picture of a brain in a blue and purple background

Unraveling the wonders: what happens in the brain when we relax

By: Aileen Baxter

Have you ever wondered what happens inside your brain when you finally find a moment of peace and relaxation? Our brains are incredibly complex organs, and understanding the processes that occur during relaxation can offer fascinating insights into the benefits of unwinding. In this article, I explore what happens in the brain when we relax and shed light on the incredible transformations that take place within.

Decreased Activation in the Amygdala:

The amygdala, known as the brain’s emotional centre, plays a crucial role in processing emotions, especially fear and stress. When we relax, studies have shown a decrease in the activity of the amygdala. As a result, we experience a reduced sense of anxiety and a dampened response to potential stressors, contributing to a state of calmness and relaxation.

Activation of the Prefrontal Cortex:

The prefrontal cortex is responsible for higher cognitive functions such as decision-making, problem-solving, and self-awareness. During relaxation, the prefrontal cortex tends to show increased activity. This activation allows us to engage in introspection, gain insights, and foster a sense of self-reflection. It is during these moments that we can develop a clearer understanding of ourselves and our emotions.

Release of Neurotransmitters:

Relaxation triggers the release of various neurotransmitters, chemicals that transmit signals between brain cells. One such neurotransmitter is dopamine, often referred to as the “feel-good” hormone. When we relax, dopamine is released, promoting feelings of pleasure and reward. Additionally, the release of endorphins and serotonin further contributes to our sense of well-being and relaxation.

Activation of the Default Mode Network (DMN):

The Default Mode Network is a network of brain regions that becomes active when we are at rest or engaged in introspective thinking. During relaxation, the DMN activates, allowing our minds to wander freely and facilitating creative thinking. This activation leads to a sense of mental ease and allows us to access deeper levels of imagination and self-reflection.

Regulation of the Autonomic Nervous System:

Relaxation triggers the regulation of the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary bodily functions such as heart rate, digestion, and breathing. As we relax, the parasympathetic nervous system, responsible for the “rest and digest” response, becomes more dominant. This shift promotes a state of relaxation, slowing down heart rate and breathing, lowering blood pressure, and reducing muscle tension.

Conclusion: Relaxation is not simply a state of mind; it is a complex interplay of various brain processes. From decreased activity in the amygdala to the activation of the prefrontal cortex and the release of neurotransmitters, our brains undergo remarkable transformations when we allow ourselves to unwind. By understanding what happens in the brain during relaxation, we can appreciate the profound impact it has on our overall well-being. So, the next time you prioritise relaxation, know that your brain is working its magic to bring you a state of calm, rejuvenation, and inner peace.

Photo by Milad Fakurian on Unsplash

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