Massage Therapy and Stress (part 1)

Posted on July 7, 2011 at 8:40 PM

Massage Therapy and Stress: Part I


“I am so stressed out!” How often have you heard or uttered these words? My guess is far too often to count! So often I am asked why I chose massage as my career and to be honest “stress” is the answer. So what is this mysterious “stress” that we talk about so often and why would this obscure word affect my choice of profession?


Stress is a word that we throw around almost daily but do we really understand what stress is? How it affects us? How we can recognize it in our lives and how we can manage it effectively? In part one of this three part article I will discuss some of these very things.


Most times when we use the word stress it carries a negative connotation but to start off I must explain that not all stress is bad! What we perceive as stress can also push us forward, to meet a deadline for example. But for the purposes of this article I will be talking about the negative stress; that which causes us unwanted pressure in our lives and then as a result of that pressure, has many physical, mental and emotional effects as well.


What is stress and where does it come from? For my purpose I found this definition fits best…..


“Stress is what you experience when you believe that you can not cope effectively with a situation.”


I love this definition because it has one basic element that most of us need to understand, and once we do understand it, it will have a profound impact on how we deal with everything in life. It is our “belief that we can not cope” …..If it is our belief, then that means that we have control, yet in most cases we feel just the opposite.


Our beliefs create our thoughts, and our thoughts create our feelings, and our feelings create our actions. If these thoughts, feelings and actions come from a belief that we can not cope it will cause us a create deal of stress! Our thoughts and feelings also cause a physical reaction that result in the release of chemicals in the body that affects all of our body’s systems. For example, the sympathetic nervous system reacts with the fight or flight response resulting in the circulation of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.


Why is stress such a buzz word? Are there more stressful things in our life than there used to be? Well in fact, yes there are. And the ironic part is that much of it is supposed to make our lives easier. Here is a short list of common stressors:

• Major Life Events: death, divorce/separation, job loss, marriage, bankruptcy, serious illness, moving, birth of children…this is a familiar list to many of us

• Workplace: cutbacks, increased workloads, pay freezes or cuts, unemployment, office politics, job insecurity.

• Finances: no surprise here, costs increase steadily yet our income often does not reflect the rising cost of living.

• Home/Family life: Most families now have both spouses/parents working this does not change the fact that the house still needs attending to as do any children, extended family members and pets in the home

• Community Involvement: Most people have some other commitments outside of work and the home, church groups, PTA, other community groups, sport teams, etc, all competing for our limited time

• Technology: Once upon a time, work stayed at work. There are times that we all long for the good ole days with no laptops, cell phones and blackberries.


The above list is far from being exhaustive; there are many more things that can cause us to feel out of control or anxious. But how these seemingly smaller, everyday things add up to create this feeling of stress is what is of great concern. Our reaction to each of these events of situations causes a physical reaction in the body, and over time these can add up. As a result we can often end up with some of these common complaints:

• Fatigue, lethargy

• Racing pulse, shallow breathing, heart palpitations

• Muscle tension and aches

• Tremors, shakiness

• Heartburn, indigestion, nervousness, constipation, diarrhea

• Dry mouth

• Excessive sweating, cold hands or feet

• Rashes, hives

• Nail biting

• Lowered libido

• Overeating or loss of appetite

• Sleep disturbances

• Anger, irritability, sadness, moodiness

• Worry, anxiety or panic

• Loss of sense of humor


This list is long as well and there is much more I could include, but I am sure you get the idea. Many of the above signs and symptoms could also be signs of more serious medical conditions and should always be evaluated by your healthcare professional. But you can also see that if you do happen to be diagnosed with a medical condition, that stress can also aggravate it. It becomes a vicious circle and can often make management of these health conditions more difficult if ones level of stress is not controlled.


In the second part of this blog I will look at Massage Therapy in particular and its affects on stress and anxiety as well as a variety of other conditions which can be affected by stress.

Categories: Stress Management & Self Care

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