The Effects Of Stress
We have all heard of stress but what exactly is it and how does it affect the body if left untreated? When faced with a situation we perceive as stressful, the nervous system responds by producing changes in the body that enable us to cope. This is commonly known as the “fight or flight” syndrome. Stress becomes negative when a person faces continuous challenges without relief or relaxation between challenges. As a result, the person becomes overworked, and stress-related tension builds.
To understand this a little better we need to look at the nervous system. There are two branches of the nervous system. The voluntary system controls conscious movement whereas the autonomic nervous system (ANS) controls involuntary and automatic bodily activity such as breathing and heart rate. It is the autonomic nervous system that is responsible for the flight or fight response. The ANS comprises the parasympathetic system, which continuously maintains the resting state of all organs and processes, and the sympathetic system, which is excited mainly in difficult situations. It is the sympathetic system which prepares the body and mind for action through the secretion of hormones. This response is very useful in certain situations certainly in mans prehistoric days helping them to run faster or fight harder. The body responds in a number of ways when the sympathetic nervous system activates the flight or fight response. The heart rate will increase, blood pressure will rise, muscles will tense ready for action, blood is diverted away from the digestion system and irrelevant parts of the brain, the immune system is suppressed and breathing rate will increase. We have all experienced this reaction for instance on the road when another car cuts us up, or when we get angry at work. You can usually feel the surge of adrenaline in your body. This clearly is a useful response short term when in physical danger but long term effects are extremely damaging.
Long term effects of stress:
- Suppression of digestion leading to stomach related disease such as stomach ulcers and IBS
- Chronic/tense muscles
- Suppression of immune system making body susceptible to disease
- Increased anxiety
- Decreased energy levels
- Increased likelihood of heart attack due to increase of fatty deposits on artery walls and increased blood pressure
Massage helps to reverse stress by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system helping the body return to its natural resting state. Quite often when clients are being massage their stomachs starts to gurgle and they feel quite embarrassed. On the contrary this is great because it signals to me that parasympathetic nervous systems is working and normal functioning of the stomach is taking place, the bodies natural healing response is taking place! Sometimes at the beginning of a session I will do some guided breathing exercises with a client. By getting the client to breath deeply and slowly you are stimulating the parasympathetic system so if your ever stressed taking deep breaths actually helps. I hope this explains why long term stress is so damaging and how massage can help.