Stress….we all experience it.
It is part of our lives but it is not natural or healthy when the frequency is more on going than not. How we each handle stress is key. Do we let stress have its way with us or are we proactive and engage in prophylactic activities to counteract and counterbalance the effects of stress?
Stress, especially profound, frequent or long term stress from a single source or multiple sources, can cause the adrenal glands to overly secrete cortisol, a stress hormone. Besides compromising the immune system, constant high levels of cortisol can put your heart at increased risk by increasing blood pressure. Cortisol inhibits immune function. When cortisol is constantly being released into our bodies, our immune systems are compromised and our immune function is significantly decreased. Immune function that is not in top shape cannot guard against and protect us from disease in its many forms…bacteria, viruses and other pathogens.
For example; the average American gets an average of 5-6 colds a year. Some folks don’t get any. Why do you think that is? Genes do play a part. Exposure level is an influence (people who work in jobs working with the public). A person’s natural immunity and immune system can be stabilized, influenced and enhanced by preventive care. We either do it or we don’t. It is a choice. The obvious prevention activities are regular hand washing, not touching the face and facial orifices. Again, one of the foundations to good health is a strong immune system. 80% of our immune system is in the”gut”. Healthy gut=strong immunity.
Actively engaging in stress management reduces stress which reduces cortisol output which decreases the hormones effect on the immune system. Massage Therapy or bodywork, especially regular massage therapy, is the single most effective stress reducer. It heads the top of the list as one of the most effective ways to manage stress which helps create healthy immunity.
Stop for a few minutes right now and put your hands in your lap, take a few deep belly breaths, close your eyes and take notice of your posture.
Are you slumping, slouching, bent over, shoulders rounded.
- Do you have a headache?
- Are you feeling fatigue?
- How do your shoulders feel, your neck and back, your low back, mid back and upper back?
- Does any area ache, feel tight, tense?
- Do your legs and /or arms feel heavy?
- When you turn your head to the left and right does it feel tight when you move it to get full range of motion?
- When you bend your head down or move your head back, how does it feel?
- Do you feel a numbing and/or tingling anywhere?
- Do you feel stiffness anywhere?
- If I were to ask where you usually feel pain, where would that be?
- How do you feel inside? Tense? Uptight? Anxious?
- Do you experience digestive problems, does your heart feel like it is racing?
The physical effects of stress on the body are numerous and well documented. Any situation that we perceive as stressful the body reacts by moving into stress response mode. This can be triggered by getting stuck in traffic, along line at the grocery store, a disagreement w/ a spouse, having a wallet/purse stolen…on and on.
The body is in fight or flight mode (some say fight, flight or faint). The body and mind….physical, mental, emotional are altered. We are on full alert…code red….increased heart rate, rapid shallow breathing, muscle tightening, general body tension but also tension in specific areas as mentioned above. Blood pressure, adrenaline production and output (remember cortisol too) elevate. The muscle tension causes a decrease in blood flow ( with its vital nutrients and oxygen) throughout the body.
Another source of stress is when an area of the body is overused…overuse syndrome. Some examples; heavy lifting takes its toll on the back especially if no or poor body mechanics are used; shoulders elevated while on the computer or while holding the phone between neck and shoulder.
Pain can ensue when anyone is under prolonged stress. This can be the result of being held hostage in the stress response mode…incapable of relaxing, letting go, sleep can be affected. Chronic tension is a constant, nonstop pattern that hurts though with some people it is habitual and they no longer feel it, they have ignored it for so long. Imagine living in a house with the lights on 24 hours a day. This is what chronic tension is to the body and mind…it zaps energy, and vitality.
To help move out of and beyond this place requires activities that will intervene and trigger our body’s relaxation response. Messages are sent to the body to quiet, relax, slow down, chill…rest. There are many ways to engage the relaxation response….reading, meditation, calming music, quiet conversation and visualization. Therapeutic massage stimulates the relaxation response (part of the nervous system….the Para-Sympathetic system to be exact) like no other activity, in my opinion. One session always has benefit. Regular massage therapy, taking the person away from the stressors, has cumulative benefit…each session building on the previous, easing tension, opening up muscle tissue, blood flow increases….areas numb from tension, can feel again because of the blood delivering oxygen and nutrients to musculature once starved by being cut off from healthy circulation.
Massage therapy is a quick transport to feeling better and more alive.