The relaxation response

Blog Post created by NDC_Team on Feb 17, 2021

Human beings are hardwired for being stressfully active.  Our ‘stress system’ is the mechanism by which our body manages energy to meet the demands of living in the world.  But, the demands that we face today are very different than the world in which our brains evolved.  The need to survive then demanded that we be focused on nutritional rewards, habitual in our pursuit of sustenance, warily aware of new situations as potentially dangerous, and ready to conserve energy to meet danger or stressful environmental changes like famine or harsh weather. 


Physically and mentally we are wired to react, focus, maintain attention, plan, decide, and engage in activities for survival in ancient circumstances.  Dealing  with things like traffic, work, school, shopping, bills, COVID concerns and modern social relations requires a different set of skills and application of energy.  And unfortunately our ‘stress response’ system doesn’t adapt on its own.  Instead we can get ‘stuck’ in the on position leading to anxieties, fatigue, mental health and addiction, and many of the stress related health problems we have in our society today. See: Chronic stress puts your health at risk - Mayo Clinic 


Fortunately, we also have another hardwired bio-psychological system that is intended to turn off our overactive stress response and conserve and restore our reserves.  And, we can purposely activate this system.  Friendly supportive social connections, quiet relaxing moments, deep breathing, peaceful enjoyments and recreational activities all serve to activate a system that is designed to preserve and re-energize. 


But we can’t rely on this to just happen on its own.  We are well served by purposely engaging in activities that stimulate our relaxation response.  A well balanced stress response system can help us recover from addiction, avoid numerous health problems, and live in a more satisfied meaningful way.  Sometimes the best way ahead, is to take a step back and breath!


Michael V. Burke, Ed.D

Program Director and NDC Counselor/ CTTS