Relaxation – Instant results from simple techniques

When you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, it’s easy to perpetuate a negative emotional state by pushing yourself harder in an attempt to catch up or get more done. However, what you really need is to slow down and do the opposite. We sometimes hear clients say: “But I don’t have time to relax.” However, relaxation isn’t a treat to fit in when you have a spare moment. It’s actually essential to your health and wellbeing.

The relaxation response is the physiologic opposite to the ‘fight or flight’ stress response. Scientists have discovered that the long-term practice of regular relaxation activities can also change the expression of genes involved with the body’s response to stress. As well as increasing overall ‘wellness’, this can counteract the adverse clinical effects of stress in conditions such as hypertension, anxiety, diabetes and ageing.

A 2013 study from the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital has taken the research one step further by actually identifying how this works in practice.1 It examined the expression of more than 22,000 genes in 51 healthy adults, both before and after doing relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga. Analysis revealed that the pathways involved with energy metabolism, particularly the function of mitochondria (the engines that make energy in every cell), were up-regulated during the relaxation response. Pathways controlled by the activation of a protein called NF-κB – known to have a prominent role in inflammation, stress, trauma and cancer – were suppressed after the relaxation response. The expression of genes involved in insulin pathways was also significantly altered.

As well as bringing about biochemical changes that provide long-term health benefits, relaxation activities can also improve your mood. Meditating for just half an hour a day, for example, can reduce anxiety, depression, stress and pain as well as improving quality of life, according to a 2014 review published in JAMA Internal Medicine.2

How to choose relaxation that’s right for you

It’s clear that incorporating regular relaxation into your daily routine not only increases your immediate sense of wellbeing, it’s also important for your long-term health. There are no shortage of classes and techniques offering relaxation as a benefit. The challenge is finding something that works for you – and then doing it regularly. When working with clients, we tend to suggest approaches based on their dominate mind state. For example if you feel:

  • Wired, agitated or angry, you are more likely to find calming techniques such as meditation, deep breathing or guided imagery most helpful.
  • Depressed, introverted or spaced out, activities that energise your nervous system such as yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong or Psychocals helpful.

Use your breath to activate relaxation

You can also use just your breath to activate an immediate relaxing and calming influence. As soon as you notice yourself start to feel stressed or overwhelmed, watch and become aware of your breathing. Aim to breathe a little more deeply, and with each breath in, imagine that you are inhaling calm and peace. Then when you breathe out, exhale any feelings of anxiety and tension. Feel your shoulders relaxing and wiggle about a bit to release any tension in your body. A few minutes of doing this can make you feel more relaxed and better able to face the challenges of your day. Susannah Lawson, co-author of The Stress Cure has recorded a breathing exercise that you can download from

Tune in to the benefits of meditation

Meditation has been growing in popularity in the West as a way to switch off from the stress of modern busy life and find inner peace. There’s also an ever-expanding body of research that supports multiple health benefits from regular practice. You don’t need to have any religious beliefs to...

Want to keep reading? Members have full access...

Join Today!


First month free

Then £7.99 per month & free cancellation at any time

FREE health check

Find out your health score & see how healthy you are

Personal Health Plan

Detailed report, analysis & tailored action plan

Free Vitamin D3

With your first purchase at HOLFORDirect (suitable for vegans)

Save money

20% off all Patrick Holford supplements & events plus free delivery over £30

Exclusive Health support

Ask Patrick your questions, access to Low GL recipes & research updates