Surprisingly, the answer is yes, with research showing over and over that the healthiest and most productive people are those that learn to manage stress - not avoid it.
Since stress stimulates your physical and mental performance, you actually want to find ways to keep it at an optimal level. This way, it becomes a positive force in your life.
So, as unbelievable as it sounds, the name of the game is not to try to eliminate your stress.
Stress 101 - The Basics
Simply put - stress begins when demands are placed on you.
Your mind then has to try to figure out whether or not those demands are at all threatening (either physically or psychologically).
If your brain decides there’s a chance of harm, then it triggers a "stress response" (also called a "fight or flight response" because it causes the same bodily changes that let your ancient ancestors fight or flee from predators).
And here’s what happens when the "stress response" is triggered:
1. Your heart rate and blood pressure increase (to get blood to your muscles).
2. Your breath becomes quick and shallow (to get oxygen to your muscles).
3. Your muscles tense (to prepare for activity).
4. Your digestive and reproductive systems shut down (to conserve energy).
5. Fats and sugars are released into your bloodstream (to provide energy).
6. Hormones are released (to keep you awake and alert).
Now remember, all of these physiological changes happening in your body with this "stress response" occur for only one reason - to prepare your body for physical action.
But, fighting or fleeing isn’t really useful for dealing with most stresses you commonly run into (i.e. money worries, relationship problems, co-worker troubles).
Plus, since you don’t have a physical outlet, the stress literally builds up in your body, possibly showing up in these ways:
*tension turning into chronic headaches, neck/shoulder/back pain
*an inability to sleep well
*never seeming to feel rested
*constantly feeling tired
*little energy to deal with problems effectively
*a reduced ability to relax
*a body or mind that can’t slow down and unwind
*a lowered threshold for handling stress
*increasing difficulty coping with even small stresses
*taking time for recreational activities seems burdensome
And, over time, you could even find yourself stuck in a self-perpetuating cycle of stress.
Why Is Massage So Effective In Managing Stress?
Massage triggers a "relaxation response" that counters the "stress response".
So, when you’re under chronic or severe stress, massage can be a quick and effective solution to help your body restore its balance.
As a massage progresses, and the "relaxation response" kicks in, you’ll find that:
1. Your heart rate and blood pressure decrease.
2. Your breathing deepens.
3. Your muscles start to relax (as tension is gently kneaded away).
4. Painful sensations gradually subside.
5. Your mind focuses on the pleasant sensations, not your worries.
6. Your feelings of anxiety decrease.
7. Your mood improves (possibly through the release of hormones called endorphins).
If You’re Considering Massage On A Regular Basis...
The main reason for massage’s popularity is the immediate relaxation effect.
And as someone who’s been doing chair massage for 8 years, I totally agree.
But, different benefits are associated with regular massage.
Research has shown that the effects of massage become more pronounced and last longer the more often you go.
As well, repeatedly experiencing deep relaxation with massage helps you retain the feeling of relaxation throughout your daily activities.
Also, massage makes you more aware of sensations in your body, which allows you to notice more subtle signs of stress and tension. And paying attention to these early warning signs lets you take control of your stress, before it takes control of you.
What If You Don’t Have Time To See A Massage Professional?
You can use your breath to help you release tension.
Under stress, your breathing becomes fast and shallow because you’re breathing from your chest and not taking deep relaxed breaths from your abdomen. This heightens your stress and causes unwanted tension through your neck and shoulders.
Fortunately, you can interrupt this pattern simply by using deep or "diaphragmatic" breathing.
In fact, with diaphragmatic breathing, you’ll feel the tension releasing from your back, neck, shoulders and chest. And, as your breathing becomes more relaxed, your mind will relax and you’ll feel less stress and anxiety.
Tips For Diaphragmatic (Deep) Breathing
You can do it either sitting or laying down.
Focus on the sensations you are feeling in your body as you breathe.
Repeat the sequence six to eight times.
If you start to feel light-headed, stop immediately.
Practice it several times a day.
And by all means, don’t just do deep breathing when you’re uptight. If you do it when you’re relaxed, you’ll become much better at slowing yourself down when the pressure’s on.
Place one hand on your chest, the other on your abdomen, and follow the illustrations that you download here:
If you have specific health concerns, consult your medical doctor. The information in this article is educational only and is not intended to replace the advice of your personal health care provider(s).
This article may be freely reprinted or distributed in its entirety in any e-zine, newsletter, blog or website. The author's name, bio and website links must remain intact and be included with every production.
By Chris Simon, CCMP Certified Chair Massage Practitioner
All rights reserved. Any reproducing of this article must have the author name and all the links intact.