Stress can damage your health

Stress is an inevitable part of life but it can have a detrimental effect on your heath and well-being.

People have very different ideas with respect to their definition of stress. Probably the most common is, “physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension”. Another popular definition of stress is, “a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.”

We have all at some point in our lives experienced how stress can manifest itself within our bodies on a physical level and how it can affect us on a psychological level.

We need some stress in our lives, it keeps us on our toes and can help us to escape from dangerous situations. However beyond a certain point stress can stop being helpful and can start to cause major damage to your health, mood, productivity, relationships and your quality of life.

There are many factors that can cause us to feel stressed, relationship problems, financial concerns, worries about redundancy, work overload and deadlines, travelling on overcrowded public transport or driving cars. The nature of your job can also cause stress. Stress may come from a single experience e.g. the death of a loved one or may be continual e.g. working long hours in order to meet deadlines on a regular basis. Even happy events can be stressful such as preparing for a wedding or pregnancy.

We all cope with stress in different ways. Some people may comfort eat, drink alcohol or smoke to calm themselves down. Others may find healthier alternatives that help them unwind and de-stress, such as exercise, yoga or massage. We also react to stress in different ways. Two people going for a job promotion may respond differently, one may feel excited at the prospect of change and new challenges whereas the other may be very nervous and worry throughout the interview.

HOW THE BODY RESPONDS TO STRESS

When you perceive a threat, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones prepare the body for emergency action. Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper. These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, speed your reaction time, and enhance your focus – preparing you to either fight or flee from the danger at hand.

Some physical symptoms of stress include muscle tension. Habitually holding your muscles tight means they are constantly working, never getting a chance to rest even when you are sleeping. Going around with hunched shoulders is a classic sign of excessive tension. Clenching your jaw and teeth grinding when stressed can lead to a condition called Temporomandibular joint disorder or syndrome (TMJ). This can cause tooth and jaw pain and also headaches.

Stress can contribute to breathing problems as your breathing will tend to be more rapid and shallow. Which doesn’t enable the effective exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide when you breathe. Stress can suppress the immune system making you more susceptible to colds, flu and other illnesses.

Digestive issues such as stomach upsets, constipation, diarrhoea and irritable bowel syndrome can also be attributed to stress. Insomnia and difficulty sleeping can occur due to stress. This lack of restorative sleep can leave you feeling tired during the day, which may affect your ability to work effectively. Stress can cause feelings of anxiety, depression and irritability.

HOW MASSAGE CAN REDUCE STRESS

Reduces muscle tension.

When stressed the back, neck and shoulder muscles are usually tight. This can cause headaches and back ache. Massage can help to relax the muscles and treat any pain causing trigger points.

Ease stress related stomach issues.

Gentle massage of the abdomen and back can help to release tension and encourage the digestive process.

Increase of body awareness.

Receiving a massage can make you become more aware of the areas of your body where you may be holding tension.

Clears the mind.

It is difficult to think clearly when you feel stressed as there may be many thoughts racing through your mind. A massage can help to calm your mind making it easier to think through your concerns.

Improves blood circulation.

The manipulation of the soft tissue during a massage treatment can help to stimulate and improve blood circulation. Massage encourages blood flow through the heart and lungs, which improves oxygenation of the blood.

PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF MASSAGE

Massage is able to reduce stress, anxiety and depression and give the client a feeling of well-being. A study on massage and job related stress revealed that 15 minutes of on-site massage reduced saliva levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.

Massage is one way of helping to reduce your stress levels but it cannot tackle every aspect that is causing your stress. You may also benefit from incorporating relaxation techniques into your daily life. Combining massage with yoga, healthy eating, making lifestyle changes to reduce your stress. Even considering professional help to look at the root causes of your stress, addressing the situation and making changes where possible.

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