Jarrod C. Fritz, Licensed Massage Therapist SC# 3692
By: Jarrod C. Fritz, LMT
Manage YOUR Stress & Manage YOUR Health With so much going on in our lives today, it’s easy to see how stress is much more prevalent than it has been in many years. For some people stress even becomes a part of their “normal” lifestyle. What most people don’t understand is that some stress is a good thing. Stress protects us and helps keep us on our toes in an emergency situation or helps us focus when a deadline is approaching. Our problems arise when stress becomes too much and begins to affect our minds, our bodies, and our everyday lives. The good news is that we are all capable of managing stress in our lives and therefore managing our health.
The word “stress” seems to be used loosely and quite often, so for a better understanding let’s clarify the definition of “stress”. Stress is defined as a normal physical response to events that make you feel threatened or upset your balance in some way. The responses can be experienced from your environment, your body, and even your thoughts. The human body is designed to experience stress and react to stress, but because we are all designed differently we all react to stressors differently. What may aggravate one person may seem commonplace and trivial to another person. How many times have you caught yourself asking someone “how do you do it” or “I don’t think I could deal with that”? A person’s ability to tolerate different stresses will depend on many factors such as the quality of relationships in their lives, their general outlook on life, emotional intelligence, and even genetics. It really goes to show you that we are unique and can manage stress in unique ways.
Anything that puts high demands on a person or forces them to adjust their normal state can be considered stressful. What determines if a stress will be positive or negative is a person’s perception of an event. Stress can be positive on the body such as getting excited for an upcoming event, learning a new task, or putting stress on muscles and bones during a workout. Stress turns negative when a person faces continuous challenges without relief, resolution, or relaxation between the challenges; this is also commonly known as Distress. Negative stress or distress can be caused by external factors such as relationship difficulties, financial problems, family and as most know, work. In fact, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) declared stress a hazard of the work place. It has been noted that stress costs American Industry more than $300 billion annually. Distress can also be self-generated and caused by internal causes including unrealistic expectations, negative self-talk, pessimism, perfectionism, the lack of assertiveness, and the inability to accept uncertainty. Stress of any kind stimulates a sympathetic reaction of the autonomic nervous system which is also known as the “flight or fight” reaction. When you perceive a threat or distress, your nervous system responds with a flood of stress hormones, such as Adrenaline and Cortisol, preparing the body for an emergency. The body does not distinguish between physical and psychological threats and reacts just as strongly to a thought as it would if a person were facing a life or death situation. After a certain point, distress can cause major damage to your mood, your productivity, your relationships, and most importantly your health. In a study by the Mayo Clinic it was reported that “75%-90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress related ailments and complaints.” Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in the human body. Stress likes to manifest itself in areas of the body that are already suffering, in fact, research has proven that stress can also bring on or worsen certain symptoms or disease. Stress can greatly increase the risk for general pain, heart disease, digestive problems, the inability to sleep, depression, obesity, as well as autoimmune and skin diseases such as eczema. In causing these disruptions to the body, stress will also affect a person cognitively by producing predominately negative thoughts, constant worrying, memory issues, and even the inability to concentrate. Overwhelming stress usually results in behavior changes as well. These changes can include; increases or decreases in eating, isolation from others, neglecting responsibilities, and nervous habits. People under stress have a tendency to resort to smoking, alcohol, and drugs as a way to relax and escape stress but what many aren’t aware of is that those substances keep the body in a stressed state making matters worse! So what is there to do to manage our stress?
The most important thing in managing stress is to identify the symptoms and the side effects. Next you want to become familiar with what the stressors are and try to avoid them if necessary. This part may take some practice and behavioral modification such as taking charge of your thoughts, your schedule, your environment, the way you deal with problems, and above all learn to rest and relax. There are some out there that may need the guidance and help of a therapist, but for others there are easier remedies that will make a big difference. Relaxation techniques such as Yoga, meditation, and concentrated deep breathing will activate a relaxation response allowing the body to reach a state of restfulness that is the complete opposite of the stress response. Another great way to reduce your stress and relax your mind and body is with massage therapy. Massage therapy has many great benefits including relieving muscular tension and improving blood circulation. In a study cited by the Journal of Applied Behavioral Sciences, it was noted that “stress increases muscle tension, while massage decreases muscle tension. When a muscle is continually tightened, circulation is reduced, blocking the absorption of oxygen and nutrients. Massage helps by loosening, stretching, and lengthening the muscle fibers. This process increases circulation, bringing oxygen and nutrients back to the area of tension, creating a sense of well-being. ” Massage also improves the function of your lymphatic system, or detoxification system, so it more efficiently filters out more of the wastes and toxins that build up from stress. As stated earlier, stress increases blood pressure and can weaken the immune system; however, massage therapy has been proven to lower blood pressure and increase the production of disease fighting white blood cells. It was also noted previously that stress increases the levels of the stress hormone Cortisol. High Cortisol levels affect your heart, lungs, circulatory, and digestive system. Massage has been proven to not only reduce Cortisol levels by about 30%, but massage also increases the levels of the feel good hormones Seratonin, Oxytocin, and Dopamine. The increases of the neurotransmitters calm the body, balance mood, help with focus as well as overall well-being. It’s easy to see how simple things can make such a big difference in how stress affects you and your life.
Stress stems from all parts of our lives and has become increasingly common in the modern world and our fast-paced lifestyles. If left alone and untreated, stress can have an extremely damaging effect on our bodies and our lives. It is important to be able to identify the symptoms and the stressors and then take the appropriate actions. Stress cannot be completely eliminated from our lives but we do have the power and ability to control how much it affects us. You can learn to manage stress and not let stress manage you!