This article discusses the differences between relaxation and unwinding.
Often I hear people say “I know how to relax.” But do you really?
What do you mean by “relax?”
Sometimes people may be referring to being practiced in relaxation techniques. Other times they are referring to watching tv at end of stressful day, reading, music, things they enjoy, calming, distracting, or stress release activities. Often people refer to these activities as relaxation.
I’m going to talk about the differences between relaxation and unwinding. Yes, relaxation allows you to unwind, and unwinding helps you to relax, but here’s what I mean when I talk about these two activities.
Relaxation is the act of using techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation, to elicit the relaxation response. The relaxation response is the opposite of the stress response and is characterized by lowered muscle tension, blood pressure, heart rate… several measurable physical changes.
Relaxation is a strategy, skill, something that you practice in order to induce relaxation response and reverse stress response. It is something that you master and takes practice to become good at.
By unwinding, I mean reading, TV, hobbies… the leisure activities that we do to decrease stress. Unwinding is not something you have to practice to get good at, it is simply the act of enjoying how you spend your time and engaging in leisure.
Relaxation and unwinding are different – relaxation is not the same as simply unwinding.
One of the key differences between relaxation and unwinding is that with relaxation, the use of specific techniques results in the relaxation response. The positive effects of relaxation occur even if you do not feel any different while you are practicing relaxation methods.
Leisure activities that are used to unwind certainly reduce stress, and can also induce the relaxation response, but they do not as easily or reliably result in the decreased blood pressure, heart rate, and various other physical and emotional changes that occur with relaxation.
So why does this matter?
By having the ability to use a technique, when you choose, that results in positive physical changes, relief from pain, and that counteracts the harmful effects of stress, we have a powerful tool to increase physical and mental health.
A better ability to cope with stress is one of the benefits of regularly experiencing the relaxation response, and this is a significant contributor to quality of life.
Simply engaging in leisure activities, though these activities are enjoyable and can be relaxing, does not teach you how to specifically cause the physical and mental changes that are associated with relaxation.
Both relaxation and unwinding have their place. Neither is better than the other; they are simply different.
It is important to engage in leisure and things you enjoy. This will improve quality of life and decrease stress. Leisure activities are essential to health, well being and happiness, and allow a person to enjoy life.
Relaxation is also very important because this gives a person the ability to relax at will and to combat the harmful effects of stress.
Most people know how to engage in activities that make them feel more relaxed, and, to a degree, everyone knows how to relax. The relaxation response is a natural function of the body that does not have to be learned. By using relaxation, what you are learning is the ability to exercise control over the relaxation response, to use the relaxation response as a tool. Everyone knows how to relax, but not everyone knows how to relax at will. Everyone can learn, though.
Relaxation is a skill that can be learned. By becoming more skilled, a person can relax more quickly and more deeply.
In a healthy life style, both relaxation and unwinding are used every day for stress management and general well being.
Important to engage in activities that are enjoyable and allow you to unwind after a stressful day. Physical activity, hobbies, quiet activities, socialization…. activities that are enjoyable and help you to cope with stress.
It is important to do leisure activities to unwind and reduce stress, and it is important to regularly practice relaxation techniques. Leisure and relaxation are two essential components of a healthy lifestyle.
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