What is stress?
Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand. It can be caused by both good and bad experiences. When people feel stressed by something going on around them, their bodies react by releasing chemicals into the blood. These chemicals give people more energy and strength, which can be a good thing if their stress is caused by physical danger. But this can also be a bad thing, if their stress is in response to something emotional and there is no outlet for this extra energy and strength. This class will discuss different causes of stress, how stress affects you, the difference between ‘good’ or ‘positive’ stress and ‘bad’ or ‘negative’ stress, and some common facts about how stress affects people today.
What causes stress?
Many different things can cause stress — from physical (such as fear of something dangerous) to emotional (such as worry over your family or job.) Identifying what may be causing you stress is often the first step in learning how to better deal with your stress. Some of the most common sources of stress are:
- Survival Stress – You may have heard the phrase “fight or flight” before. This is a common response to danger in all people and animals. When you are afraid that someone or something may physically hurt you, your body naturally responds with a burst of energy so that you will be better able to survive the dangerous situation (fight) or escape it all together (flight). This is survival stress.
- Internal Stress – Have you ever caught yourself worrying about things you can do nothing about or worrying for no reason at all? This is internal stress and it is one of the most important kinds of stress to understand and manage. Internal stress is when people make themselves stressed. This often happens when we worry about things we can’t control or put ourselves in situations we know will cause us stress. Some people become addicted to the kind of hurried, tense, lifestyle that results from being under stress. They even look for stressful situations and feel stress about things that aren’t stressful.
- Environmental Stress – This is a response to things around you that cause stress, such as noise, crowding, and pressure from work or family. Identifying these environmental stresses and learning to avoid them or deal with them will help lower your stress level.
Fatigue and Overwork – This kind of stress builds up over a long time and can take a hard toll on your body. It can be caused by working too much or too hard at your job(s), school, or home. It can also be caused by not knowing how to manage your time well or how to take time out for rest and relaxation. This can be one of the hardest kinds of stress to avoid because many people feel this is out of their control. Later in this course we will show you that you DO have options and offer some useful tips for dealing with fatigue.
How does stress affect you?
Stress can affect both your body and your mind. People under large amounts of stress can become tired, sick, and unable to concentrate or think clearly. Sometimes, they even suffer mental breakdowns.
Loved ones can become unfortunate victims of stress in your life. You will find yourself less patient and less able to mentally engage with the people you care about.
Massage therapy is one of the best antidotes for stress. We know this is true on an intuitive level. If even the untrained hands of a friend or partner can soothe aches and pains, and diminish anxiety, then imagine the effect of a therapeutic massage by a trained practitioner. Even the rituals of massage come as a welcome break from our hurried lives: dimmed lights, soothing music, the pleasant fragrance of a mild oil or candle – even without massage, these might help you relax. But coupled with the right massage techniques, you’ll actually feel the stress leaving.
Massage boosts the body’s immune system, which can become compromised from extended periods of stress. Tension can build up in the muscles, causing a decrease in circulation and nutrient delivery to tissues.
Manipulation of the soft tissue decreases muscular tension, increases removal of metabolic waste and promotes nutrient delivery to healing tissue. Knots in your muscles can inhibit your ability to perform regular, daily tasks. As other parts of your body try to compensate for the ache of a tight muscle, they also start to become tight and uncomfortable. Before long, an injury that began in your neck can trace to your shoulder, down your arm and into your wrist. The reaction chain can take innumerable forms, but none of them are pleasant.
In short, with a therapeutic massage, stress can be significantly reduced. This, in turn, will increase energy, improve your outlook on life, and in the process boost your immune system function. Coupled with modest changes in nutrition and activity levels, massage can be the start of a profound change for the better in your health and well-being.
Few sensual experiences rival a full-body massage for pleasure and stress relief — at least among those things you can talk about in front of the children at the dinner table. Word on the health benefits of massage therapy for stress relief has spread. In 2006, 39 million Americans — one in six adults — had at least one massage, according to a nationwide survey by the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA).
When you can’t get to a massage therapist, you can still reap many of the benefits of this age-old healing practice — with your own hands. WebMD consulted several massage experts to find these simple, self-massage techniques that incorporate the best soothing rubs and pressure-point applications that massage has to offer.
Try them on yourself — or someone you love — throughout the day to boost your energy and increase concentration. You can also use them at night to relax and get a good night’s sleep. You’ll find the benefits of massage therapy for stress relief are only the beginning.
Massage Therapy to Relieve Tired Eyes-
“This one is great for tired eyes from staring at the computer — it brings circulation to the area and relieves sinus pressure, eye strain, and headaches,” says Dale Grust, President of the New York Chapter of the American Massage Therapy Association and a licensed massage therapist in New Paltz, N.Y., for 23 years.
- Close your eyes. Place your thumbs under your eyebrows, starting at the inside corner of each eye socket. Press and gently move the thumbs in tiny circles, working slowly towards the outsides of your eyebrows and continuing this movement all around your eyes, ending back at the bridge of your nose.
- Repeat this several times, spending a little extra time at the indentation of the inner eye socket, where the bridge of the nose meets the ridge of the eyebrows – an especially tender point on many people.
Massage Therapy to Relax the Hands
(Here are several moves that will relieve the strain from pounding the keyboard all day.)
- Stretch your hands and fingers out. Rub each finger from the base to the tip, gently pulling and twisting each finger as you go.
- Next, rest your left hand, palm upward, on your lap. Squeeze the fleshy part of your palm between your right thumb and index finger, moving from your wrist to the base of your thumb.
- Now squeeze that web between your left index finger and thumb several times, looking for any tender points.
- Then rub the entire palm with your right thumb, applying firm pressure and using gliding strokes from the wrist to the base of each finger.
- Repeat this process on your right hand.
“Massaging the hands is not only great for the hands but can help to relieve headaches as well,” Grust says. The hands, like the feet, contain reflexology points that correspond to the entire body, including the head, neck, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and sinuses.
Massage Therapy to Relieve Neck Tension-
- While you are sitting there at the computer, mold your hands over your shoulders. Exhale, letting your head drop back as you slowly squeeze your fingers towards your palms, gliding up the muscles of your back and shoulders towards your neck.
- Now, rest your elbows on your desk, allowing your head to drop forward slightly. Massage your neck from your shoulders to the base of your skull using your fingertips to make small deep circles into the muscles on either side of your spine.
- Place both hands on the back of your head, interlacing the fingers. Drop your head forward and allow the weight of your elbows to pull your head gently down, stretching the muscles of your neck and those that run down your back.
Massage Therapy to Loosen Tight Shoulders-
You will need a tennis ball or solid rubber ball for this one. “Once I was desperate and couldn’t find a ball, so I used an apple,” Grust says. “It felt amazing, but the apple took a beating.”
- Stand 18 inches from the wall, with your feet hip distance apart. Go into a partial squat with your buttocks against the wall.
- Lean forward, placing the ball behind your back at the top of your shoulder.
- Slowly stand up — an inch at a time — pressing against the wall and letting the ball roll slowly down the muscles along the side of your spine, stopping when you find a tender point and waiting for the pain to subside.
- Reverse the process, slowing sitting down into a squat, and allowing the ball to move back up to the top of your shoulder muscle.
- Now switch sides, moving the ball to the other side of your body and repeat the same slow massage.
(Not only will you be releasing the tension from your shoulders, but you will also be developing strong leg muscles at the same time.
Massage Therapy to Release the Lower Back)
- Stand up and put your hands on your waist, with your thumbs behind you and fingers facing forward.
- Gently press your thumbs into the muscles at either side of the spine — but be careful not to press on the spine itself.
- Keep your thumbs pressed in while you move in a very tiny motion — up, down, and around in a tiny circle. Spend extra time where you find a tender point – making sure not to cause pain.
- Move your thumbs gradually, an inch at a time, up either side of the spine as far as your hands can comfortably reach. Then gradually move back down your back and press on the bony surface of the sacrum.
Massage Therapy to Soothe Tired Feet-
- Bring your left foot onto the seat of your chair so you can see your instep. Using your right thumb, apply very firm pressure along the side of your foot, working from the heel to the big toe. Walk your thumb across the ridge where the toes meet the ball of your foot. When you get to the small toe, use your thumb and index finger to squeeze and twist along the entire surface of the toe. Work each toe individually until you get back to the large toe. Take all of your toes in one hand and stretch them back and forth, bending and flexing.
- While supporting the top of your left foot with your left hand, use the knuckles of your right hand to apply deep pressure to the entire surface of the bottom of your foot, working from the heel to the toes and back down.
- Stretch your toes, flex and extend your feet, and do a few ankle rotations.
- Repeat the entire process on the right foot
Keep in Mind Before You Start-
With all of these exercises, remember, you never want to cause yourself pain — but you do want to reach the area that is tender, because that is where the tension is. Always stretch the muscle out after massaging the area.
“If these moves do not ease your pain, contact your doctor to rule out any underlying medical problem,” says massage therapist Dale Grust. “Never substitute self massage for proper medical treatment.”