Understanding Stress and Anxiety

How your body reacts | How massage and Yoga Can help

The Situation – Stimulating the Stress Response

You and your family are going away on a family holiday, everyone is super excited and ready to go in the car, when your partner forgets something in the house and runs in to get it, delaying the journey a little. Your partner returns, and you set off towards the airport. The Children begin to niggle at each other in the back seat and traffic becomes heavy, so much so it stops. The time is ticking, and you think that you may miss the flight… You crack up and the family argument begins aka The Stress Response Begins!! Your heart races, the breath quickens, and your muscles are tense for action. Perfect to protect and to prepare to you react quickly to an emergency. Perhaps not so perfect when you sat sedentary in a car in traffic with your family heading off on your holidays.

What is Stress?

First of all, stress is very complex with multiple factors and multiple outcomes.

Stress is the response to a perceived situation, being difficult to handle or threatening.1

There are different factors that can trigger stress, including external factors such as environmental or events and internal factors such as expectations, attitudes, and emotions. The internal factors can explain why some people might be more predisposed to stress, for example, people who are competitive, aggressive or excitable nature.

Stress is the body’s natural response to stimulus and for short-term situations, stress can be beneficial to your health, it can be lifesaving, motivating challenging us to the greater endeavor. Look at athletes, for example, a little stress can help win a race.

However, if the stress response doesn’t stop firing and the duration lasts for longer periods, even if the stimulus is not significant, but small and ongoing, we can lose what represents the core of the human experience- happiness, compassion, joy, and love.1 Take the example above, none of these stressors are particularly severe, but amounted have the potential to send us into a state of anger and irritation towards our loved ones.

If stress is prolonged and ongoing, it can cause fatigue of the body’s systems leading to behavioral or physical problems.1 Illness can also cause stress and so the cycle can go round and round…  Look at chronically tense muscles, for example, the muscles are tense which then stimulates the stress response in the mind resulting in increased stress and more tension in your muscles.1

Stress on the body: How it works and short terms effects

The hypothalamus aka the stress control center in the brain is part of the Central Nervous System CNS(Brain and Spinal Cord). The fastest response to stress is sent via the neurons in the CNS to the inner part of the adrenal gland, the adrenal medulla to release Adrenaline and Noradrenaline hormones into the bloodstream.

Whilst this is happening, the hypothalamus also sends a signal to the Pituitary Gland that’s sits below it, activating the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) which sends a further signal to the outer part of the Adrenal Gland, the Adrenal Cortex, releasing Cortisol hormone. This signal takes longer to reach the Adrenal Cortex and the Cortisol hormones stay in the body for a longer period, sustaining the stress response.

The body is then pushed into hyper-alert state. Triggering the Fight or Flight response (The sympathetic nerves system response)

The immediate physiological effects that this causes on the body include:

  • Dilation of blood vessels
  • Increased breathing
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Increased blood sugar levels
  • Muscle Tense for action causing changes in digestion due to the increased blood flow directed to the muscles and away from the gastrointestinal tract.

Effects that long-term Stress has on the Body

fibromyalgia, digestive ailments, insomnia, hypertension and anxiety disorders…..

Wellington Yoga

Copstead & Banasik (2010) p 25, Fig 2 -3

Stress Management – How Massage Therapy & Yoga Can Help

Massage is thought to be an excellent contributor to managing stress, alongside mental, spiritual, social and environmental considerations. For example, seeking counsel, or doing exercise, changing your diet, changing your perception, including relaxation techniques and adapting your environment.

Having personally worked in Corporate offices from Media groups to banking whilst I lived in London, it was amazing to see how regular massage appointments helped relieve employees stress in the workplace.

Massage therapy can help reduce symptoms of stress via the pressure applied during a massage. This has the potential to stimulate the parasympathetic response, the ‘rest and digest’ part of the nervous system that aids with the relaxation response, increasing feelings of well-being and calm. Whilst giving the body a chance to heal, reducing feelings of anxiety, depression, pain, improving quality of sleep and aiding in pain relief. 2

Massage can also help to alleviate further symptoms of stress. Studies have shown that it can also decrease the stress hormone cortisol by 31% whilst increasing feel-good hormones Serotonin by 28%  and Dopamine by  31% 3.

As I mentioned before Chronically tense muscles also result in numerous stress-related disorders, including headaches, backache, spasms of the colon resulting in diarrhea or constipation, posture problems, asthma, lockjaw, muscle tears/pulls and so on.4

 Massage can help alleviate these symptoms by encouraging the relaxation response. Here is what we offer and how they can help:

Relaxing Massage Uses a series of techniques long gliding strokes, kneading and friction techniques and gentle holds that can help to encourage the relaxation response.

Therapeutic and Sports Massage Can help release chronic patterns of muscular tension using slow strokes, direct pressure or friction. Trigger point massage helps break the cycle of spasm and pain.

How Our Relax and Restore Sessions can help.

Relax and Restore. Yin Yoga.

Relax and Restore is a series of approaches tailored for the individual to help promote Relaxation and Stress Release. A Combination of techniques may be used in these sessions:

  • Guided relaxation techniques (developed by physician Edmund Jacobson) to aid with muscular tension release, Whilst decreasing our breathing, pulse rate, blood pressure, and metabolism.
  • Guided Mindfulness Meditation techniques helping you become aware of your body and the sensations you feel in the moment, understanding the physical triggers of the stress response. But also how to be present at the moment with kindness. Understanding what you practice grows stronger.
  • Yoga postures Sequence especially for you. With hands-on Adjustments to aid relaxation.
  • Self-massage using Myofascial ball release to release areas of tension.
  • Pranayama breathing techniques to help calm the nervous system

1 Book Controlling Stress and Tension

2 A Meta-Analysis of Massage Therapy Research

3 Acolet (1993