What is the Relaxation Response? How to Destress Yourself with Deep Breathing Exercises

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    Just practicing deep breathing has been shown to reduce depression, boost immune functioning, and elicit broad improvements in health.

-by Dr. Jason Holland, Lifespark

The relaxation response is a term coined by Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiologist and relaxation expert, that refers to the body’s natural ability to calm itself and counter the stress elicited by the ‘fight or flight’ response.

So, if you’re worried about a looming deadline at work or fending off an aggressive coworker—even though your life probably isn’t really on the line—for your body, the threat can be just as real.

You may notice that your heart’s beating faster, your fists are clenched, you’re perspiring, or your face is flush. That’s the fight or flight response in action, and when it’s chronically activated, the effects on your physical and mental health can be devastating.    

One of the simplest ways to induce a relaxation response is to use deep breathing. It can be used as part of a regular self-care practice or implemented as needed, anywhere and anytime.

Though most deep breathing techniques are fairly simple and straightforward, their effects are powerful. For example, just practicing deep breathing has been shown to reduce depression, boost immune functioning, and elicit broad improvements in health.

If you’d like to give it a try for yourself, listen to our deep breathing exercise adapted from Dr. Benson’s original technique. See below for both video and audio options:

Click above to play video.


This week we’re focusing on simple mental health self-care strategies that can help keep you balanced and centered.

Tuesday’s piece takes a look at the practice of guided imagery, and we are giving away two free guided imagery exercises to Lifespark Exclusive members.

On Wednesday, you can take an inventory of your sleeping habits and use our sleep hygiene quiz to get personalized feedback on how to improve your sleep.

We’ll then be getting in touch with nature on Thursday and discussing the Japanese practice of ‘forest bathing’ and how it could give you a new perspective on life.

Finally, Friday’s piece explores the connection between back pain and mental health and offers some simple exercises for a sore back.

So, join us everyday this week for more on mental health self-care strategies. And in the comments below, let us know what’s been most helpful for you.   


Further Reading:



















Benson, H., Greenwood, M. M., & Klemchuk, H. (1975). The relaxation response: psychophysiologic aspects and clinical applications. The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, 6, 87-98.

Chung, L. J., Tsai, P. S., Liu, B. Y., Chou, K. R., Lin, W. H., Shyu, Y. K., & Wang, M. Y. (2010). Home-based deep breathing for depression in patients with coronary heart disease: A randomised controlled trial. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 47, 1346-1353.

Kox, M., van Eijk, L. T., Zwaag, J., van den Wildenberg, J., Sweep, F. C., van der Hoeven, J. G., & Pickkers, P. (2014). Voluntary activation of the sympathetic nervous system and attenuation of the innate immune response in humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111, 7379-7384.

Twal, W. O., Wahlquist, A. E., & Balasubramanian, S. (2016). Yogic breathing when compared to attention control reduces the levels of pro-inflammatory biomarkers in saliva: A pilot randomized controlled trial. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 16, 294.



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