Stress Management and Relaxation


What is relaxation?

It is the release of tension from muscle fibres (Payne 1995). If you look at your hand and touch your thumb to your index finger and feel the muscle just below the thumb. If you squeeze your finger andRelax thumb together, you will feel that it is tense and hard. Now if you release them the muscle becomes soft - it is relaxed.

Relaxation is also a mental state - 'a positive perceived state or response, in which a person feels relief of tension or strain' (Sweaney 1978).

All our muscle tone is affected by the autonomic nervous system (the one we don't have any conscious control over), the endocrine system (hormones and chemicals) and the muscular skeletal system.

The autonomic nervous system has two branches, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic system (PNS). The SNS is responsible for our 'fight or flight' response. For example it raises our heart rate and blood pressure i.e. all those responses you feel when you have a scare! The PNS on the other hand returns every thing to normal again.

So why do we need to relax?

If you are continually tense (or stressed), your body is on the 'get ready for action' all the time. The theory suggests that if the tense state is maintained over a long period of time the body resets its 'normalS&DHSG image state'. This then means that the PNS cannot return the body to its pre-stress normal. This causes unnecessary wear and tear on the mind and body, which can cause all manner of ailments.

Relaxation has three purposes.

Heart linkPreventative:

  • It protects the body's organs from undue wear.

Heart linkTreatment:

  • It helps to relieve stress in conditions such as hypertension, headaches, asthma and insomnia.

Heart linkCoping Skill:

  • It can restore clarity of thought and reasoning and some studies suggest it can improve memory.

What can you do to relieve stress?

Heart linkLook after yourself:

  • Plan breaks and stick to them.
  • Be assertive and learn to say no.
  • Plan things in advance but be realistic with your goals.
  • Take a rest, a bath, or a walk.
  • Undertake activities you enjoy.
  • Talk to a friend.
  • Take regular exercise.

Learn to recognise your stressors.
Learn to recognise
signs of stress in you.

What are the signs of stress?

  • Being irritable.
  • Unable to sleep.
  • Feeling tired.
  • Feeling anxious.
  • Poor concentration.
  • Comfort eating or erratic meal patterns.
  • Diarrhoea or constipation.
  • Increased dependence on coping mechanisms e.g. Smoking or drinking alcohol.

Stress or tension affects the whole body. The effect it can have on your body has been linked to coronary heart disease. It is important that you recognise your stressors and the effect that tension has on you.

If you want to know more about managing stress there are some very good books, audiotapes and videotapes around.


Derrick Cutting (1999) Stop That Heart Attack. Class Health Books, London
Terry Looker & Olga Gregson (1997) Managing Stress (The Teach Yourself Series). Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, Chicago, USA
Rosemary Payne (1995) Relaxation Techniques: A practical handbook for the health care professional. Churchill Livingstone, London.

Cardiac Care Team - 1999: Author C A Harding: Publication Review 04/2001



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