Become the scientists of our own wellbeing

Rebecca Marks | Author, Founder & Wellbeing Coach

If we experience regular overwhelm and have shifted into a state of autostress (experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety such as heart palpitations, breathing difficulties, headaches, and IBS on an ongoing basis), practising relaxation is fundamental to feeling better. To understand why, we need to delve a bit into the science of what’s happening in our bodies.

The ‘fight, flight or freeze’ stress response is triggered by a part of our nervous system whose job it is to control our automatic functions (e.g. our breathing, heartbeat, and digestive processes). This part of our nervous system is called the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Our ANS is split into two branches: the sympathetic branch and the parasympathetic branch. These branches work opposite each other and only one can dominate at a time.

When we’re autostressed, our sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive. This is what gives rise to the distressing physical responses we experience when stressed.

To feel calmer, we need to balance the activity of our ANS by activating our parasympathetic nervous system (a.k.a. 'the relaxation response').

This demonstrates a highly important fact: rest and relaxation are productive and vital to our wellbeing!

Rest and relaxation help us be our healthiest, most productive selves. I cannot emphasise this enough!

I loved this suggestion from Megan at @citypsychchick, which resonated with me, as my To Do lists can often get out of hand! 

“I try taking something off my list and swapping it for something that will soothe me, a bath, a few minutes of some music I like or immersing myself in cooking a meal.”

Suzy Reading, author of The Self-Care Revolution, added:

“I'm enjoying soothing practices at the moment - restorative yoga, conscious breathing, mantra and mindful nature walks. All of these choices are guided by the intention to promote the functioning of my parasympathetic nervous system. Yoga postures, breathing and meditative practices can be such a tonic!”

When it comes to relaxation—and enhancing our mental wellness in general—different things work at different times for different people.

What we need to do is become the scientists of our own wellbeing, trying and testing different methods to discover what works best for us.

It’s also important to remember that relaxation is a skill—finding it difficult to relax is extremely common. Practise makes progress. Here are 4 things I’ve discovered work well for activating my relaxation response: