After thousands of years of human evolution, our bodies still respond to stress in the same way as our ancestors. During the stress response, also known as the "fight or flight" response, your nervous system is turned on (see symptoms in Figure 1 below) releasing stress hormones and preparing for battle or escape. Meanwhile your immune and digestive systems and your cognitive processes slow down. Conversely, during the relaxation response your nervous system slows down so you are able to think more clearly and creatively. Your immune and digestive systems function better. Although we still need both responses for human survival, the historical value of the stress response (e.g. when the tiger is at your cave door, you either run or slug it over the head with your club) no longer applies. Our modern stressors--academic, workplace, and relationships--do not allow us to release tension through physical action and the stress builds up. With prolonged exposure to stress hormones, it is the stress response itself that causes damage to the body. The good news is that the stress response and the relaxation response are opposite and mutually exclusive. That means if you induce the relaxation response, your stress response will be shut off.
Figure 1: How Stress & Relaxation Affect Us
Prolonged Stress is BAD NEWS!