Our bodies have forgotten how relaxation feels. We have come to accept our fast-paced, over-loaded, and increasingly impersonal lives as normal. As self-help author and motivational speaker Richard Carlson stated, "Stress is nothing more than a socially acceptable form of mental illness."
Stress can be seductive and strong, dominating our lives and luring us in with the adrenaline rush of life on full throttle. Too much to do with too little time is our national anthem. Some label it the American Way or modern living. But perhaps it is our collective insanity that has us all convinced that our exhaustion from competing demands, overabundant choices, and over-extended schedules is either natural or impossible to avoid.
What Is Stress Anyway?
Stress is the gradual and insidious running down of our general health. Outside pressures such as work, family tensions, and bad nutrition take their toll on our mind, body and spirit. Stress can also emanate from inside us through negative thoughts, constant worrying and low self-esteem. No matter what the gender, economic status, or position, no one is immune from the damaging effects of stress.
Chronic stress undermines the body's ability to fix itself and causes psychological and physical disease. We can hardly pick up a newspaper or watch television without seeing and hearing about a new study relating stress to a variety of illnesses. A public health survey estimated that 70 to 80 percent of Americans who visit conventional physicians suffer from stress-related or "lifestyle" diseases. Perhaps the most damaging effect of stress is that we have lost touch with just how much this chronic tension is controlling our relationships, our physical health, and our emotional well-being.
Consider stress on the freeway. If you want to break it down to what the cell understands, it is chemical stress because of the smog. Being on the freeway is emotional stress because you are not happy to be there. Being on the freeway is structural stress because your heart and lungs and kidneys don't function as well when you are cramped up in your tight little car seat. -- Dr.Vincent Medici
Symptoms of Stress
- Heart Disease
- Poor Immunity
- Eating Disorders
- High Blood Pressure
- Gastrointestinal Distress
- Muscular Pain
- Tight Muscles
- Memory Loss
- Sleep Disturbances
- Racing Heart
- Sexual Dysfunction
- Mental Illness
- Low Back Pain
- Substance Abuse
- Shortness of Breath
THE STRESS RESPONSE: FIGHT OR FLIGHT -- The Sympathetic Nervous System
The stress response is our body's rapid and automatic switch into high gear. During the stress response our body is like a plane readying itself for take-off. Our heart, blood, lungs, digestion, and brain are all activated and set to go. This reaction helps us deal with physical threats by giving us more energy, speed, concentration, and agility to protect ourselves or to run as fast as possible. But physical threats aren't the only events that trigger this stress response. Psychological threats — pressures at work, interpersonal issues, money worries, illness, or the death of a loved one — can also set off the same alarm system. Even the typical day-to-day demands of living can contribute to our body's stress response.
Any situation that we perceive as dangerous, even subconsciously or falsely, is experienced as a threat to our sympathetic nervous system. Our bodies react by prompting our adrenal glands to release a series of stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, increasing our heart rate, elevating our blood pressure, and boosting our energy.
Under most circumstances, once the acute threat has passed our relaxation response returns all systems to neutral. But modern life poses ongoing stressful situations that are not short-lived, creating chronic stress.Thus we run on a fight-or-flight reaction longer than is necessary or healthy.
What is good for the body on a short-term basis can be very harmful over long periods of time. A nervous system under chronic stress can, as a result, either become hyperactive (frenetic) or hypoactive (underactive). The disharmony of these two natural and essential forces can then imbalance many of our physiological activities and contribute to, or create, various physical and psychological conditions.
THE STRESS RESPONSE: REST AND DIGEST -- The Parasympathetic Nervous System
How we perceive a stress-provoking event will determine its impact on our health. Not all stressful situations are negative.The birth of a child, a job promotion, or a new relationship may not be perceived as dangerous to our body. However, we may feel that these situations are stressful because they are new or we are not fully prepared to deal with them.
Perhaps nothing can age us more rapidly — internally and externally — than high stress. Unfortunately, when we are under stress it is difficult for us to maintain the habits that lead to a healthy life. Instead of exercising, some people respond by inactivity and overeating. Instead of eating healthy, we succumb to increasingly poor nutritional choices. Instead of practicing moderation, we abuse alcohol, smoke, and self-medicate.
How to Manage the Impact that Life Events Have on You
Although stress is a fact of life, steps can be taken to manage the impact that life events have on you. First, learn to identify stressful events and develop healthy ways of dissipating this daily strain, such as exercise, healthy eating, social support, and psychotherapy. Add to that regular massage, which can be very effective in balancing the nervous system and restoring homeostasis (physical balance and equilibrium). The skin and muscles contain many nerve endings and connections. The soothing, balancing, healing touch of massage is relayed by them to every part of the body to bring relief and promote well-being.
Touch Communications Home Massage is an excellent method you can bring into your daily life to alleviate tension and remind the body how relaxation feels.There is no single cure-all, but integrating home massage into your life can help you manage stress, connect with the people you love, create a peaceful home environment, and help you enjoy a longer, healthier life.
©2011 Chuck Fata & Suzette Hodnett. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Findhorn Press. www.findhornpress.com
This article was adapted with permission from the book:
Home Massage: Transforming Family Life through the Healing Power of Touch
by Chuck Fata and Suzette Hodnett.
By emphasizing the innate healing power of touch to reduce stress and improve the immune system, this practical manual provides the tools for achieving health, relaxation, and connection with loved ones. Designed for the nonprofessional with simple step-by-step instructions, this book teaches the three principles that make learning massage easy and fun. Also included are ideas for bringing home massage into daily life and how to use these principles to share massage with infants, children, adolescents, spouses, and the elderly.
About the Authors
Chuck Fata was a nationally certified massage therapist and co-founder of Touch Communications Home Massage, Inc. He taught professionally at the Santa Monica School of Shiatsu and the California College of Physical Arts as well as massage workshops and retreats for non-professionals.
Suzette Hodnett, M.S., also co-founder of TCHM, has more than 20 years experience as a licensed psychotherapist, professional artist and Tai Chi Sandan instructor. She currently works as a Life Coach, blending her experience to bring emotional and physical health to youth and adults. With Jackie Sloan, CMT, she offers retreats, lectures and workshops nationwide to promote relaxation, connection, and the healing power of touch.