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
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