Managing Stress with Massage Therapy

By Julie Onofrio

Stress. Everyone thinks it means those times when everything seems too rushed or out of control. The kids are crying, the boss is yelling, the clients are threatening to leave, the lines of traffic...these are all stress-inducing situations.

Stress, however, is much more than the circumstances of everyday life. Stress is created when our bodies inhale toxins in the air, eat foods or drink caffeine. Stress can be caused by thoughts and feelings. Each of us is responsible for the amount of stress in our lives.

The body reacts to stress by increasing the production of certain hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol. These chemicals help the body deal with stress. However, with the typical modern lifestyle it is difficult to get rid of the stress or get rid of the excess chemicals from the stress reaction. An animal in the wild when under stress, such as being chased by a predator, will shake for a period of time after the event to release the stress from their bodies. The flight or fight reaction guides their bodies.

Stress isn't always bad. We need a certain amount of stress to grow and learn. It is when stress becomes internalized and held inside the body rather than released, that the problems begin. Your muscles respond to stress by contracting to prepare for the attack. They tighten and constrict veins, arteries and nerves. That places increased pressure on the heart. Someone with low cholesterol and high stress has just as much, if not more of a chance of heart problems because of the extra pressure on the heart to pump more blood when the circulation is restricted due to muscle tension.

Muscle contractions may also cause problems of their own...strains/sprains, repetitive strain syndromes, herniated discs, back and neck pain. Our bodies have an amazing capacity to compensate for stress. We can keep going and going, until one day, you bend over to pick up a pencil and you can't stand up straight or you turn your head to look at your co-worker and you can't turn it back. These are indications that the amount of stress in your life has reached the overload phase!

We are stuck in the flight or fight mode until we do something to release that stress.
Movement, exercise and massage rate high on the list of reducing these stressors.

Massage can help relax tight muscles and teach you to be more aware of when they are starting to contract and building up tension. Awareness is one of the first steps in working toward making changes in you lifestyle.

As you become more aware of the way you hold and store stress in your body, you can consciously begin to make the changes in your lifestyle that are needed.

Stress left unchecked is a fundamental factor in many, if not most, diseases and injuries.

Tuning into your body with the help of a good massage therapist who is able to help you interpret the message of the pain or stiffness in your body will be one of your best tools for living a long and healthy life.

Julie Onofrio, LMP
Seattle, WA


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