Relaxation The antidote to stress |

Relaxation The antidote to stress

Christina Russell CMT, PFTAlpine Physical Therapy & Wellness Center P.C.Fraser, Colorado

Whether it’s a busy holiday schedule, a plunging stock market, or everyday responsibilities, you might be feeling the effects of stress.Stress is any change to which you must adapt. This ranges from the negative extreme of actual physical danger to the exhilaration of falling in love. In the past 20 years, the rate of change in our society has continued to accelerate, so it is not a surprise that the rate of stress-related illnesses has also continued to climb at an alarming rate.When we are stressed our bodies engage the flight or fight response. When this response continues unchecked during times of chronic stress, long-term negative effects can result. Sometimes the effects of stress present themselves during life events: marriage, birth of a child, a new job or the death of a loved one. Other times it’s the little things that get us as we try to juggle the responsibilities of job and family.Regardless of the trigger, stress is often accompanied by one or more negative effects impatience, frustration, irritation, anger, muscle tension, headache and indigestion. One thing is certain: The more stress we experience, the more its effects compound within us. When stress becomes chronic, it builds up in the body in a way that can lead to disease.Anytime we feel pain in our body, it is trying to tell us something. In today’s society, people are under so much stress and are in such a hurry that they don’t listen to their own bodies. When muscles contract due to stress, they put pressure on nerves, resulting in pain and numbness. The contracted muscles also restrict circulation in the body. This can cause cold hands and feet and a reduction in the healing process of an injury.Fortunately, the same mechanism that turns on the stress response can also turn it off. This is called the relaxation response. What does it mean to relax? To relax is to rest deeply in a way that is different from sleep. Deep states of sleep include periods of dreaming that increase muscular tension and other physiological signs of tension. Relaxation is a state in which there is no movement, no effort, and the brain is quiet.Common to all stress reduction techniques is putting the body in a comfortable position, with gentle attention directed toward the breath. Scientists have researched the effects of relaxation and report measurable benefits, including reduction in muscle tension and improvement in circulation.Learning to relax is at the heart of living well. The challenge is to find time in an already busy schedule. Your mind will protest that you’re wasting your time when there is so much else to be done. It is at these moments when it is most important to continue.Massage therapy is one of the most overlooked yet accessible supportive measures one can seek to reduce stress and relieve chronic pain. Intuitively we stretch an aching back or rub an area that hurts. Massage acts on the nervous system to counteract the body’s response to stress, relaxing muscle tension, increasing circulation and returning the body toward a more normal state. Many people sleep better after a massage, helping the body heal. Massage will also help one become aware of unconsciously held tension and how it feels to relax.More often than not, most of us need to have the pain signals registering pretty high on the pain scale before we do anything about it. Pain is our signal that things are out of balance. If we continue to ignore these messages, then the path back to healing often will take longer. Many people are discovering that if they receive massage therapy or engage in other de-stressing activities on a regular basis, they will reduce stress in their bodies and can potentially eliminate health problems down the road.While we can’t always control the stress factors in our lives, we can choose to combat the effects of stress with various relaxation methods. Massage therapy on a regular basis not only feels wonderful but revitalizes the spirit and gives one a sense of well-being, improving quality of life.

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