 'stress bucket' much emptier, for more of the time. We worked on more than just relaxation, but helping her to manage her stress and find the joys of deep calm went a long way to aiding her recovery.

She began to reclaim her humour, perception, and enjoyment of life - as well as sounder sleep - by regularly emptying her stress bucket through mini relaxation sessions throughout the week.

Relaxing deeply improves the function of the mind and body. And - yes, you heard it here first! - it will help tone up your vagus nerve for better health.

What happens in vagus doesn't stay in vagus.

The vagus nerve is a meandering bundle of nerve fibres that passes from the brainstem, through the neck and thorax, and finally to the abdomen. This is the widest distribution of any nerve in the body. And its health really matters - to you, me, and everyone.

The function of the vagus nerve is closely tied to your health, both mental and physical. It interfaces with your parasympathetic nervous system (which is responsible for the relaxation response) and controls the healthy functioning of your cardiac, digestive, and respiratory systems.

Low 'vagal tone' has been linked to higher levels of inflammation in the body.13 But when the vagus nerve is stimulated through relaxation - and the more you relax, the more it is strengthened - inflammation is lowered throughout the entire body.

Having good social connections14 and a healthy diet both stimulate the vagus nerve. But perhaps the most direct and practical way of stimulating the vagus nerve is by practising deep relaxation. In fact, just the simple act of breathing slowly in and (even more slowly) out activates the vagus nerve immediately.15

Start relaxing today

Relaxation helps us feel healthier, not 'just' physically but mentally too. Stress makes life feel harder than it needs to, even when it is hard.

If you have suffered anxiety or even depression, you might already realize that relaxing isn't just 'treating the symptom'. It can also help alleviate the causes, or at least give you a better chance of processing past events and getting what you need in life.

When people improve their vagal tone, they become more able to make emotional, cognitive, and behavioural changes because they are in a better position mentally and physically to do so.

Hypnosis isn't a therapy, it's a way of delivering therapy which, when done well, has the amazing side effect of making people more relaxed and thereby enhancing their wellbeing.

As well as all the benefits of relaxation in and of itself, the relaxed state offers a perfect medium for psychological change. It's during the relaxation of hypnosis that we can find the peace of mind to make changes.

But aside from all its scientific benefits, there's something else you might have noticed about relaxation: it just feels so good!

Published by Mark Tyrrell - in Relaxation Techniques