A Stress Management Program Can Save Your Life
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Stress is the number-one cause of human death. Cancer, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and almost all of the major diseases are linked to stress. External sources of stress, such as a bad day, affect the human body’s physiology in several adverse ways including a diminished immune system as well as a bio-chemical breakdown. According to research, the first major research on stress, the fight or flight emergency response of the sympathetic nervous system and endocrine system is initiated during acute stress in order for the body to react to the external stressors. This response redirects energy from routine body functions like digestion and repair of the body to the extremities so the body will be able to flee or fight. This is believed to be an evolutionary development to help the body function when predators would threaten prehistoric man (Selye). Chronic stress works the same way except slower.
Several years ago, I was working for the TSA (Transportation Security Administration). It was a very stressful job. While working overtime with the TSA, I was also enrolled full-time in massage school. The combined stress from work and school plus the physical exhaustion, caused the levels of glucose in my blood to go to over four times the normal amount. At that time, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. The good news is that stress can be managed with various techniques. Fortunately, I later found out that my form of diabetes was only temporary and I was able to reverse it by reducing my stress, which then helped me lose weight. I quit my job with the TSA after graduating massage school. I started working as a massage therapist, which is far less stressful than airport security. I also learned several stress management techniques as part of my massage therapy training. As I did my stress management techniques, my blood glucose levels returned to normal and I lost about sixty pounds of body weight. A good stress management program will not only reverse the adverse effects of stress, but can also improve the overall health and wellness of the body, mind, and spirit.
First of all, massage therapy is a great way to start an excellent stress management program and to start repairing the damage to the body that stress has caused. A professional, licensed massage therapist is not only trained in the art of therapeutic massage, but also at creating a meditative atmosphere in the massage treatment room. The rhythmic strokes of the therapist hands create an almost hypnotic state while soothing the muscles and expelling toxins out of the body. This relaxed state will balance the body’s bio-chemical state and naturally stimulate the immune system. One of the hormones that help us deal with stress is cortisol. Cortisol works in a less than perfect way. When stress is high, more cortisol is released. Cortisol then makes the brain crave more food to get more nutrition; however, this action causes excessive weight gain. Cortisol also affects the heart to make it pump harder which raises the blood pressure. Cortisol is also responsible for insomnia. Melatonin is the hormone that tells the body to sleep. It is the inverse to cortisol. The more cortisol that is in the body at a time, the less melatonin is released. A good relaxing massage, as well as a regular exercise routine, will contribute to a good night’s sleep, which will then reduce extra food cravings in the brain. The eighth hour of sleep is the most important to control night cravings caused by excess cortisol levels. During REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is when the body is in active repair mode. The entire cellular repair is done during REM sleep.
Second, meditation and relaxation techniques are great additions to a stress management program and a healthy mind. These techniques are lighter forms of hypnosis. When the mind is stressed, it is out of focus, fatigued, and cannot operate to it’s full potential. Mistakes are made when the mind is stressed. Routine daily activities, such as driving, become impaired when the mind is not at peak efficiency. In Ancient China, an out of focus mind would be called “monkey brain.” The mind jumps from thought to thought like the monkey jumps from tree to tree. Meditation puts the mind in focus. Certain focusing techniques are generally used during professionally guided meditation. An example of a focusing meditation would be the candlelight technique. The person meditating would concentrate on the flame from a candle placed in the center of the room. Then the person would close the eyes and keep the image of the flame alive in the mind. If the image fades, the one meditating would open the eyes to acquire the image again until it remains in the mind. This will bring focus as well as improve concentration skills. Meditation is a higher state of consciousness that can be measured by the brain’s alpha waves, which are recorded on an EEG. In addition to meditation, the use of adaptogens (herbs that increase resistance to stress) like ginseng and nutrient dense foods rich in vitamin B will also fight the mind’s fatigue.
Finally, there are several energy therapies to restore a stressed spirit. Originating from the East, energy therapies like Shiatsu, Acupressure, Reiki, Tai Chi and Qi Gong are used to balance and energize the spirit as well and the mind and body. Oriental medicine is based on the five elements: fire, water, earth, wood, and metal. For example, if someone has too much fire energy, they need more water energy to extinguish some of the fire energy. Qi Gong and Tai Chi are exercises one can do by oneself on a daily basis. Yoga also has a lot of energetic benefits as well. The healthy spirit is one of emotional balance as well as several other attributes. Balancing the energy in the body will harmonize the emotional state and the spirit. A stressed spirit will yell at family, friends, and other people that should not be yelled at such as the boss at work or a police officer who was about to let you off with only a warning. A stressed spirit will also disrupt one’s social well-being. The energy therapies will not only prevent an emotional breakdown but will also balance the spirit. A well balanced, harmonized, and stress managed spirit will be more likely to find happiness, love, wealth, joy, friendship, and inner peace.
As a licensed massage therapist, I am often able to help my clients manage stress. They usually do not even realize all the benefits they receive from their sessions. Most do not know how I contributed to preventing horrible, life-threatening diseases that stress has been known to cause. They just know how good it feels and how well I can make their muscles feel afterwards. They also experience relief from migraines and headaches. I try to inform them about the importance of other stress reduction therapies they should try, but they usually just want the massage. The balance of a healthy mind, body and spirit is crucial to overall health. Stress is much more than a bad day at the office. It is the origin of dysfunction but it can be managed. Eighty-five percent of all diseases can be prevented with healthy lifestyle choices. A combination of a good diet, an exercise routine, and a regular stress management program can lead to a long, healthy, and happy life.
Selye, H. The Stress of Life. New York: McGraw-Hill 1978