Do you manage your stress or does your stress manage you?
Everyone has it. No one is immune. Stress, which can be physical as well as emotional,
is a necessary component of life; and, although stress can be unpleasant, it is an
important and useful part of life. It stimulates learning and personal growth, and is
a natural part of any important accomplishment. You don't have to let it overpower you.
The most effective and healthiest people do not avoid stress, but respond successfully to it.
Learn to manage your response to stress. By gaining more control over your body's automatic
reactions to anxiety-producing situations, you can reduce the negative effects of stress in
Therapeutic massage is a remarkable tool for helping you cope with stress. In the short term,
a deeply relaxing massage can give you a welcome break and help you feel better both physically
and mentally. Over time, you can use massage to help you develop healthy and productive responses
to the stressful challenges in your daily life.
The Stress Response: "Fight or Flight"
Under stress, your body reacts just as your ancestors' did when confronted by a physical threat:
you mobilize to fight or to flee. Your nervous system becomes highly activated and hormonal changes,
such as the release of adrenaline to prepare your body to respond to an emergency and cortisol to
deal with potential inflammation as a result of that action. Muscles tense for action, heart rate
and blood pressure increase, breathing becomes rapid and shallow, and digestion and other maintenance
functions are put on hold.
Unfortunately, fighting or running is rarely a useful response to modern difficulties. Much of our
stress comes from an accelerated pace of living. Major life changes occur with increasing frequency
such as moving to a new city, relationship upheavals, ever-changing family dynamics, or changes in
employment. Today's stresses are often ambiguous and ongoing, such as money worries, environmental
concerns, interpersonal conflicts, or job expectations. Without a sense of resolution - knowing the
danger has passed - your body and mind receive no clear signal it's safe to stop, relax and recuperate.
The Stress Cycle
With little chance to rest and recover, you may find that your stress leads to a self-perpetuating
cycle in which you become less and less able to unwind. Stress-related muscle tension can develop
into painful conditions such as chronic headaches or shoulder and back pain, which are themselves
stressful. Worry and physical tension can interfere with sleep, leaving you exhausted with little
energy or mental focus to deal decisively with your problems. You may even find that your normal
coping strategies add to your stress as you struggle to find time for exercise or to organize
As pressure mounts, the background level of stress hormones in your bloodstream can become elevated
to the point that very little is needed to trigger the stress response. You may find yourself in a
constant state of agitation, reacting not only to actual events, but to anticipated events and memories.
With energy levels so depleted, you may come to rely on a stress-induced jolt of adrenaline just to get
through the day.
Renewing Your Energy Reserves
The antidote to stress is the relaxation response. During the relaxation response, your endocrine and
nervous systems activate changes to slow your heart rate, improve your circulation and digestion, and
relax your muscles-in direct counteraction to the stress response. There are many activities that can
trigger the relaxation response such as exercise, deep breathing, meditation or listening to soothing
music. One of the best methods to combat stress is therapeutic massage. When you are overtaxed and
running on empty, massage can help you recharge and restore the energy and creativity you need to
successfully meet your challenges in a number of ways:
Release of muscle tension
During massage your tight muscles relax, relieving painful muscle tension that can sap your energy.
Though the effects of a single session may be temporary, a well-spaced series can actually reverse
chronic muscle contraction. Massage also stimulates the release of serotonin, a mood elevator, and
endorphins, your body's natural pain killers, giving you a "pain break" and creating a sense of well-being.
Massage increases circulation, clearing out accumulated stress hormones and waste products that can make
you feel tired and sore while bathing your cells with nutrients vital for tissue repair. An increase in
oxygen to your brain can reduce mental fatigue and improve your ability to concentrate and attend to your
problems. As your tissues are cleansed and flooded with nutrients, you may even experience relief from
emotional symptoms such as anxiety or depression, along with a renewed sense of optimism which can last
The quality of restful sleep usually improves in the days following a massage. This gives your body a
chance to further repair and restore your energy levels. Many of the regulating and repairing hormones
are produced during the deeper stages of sleep.
Finally, massage gives you a measure of control, just knowing there is something you can do to take care
of yourself when you need it. Massage helps you feel less at the mercy of external events. Massage helps
you get in touch with yourself!