Stress is the “wear and tear” our bodies experience as we adjust to our continually changing environment; it has physical and emotional effects on us and can create positive or negative feelings.
As a positive influence, stress can help compel us to action; it can result in a new awareness and an exciting new perspective.
As a negative influence, it can result in feelings of distrust, rejection, anger, and depression, which in turn can lead to health problems such as headaches, upset stomach, rashes, insomnia, ulcers, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. With the death of a loved one, the birth of a child, a job promotion, or a new relationship, we experience stress as we readjust our lives.
In so adjusting to different circumstances, stress will help or hinder us depending on how we react to it.
This is a dangerous topic!
There have been many different definitions of what stress is, whether used by psychologists, medics, management consultants or others.
There seems to have been something approaching open warfare between competing definitions: Views have been passionately held and aggressively defended.
What complicates this is that intuitively we all feel that we know what stress is, as it is something we have all experienced. A definition should therefore be obvious…except that it is not.
PROBLEMS OF DEFINITION
One problem with a single definition is that stress is made up of many things: It is a family of related experiences, pathways, responses and outcomes caused by a range of different events or circumstances. Different people experience different aspects and identify with different definitions.
People feel little stress when they have the time, experience and resources to manage a situation. They feel great stress when they think they can’t handle the demands put upon them. Stress is therefore a negative experience. And it is not an inevitable consequence of an event: It depends a lot on people’s perceptions of a situation and their real ability to cope with it.
Without stress, life would be dull and unexciting. Stress adds flavor, challenge and opportunity to life. Too much stress, however, can seriously affect your physical and mental well-being. A major challenge in today’s stress-filled world is to make the stress in your life work for you instead of against you.
During a stressful situation, the brain signals the release of stress hormones. These chemical substances trigger a series of responses that gives the body extra energy: blood-sugar levels rise, the heartbeat speeds up and blood pressure increases. The muscles tense for action. The blood supply is diverted away from the gut to the extremities to help the body deal with the situation at hand.
Stress is with us all the time. It comes from mental or emotional activity, as well as physical activity. It is unique and personal to each of us. So personal, in fact, that what may be relaxing to one person may be stressful to another. For example, if you are an executive who likes to keep busy all the time, “taking it easy” at the beach on a beautiful day may feel extremely frustrating, nonproductive and upsetting. You may be emotionally distressed from “doing nothing.”
Too much emotional stress can cause physical illness, such as high blood pressure, ulcers or even heart disease. Physical stress from work or exercise is not likely to cause such ailments.
The important issue is learning how our bodies respond to these demands. When stress becomes prolonged or particularly frustrating, it can become harmful – causing distress or “bad stress.” Recognizing the early signs of distress and then doing something about them can make an important difference in the quality of your life and may actually influence your survival.
STRESS AND DISEASE
Because the stress response couples physiological and emotional responses, it seems probable that stress can translate frustration into physical illness, but the precise mechanisms by which this occurs are not known. In some situations, as with tension headaches or upset stomachs, the connections appear fairly clear. On the other hand, both headaches and bellyaches can occur with no emotional provocation whatsoever.
The chain of causation is even less clear when it comes to more chronic and serious conditions, such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and cancer. The list of diseases linked to stress is almost endless, and includes asthma, allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcers, ulcerative colitis and migraine headaches, among many others.
An important distinction that needs to be made here is that any of these chronic illnesses can be made harder to bear by a stress-laden situation or an emotionally inadequate response on the part of the person. On the other hand, it is no longer possible to credit older theories that specific emotional experiences or reactions actually cause these various diseases. On the whole, it seems most likely that stress plays a non-specific role in disease by throwing off the body’s natural ability to heal itself.
When stress occurs, it is important to recognize and deal with it. Here are some suggestions for ways to handle stress. As you begin to understand more about how stress affects you as an individual, you will come up with your own ideas on how to ease the tension.
Try physical activity. When you are nervous, angry or upset, release the pressure through exercise or physical activity. Running, walking, playing tennis or working in your garden, are just some of the activities you might try. Physical exercise will relieve that “up tight” feeling, relax you, and turn the frowns into smiles. Remember, your body and your mind work together.
Share your stress. It helps to talk to someone about your concerns and worries. Perhaps a friend, family member, teacher or counselor, can help you see your problem in a different light. If you feel your problem is serious, you might seek professional help from a psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker. Knowing when to ask for help may help to avoid more serious problems later.
Know your limits. If a problem is beyond your control and cannot be changed at the moment, don’t fight the situation. Learn to accept what is for now, until such time when you can change it.
Take care of yourself. You are special. Hey get a massage! Get enough rest and eat well. If you are irritable and tense from lack of sleep, or if you are not eating correctly, you will have less ability to deal with stressful situations. If stress repeatedly keeps you from sleeping, you should ask your doctor for help.
Make time for fun. Schedule time for both work and recreation. Play can be just as important to your well-being as work; you need a break from your daily routine to just relax and have fun.
Be a participant. One way to keep from getting bored, sad, and lonely is to go where it’s all happening. Sitting alone can make you feel frustrated. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, get involved. Offer your services to a neighborhood or volunteer organizations. Help yourself by helping other people. Get involved in the world and the people around you, and you will find they will be attracted to you. You’re on your way to making new friends and enjoying new activities.
Check off your tasks. Trying to take care of everything at once can seem overwhelming, and as a result, you may not accomplish anything. Instead, make a list of what tasks you have to do and do them one at a time, checking them off as they’re completed. Give priority to the most important ones and do those first.
Must you always be right? Do other people upset you – particularly when they don’t do things your way? Try cooperation instead of confrontation; it’s better than fighting and always being “right.” A little give and take on both sides will reduce the strain and make you both feel more comfortable.
It’s OK to cry. A good cry can be a healthy way to bring relief to your anxiety, and it might even prevent a headache or other physical consequence. Take some deep breaths; they also release tension.
Create a quiet scene. You can’t always get away, but you can “dream the impossible dream.” A quiet country scene painted mentally or on canvas, can take you out of the turmoil of a stressful situation. Change the scene by reading a good book or playing beautiful music to create a sense of peace and tranquility.
Avoid self-medication. Although you can use drugs to relieve stress temporarily, drugs do not remove the conditions that caused the stress in the first place. Drugs, in fact, may be habit-forming and create more stress than they relieve. They should be taken only on the advice of your doctor.
The best strategy for avoiding stress is to learn how to relax. Unfortunately, many people try to relax at the same pace that they lead the rest of their lives. For a while, tune out your worries about time, productivity, and “doing it right.” You will find satisfaction in just being, without striving. Find activities that give you pleasure and that are good for your mental and physical well-being. Forget about always winning and focus on relaxation, enjoyment, and health. Be good to yourself.
As we have seen, positive stress adds anticipation and excitement to life, and we all thrive under a certain amount of stress. Deadlines, competitions, confrontations, and even our frustrations and sorrows add depth and enrichment to our lives. Our goal is not to eliminate stress but to learn how to manage it and how to use it to help us. Insufficient stress acts as a depressant and may leave us feeling bored or dejected; on the other hand, excessive stress may leave us feeling “tied up in knots.” What we need to do is find the optimal level of stress which will individually motivate but not overwhelm each of us.
HOW CAN I TELL WHAT IS OPTIMAL STRESS FOR ME?
There is no single level of stress that is optimal for all people. We are all individual creatures with unique requirements. As such, what is distressing to one may be a joy to another. And even when we agree that a particular event is distressing, we are likely to differ in our physiological and psychological responses to it.
The person who loves to arbitrate disputes and moves from job site to job site would be stressed in a job which was stable and routine, whereas the person who thrives under stable conditions would very likely be stressed on a job where duties were highly varied. Also, our personal stress requirements and the amount which we can tolerate before we become distressed changes with our ages.
It has been found that most illness is related to unrelieved stress. If you are experiencing stress symptoms, you have gone beyond your optimal stress level; you need to reduce the stress in your life and/or improve your ability to manage it.
HOW CAN I MANAGE STRESS BETTER?
Identifying unrelieved stress and being aware of its effect on our lives is not sufficient for reducing its harmful effects. Just as there are many sources of stress, there are many possibilities for its management. However, all require work toward change: changing the source of stress and/or changing your reaction to it. How do you proceed?
Become aware of your stressors and your emotional and physical reactions. Notice your distress. Don’t ignore it. Don’t gloss over your problems. Determine what events distress you. What are you telling yourself about meaning of these events? Determine how your body responds to the stress. Do you become nervous or physically upset? If so, in what specific ways?
Recognize what you can change. Can you change your stressors by avoiding or eliminating them completely? Can you reduce their intensity (manage them over a period of time instead of on a daily or weekly basis)? Can you shorten your exposure to stress (take a break, leave the physical premises)? Can you devote the time and energy necessary to making a change (goal setting, time management techniques, and delayed gratification strategies may be helpful here)?
Reduce the intensity of your emotional reactions to stress. The stress reaction is triggered by your perception of danger…physical danger and/or emotional danger. Are you viewing your stressors in exaggerated terms and/or taking a difficult situation and making it a disaster? Are you expecting to please everyone? Are you overreacting and viewing things as absolutely critical and urgent? Do you feel you must always prevail in every situation? Work at adopting more moderate views; try to see the stress as something you can cope with rather than something that overpowers you. Try to temper your excess emotions. Put the situation in perspective. Do not labor on the negative aspects and the “what if’s.”
Learn to moderate your physical reactions to stress. Slow, deep breathing will bring your heart rate and respiration back to normal. Relaxation techniques can reduce muscle tension. Electronic biofeedback can help you gain voluntary control over such things as muscle tension, heart rate, and blood pressure. Medications, when prescribed by a physician, can help in the short term in moderating your physical reactions. However, they alone are not the answer. Learning to moderate these reactions on your own is a preferable long-term solution.
Build your physical reserves. Exercise for cardiovascular fitness three to four times a week (moderate, prolonged rhythmic exercise is best, such as walking, swimming, cycling, or jogging). Eat well-balanced, nutritious meals. Maintain your ideal weight. Avoid nicotine, excessive caffeine, and other stimulants. Mix leisure with work. Take breaks and get away when you can. Get enough sleep. Be as consistent with your sleep schedule as possible.
Maintain your emotional reserves. Develop some mutually supportive friendships/relationships. Pursue realistic goals which are meaningful to you, rather than goals others have for you that you do not share. Expect some frustrations, failures, and sorrows. Always be kind and gentle with yourself — be a friend to yourself.
Ah, but we’re just now getting to the best ‘Chronic Stress Buster’ of them all! Your ‘Gift of Relaxation’! Your Massage!
Imagine … as you lie on the table under crisp, fresh sheets, hushed music draws you into the moment. The smell of pure essential oils fills the air and you hear the gentle sound of massage oil being warmed in my hands. The pains of age, the throbbing from your overstressed muscles, the sheer need to be touched — all cry out for therapeutic hands to start their work. Once the session gets underway, the problems of the world fade into an oblivious 60 minutes of relief and all you can comprehend right now is not wanting it to end.
But what if that hour of massage did more for you than just take the pressures of the day away? What if that gentle, Swedish massage helped you combat cancer? What if bodywork helped you recover from a strained hamstring in half the time? What if your sleep, digestion and mood all improved with massage and bodywork? What if these weren’t just “what ifs”?
Evidence is showing that the more massage you can allow yourself, the better you’ll you’ll feel. Here’s why.
Massage as a healing tool has been around for thousands of years in many cultures. Touching is a natural human reaction to pain and stress, and for conveying compassion and support. Think of the last time you bumped your head or had a sore calf. What did you do? Rubbed it, right? The same was true of our earliest ancestors. Healers throughout time and throughout the world have instinctually and independently developed a wide range of therapeutic techniques using touch.
Many are still in use today, and with good reason. We now have scientific proof of the benefits of massage – benefits ranging from treating chronic diseases and injuries to alleviating the growing tensions of our modern lifestyles. Having a massage does more than just relax your body and mind – there are specific physiological and psychological changes which occur, even more so when massage is utilized as a preventative, frequent therapy and not simply mere luxury. Massage not only feels good, but it can cure what ails you.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF STRESS
Experts estimate that 80 percent to 90 percent of disease is stress-related. Massage and bodywork is there to combat that frightening number by helping us remember what it means to relax. The physical changes massage brings to your body can have a positive effect in many areas of your life. Besides increasing relaxation and decreasing anxiety, massage lowers your blood pressure, increases circulation, improves recovery from injury, helps you to sleep better and can increase your concentration. It reduces fatigue and gives you more energy to handle stressful situations.
Massage is a perfect elixir for good health, but it can also provide an integration of body and mind. By producing a meditative state or heightened awareness of living in the present moment, massage can provide emotional and spiritual balance, bringing with it true relaxation and peace.
The incredible benefits of massage are doubly powerful if taken in regular “doses.” Dr. Maria Hernandez-Reif, from the Touch Research Institute (TRI) at the University of Miami, is known for her massage research, along with colleague Tiffany Field. Together, they and other researchers have done outstanding work proving the value of massage. While their studies have shown we can benefit from massage even in small doses (15 minutes of chair massage or a half-hour table session), Hernandez-Reif says they know from their research that receiving bodywork 2-3 times a week is highly beneficial. And if we lived in a fantasy world, Hernandez-Reif has the answer. “I feel a daily massage is optimal.”
It’s undoubtedly a wonderful thing when I begin unwinding those stress-tightened muscles, and your day’s troubles begin to fade away. But it’s the cherry on top to know this “medicine” only gets better with frequency.
WHAT YOU ALREADY KNOW: THE BENEFITS OF MASSAGE
In an age of technical and, at times, impersonal medicine, massage offers a drug-free, non-invasive and humanistic approach based on the body’s natural ability to heal itself. So what exactly are the benefits to receiving regular massage and/or bodywork treatments?
Reduces Stress and tension. When we experience sustained stress in our daily lives, our brain responds in a manner known as “fight or flight”. This signals our sympathetic nervous system, which is controlled by the hypothalamus in the brain. Muscles tighten in our neck, shoulders and back, blood vessels constrict, our eyes dilate, large amounts of energy are expended as the adrenal glands excrete hormones. When this process continues for a long time, you feel “stressed out”! Massage breaks this tension by triggering the parasympathetic nervous system (the body’s way of conserving and restoring energy). Touch helps our body and mind to refocus and relax. Squeezing, stretching and kneading releases tight muscles and natural endorphins. This results in decreased pain, decreased heart rate and a sense of calm.
Improves mental response and alertness. Massage relieves muscle tension, enabling blood to flow freely and supply the body with necessary nutrients and oxygen. This increases cellular activity and improves mental response and alertness — your whole system runs more efficiently, and you feel energized! The more massage you receive the more supple and relaxed your musculature becomes.
Assists the immune system. When the body is invaded by foreign cells or substances, the immune response is triggered. The body dramatically increases its production of T-cells and B-cells, our first line of defense. The lymphatic system, with its vast network of lymph nodes, vessels and capillaries, is also a major part of our immune system. It circulates lymph fluid throughout the body and its organs, makes contact with these foreign substances and toxins, and assists in killing them. The lymphatic system flows in part because of the contraction of skeletal muscles that compress lymph vessels and push the fluid through the body. Massage can be of significant value when normal muscle function has been lost. Massage promotes lymphatic flow through the milking and squeezing of skin and muscle tissue; mimicking muscle movement. Inhalation and exhalation also enhance the flow of the lymphatic system. Massaging the upper body releases tight respiratory muscles, facilitating more movement throughout the chest cavity and increasing lymph flow.
Increases circulation, allowing the body to pump more oxygen and nutrients into tissues and vital organs.
Stimulates the flow of lymph, the body’s natural defense system, against toxic invaders. For example, in breast cancer patients, massage has been shown to increase the cells that fight cancer.
Increased circulation of blood and lymph systems improves the condition of the body’s largest organ – the skin.
Relaxes and softens injured and overused muscles.
Reduces spasms and cramping.
Increases joint flexibility.
Reduces recovery time, helps prepare for strenuous workouts and eliminates subsequent pains of the athlete at any level.
Releases endorphins – the body’s natural painkiller – and is being used in chronic illness, injury and recovery from surgery to control and relieve pain.
Reduces post-surgery adhesions and edema and can be used to reduce and realign scar tissue after healing has occurred.
Improves range-of-motion and decreases discomfort for patients with low back pain.
Relieves pain for migraine sufferers and decreases the need for medication.
Provides exercise and stretching for atrophied muscles and reduces shortening of the muscles for those with restricted range of motion.
Assists with shorter labor for expectant mothers, as well as less need for medication, less depression and anxiety, and shorter hospital stays.
THE NEED FOR TOUCH
As a society, we are touch deprived and this can lead to disease or emotional dysfunction. From the cradle to the nursing home, tactile stimulation and the emotional assurance of caring touch bring about a sense of well-being and security. In numerous studies conducted on massage for infants, TRI researchers have found improved weight gain and development in pre-term infants, improved weight gain and motor behavior in cocaine-exposed infants, and improved weight gain and decreased stress behavior in HIV-exposed infants. Full-term infants also benefit with increased alertness and social behavior, less crying and increased weight gain.
MASSAGE ASSISTS THE INJURY HEALING PROCESS
Since many repetitive strain injuries are diagnosed as soft-tissue injuries, treatments that focus on those tissues can be helpful. Massage is beneficial in numerous ways. Massage is a type of therapy that can relieve stress, lessen pain, help prevent injury, and speed the healing process. In certain cases, massage therapy can eliminate or reduce the need for surgery or pain medication. Massage is a natural healing mechanism for various illnesses and injuries, including repetitive strain injuries. The gentle kneading and stretching motions improve circulation and reduce tension, and can improve joint movements.
Inflammation, muscle strain, and tendonitis can be greatly reduced through the use of massage. Therapeutic massage can be used to prevent injury that is caused by muscle strain and unnatural movements. Secondary pain that results from muscle injury, pregnancy, and repetitive muscle strains can be quite pronounced when left untreated. Headaches and lower back pain can be greatly reduced through the use of regular massage.
The reduction of stress is a major consideration for millions of people. Stress is the reason for a lack of energy, insomnia, and can even aggravate the symptoms of asthma. By reducing stress, you also reduce the likelihood of illness and injury. Stress can be the underlying cause of many types of discomfort and injury. The reduction of stress is important to your mental, as well as physical, well-being. Due to the healing properties associated with massage, it is often used as a treatment for drug addiction and as a tool in psychological counseling.
Muscle cramps, aching shoulders, and muscle tightness can be relieved through the use of therapeutic massage. Some massage techniques eliminate muscle pain by stretching and kneading the muscles directly while other massage techniques stimulate the nervous system, allowing the muscles to relax. After exercise or vigorous movement, the muscles may experience a build up of waste products created by the body. Massage can help eliminate these waste materials and increase circulation.
Muscles that are tight and contracted can cause pain or tingling the extremities. Massage can stop the muscle spasms that are the cause of this pain and tingling. Muscle and ligament sprains caused by accidental injury and repetitive motions can be virtually cured through the use of therapeutic massage. Massage can greatly reduce inflammation by bringing nutrients and improved circulation to the muscles. Some massage techniques can actually limit the formation of scar tissue that commonly surrounds muscle injuries.
By relieving tension and muscle tightness, massage can actually be used to prevent new injuries. Muscle groups that are tight and stressed can cause you to favor one side of the body or another and actually contribute to new or repeated injuries. Massage is a wonderful preventative measure that will help guard against repetitive strains and injuries.
Repetitive strain injury can be quite painful and cause crippling disability. Prevention and early treatment are the best ways to relieve the pain caused by RSI. Massage can reduce the discomfort and inflammation caused by repetitive strain injury, and can help prevent future injuries. Massage will allow for greater flexibility of the joints and muscles and can provide much needed relief from RSI. Repetitive strain injuries are a common affliction among millions of people. The use of massage therapy for treatment of RSI is quite effective.
Massage can be used to assist in pain management for afflictions such as scoliosis and improper posture caused by abnormalities of the spine. The benefits of massage are far- reaching and widely accepted among the medical community.
Therapeutic massage is not only for the rich and indulgent. Massage can enhance the immune system and is a very effective means of preventing and treating repetitive strain injuries. Repetitive strain injury is an issue for not only athletes, but for people from all walks of life. Massage therapy is an industry in itself and can benefit people in every age and socio-economic group.
So? What are you waiting for? Call Jennifer at (904) 417-8620 and let’s get started with your Gift of Relaxation as soon as possible!