Is Relaxing Foreign to You? These 5 Stress-Reducing Tips Are Your Passport to Peace by Karena Kilcoyne

3 years ago

Is Relaxing Foreign to You? These 5 Stress-Reducing Tips Are Your Passport to Peace

More than a few years ago while lying poolside and staring at the Costa Rican mountains, I worried why I was so tired. Was I sick? Was I getting sick? What was wrong with me?

The hypochondriac in me rolled over and said to my husband David, “I’m so tired. I must be sick.”

“My love, I don’t think you’re sick or tired. What you are is relaxed.”

My head spun with wonder. Could he be right? Is this what real relaxation feels like? Like I drank two glasses of wine? Like I was floating somewhere between awareness and sleep? My belly was loose. My legs were heavy. My jaw was unclenched.

How did I get here? And why did relaxing feel so foreign to me?

After years of childhood and young adult trauma, my body was stuck in the fight-or-flight response. I was in constant overdrive, unable and unwilling to relax. I was a workaholic perfectionist, who was absolutely certain that if I took my eye off the ball and relaxed, my world would fall apart.

What Are the Stress Responses and How Do They Keep Us From Relaxing?

My stress response to repetitive trauma was the classic fight-or-flight response. I vacillated between self-preservation (the fight response) or overworked perfectionism (the flight response). But in more recent years, trauma therapists have also identified two other stress responses to trauma: freeze and fawn. What do they look like?

Someone who exhibits a freeze stress response will isolate themselves from others and be indecisive about most things, afraid that making the wrong decision will result in a threat to their safety. The state of indecision leaves them restless and anxious.

Someone who is stuck in the fawn stress response may literally fawn all over others. They are the people pleasers, the ones who say “yes” when they really want to say “no.” The ones who give to the point of depletion and then feel resentful towards others. This constant state of people pleasing prevents true relaxation from happening. The need to be loved and accepted drives the person in fawn response to exhaustion.

Whether we’re in fight, flight, fawn or freeze, our sympathetic stress response is in overdrive. We’re pumping cortisol and adrenaline through our bodies, gearing ourselves up for the next big threat. This stress response stems from fear, survival, scarcity and feeling unsafe. When we feel like this, it’s impossible for our bodies to relax.

How do we get our bodies to turn off the stress response and turn on relaxation? Here are five tips:

  • Avoid Over-stimulation: When you’re already running on all cylinders, being overstimulated can make you feel worse, especially if you’re sensitive to people’s energy. When I was making the shift out of fight or flight, I avoided people who were energy suckers. I also avoided crowds if I was feeling particularly on edge.
  • Meditate: Meditation is better than medication! It’s been scientifically proven to lower your heart rate and blood pressure, as well as instilling a sense of relaxation. Meditation downshifts the fight or flight response by turning down the sympathetic nervous system and turning up the parasympathetic nervous system (where we rest and digest). I like to meditate for 15 minutes, twice a day. In those small spots of time I find an enormous sense of peace and relaxation.
  • Practice, Practice, Practice: Just like anything you want to be good at, you have to practice. Schedule your relaxation time and make it a priority. Shifting out of fight or flight takes time and a willingness to try new things that might help you relax. (Such as meditation!) Whatever you choose to try, make sure you feel safe doing it. Going skydiving for the first time might not be the best way to relax. Just a thought.
  • Say “No” to Others and “Yes” to Yourself: This is a big one for all of you out there who are shifted into the fawn response. People pleasing is time consuming and leaves us feeling depleted. It’s hard to relax and feel happy and safe when we don’t have anything left to give ourselves. So say no to others and yes to yourself. A huge part of shifting out of fight or flight is feeling safe in your own space. You deserve to feel loved and safe so start saying YES to what makes you feel that way.
  • Surrender: This was a big one for me and will be for all of you out there who are living in the fight response. Understanding and accepting what we can and can’t control is a huge step in changing our body’s stress response. Surrendering to the way things are doesn’t mean you’re giving up. It means you have to the grace to accept what you can’t change and the courage to feel safe safe in spite of it. Some of us may need the help of a good therapist to release the deep traumas and find the sweet spot of surrender. Relinquishing control is often the key to finding inner peace.

Shifting out of fight or flight is challenging, especially if you’ve been living there for a long time. But I’m here to tell you that if I can do it, you can, too.

The content on is for informational and entertainment purposes only, and should not be considered medical advice. The information on this site should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease, and is not a substitute for professional care. Always consult your personal healthcare provider. The opinions or views expressed on do not necessarily represent those of 30Seconds or any of its employees, corporate partners or affiliates.

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This is so on point. 💗
I can really relate to this. I am working on saying no and not feeling guilty about it. Not easy at all.
Elisa Schmitz
Meditation has been a total game-changer for me. I also do deep breathing exercises and they make a world of difference. Thank you for sharing your very helpful insights, Karena Kilcoyne !

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