The body has three ways it can deal with stress.
1. Freeze- a good choice when we were invertebrates, but a poor choice now… unless you’re playing hide and go seek.
2. Fight/ Flee- Excellent for releasing muscular tension and developing strength, but since most stressors are mental these days this response is more of a release valve than a solution to stress.
3. Relax and form social bonds- Our most adapted response; spending time letting go and enjoying great company creates a healthy internal state primed for healing, and is the most effective way to create long-term relaxation.
The conclusion: If the danger is physical: run. If however, the stressor is mental: relax, and find joy from there.
The body’s relaxation response is a more recent addition to our options for how to combat stress, and is one that leads to longevity and happiness according to neuroscientist and researcher Steven W Porges. Throughout our evolution community structures became more and more effective in human survival, evolving this socially-driven relaxation response. When we spend time in a safe and serene environment with others our bodies respond saying, “It’s okay, the group’s here, I can relax.” We see friends, or take a deep sigh and our whole body lets go. How? Through the vagus nerve: our body’s amazing communication highway of deep relaxation.
The vagus nerve is a bundle of nerves that starts in the brainstem and winds its way through our facial muscles, our heart, lungs, and digestive tract. It is responsible for the body’s parasympathetic “relaxation response”. With a simple smile your body responds by acknowledging that all’s well, and it begins to address the root of our mental stress, and lets go of the physical tension, opens your mind to new ideas, encourages forming social bonds, releases endorphins helping you to feel wonderful, and jumpstarts healing, digestion, and cellular repair.
While running relieves tension, time with loved-ones and deep relaxation promotes longevity, social connection, creativity, healing, and happiness for the long-run. Walk an feel the sun shining, jog and see the magnificence of the world around you, run to explore your body’s abilities, and do yoga to connect to the soul.
Move and strengthen your body from a place of joy and you get the best of both worlds. Bring relaxation into your life and your heart, your health, your family and your happiness will thank you.