by Koni Sims
It is well known that a balanced life is essential to optimal health. Balancing diet, exercise, work, play, and social relationships are all important in one’s physical and mental well-being. In today’s fast-paced world, one of our greatest health challenges is to balance the effects of stress in our lives.
The right amount of stress in our lives keeps life interesting, stimulating, and worthwhile! But having too much stress over an extended period of time can have a negative effect on us mentally and physically. If this occurs, then it can have an adverse impact on our health and the quality of our lives.
Stress can accumulate over time and lead to chronic tension and anxiety. This is sometimes referred to as being stressed out. It is not surprising that many illnesses plaguing society are either directly related to or greatly aggravated by too much stress.
So, what are stressors? A stressor is a situation, event, or demand which disrupts a person’s equilibrium and triggers a bodily reaction called the stress response. Life is full of challenges that may be considered stressors. Well-known psychosocial stressors include death of a loved one, divorce or separation, legal troubles, change of residence, unemployment, new job, and family issues. Less obvious stressors include noise, crowding, biochemical stressors (heat, cold, pollutants, poor nutrition), and even personal philosophical issues (values conflict, lack of purpose). Illness and injury are physical stressors, which may be compounded by accompanying fear, anxiety and disruption of normal activities. Any change in a person’s life is a potential source of stress.
The body responds to stressors with what is called the fight or flight response. It is an adaptation designed to help us either confront or flee from a real physical danger. This physiological mechanism is triggered when a person is presented with a real or imagined threat to their well-being. During the stress response, the endocrine and autonomic nervous systems activate a series of bodily changes including faster heart rate, faster and shallower breathing, increased perspiration, greater muscular tension, elevated body temperature, more coagulants in the blood, dilated pupils, rerouting of blood away from internal organs, slow digestion, dry mouth and overall increase in body metabolism. This same stress response occurs even if we just imagine a physical danger, as in reading an adventure novel or watching a scary movie. It may also be induced by psychological threats such as the fear of speaking in front of a group of people, interviewing for a job, meeting deadlines — anything which a person perceives as a threat to their well-being. Many people don’t realize how much stress they are under or have forgotten what it feels like to relax. The stress response is a natural survival mechanism designed to be a temporary response to an immediate threat. The body is meant to return to normal functioning once the threat is gone. A prolonged stress response with no relief is what causes the physical and mental ills associated with stress.
Signs of too much stress include chronic muscle tension (especially in the neck and shoulders), short temper, anxiety, excessive worry, insomnia, fatigue, and the feeling of being burned out. Chronic health problems associated with a prolonged stress response include tension headache, backache, ulcers, blood sugar irregularities, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Chronic stress has been proven to impair the immune system.
So, when we think of unwinding and getting rid of the stress, some people look to exercise, hobbies, and vacations. They are all known to help, but massage is known to destress you along with improving your health. Massage heals our mind and body! Most of the population carries stress in the neck and shoulders; others carry it in the lower back. When we get stressed, our muscles constrict and then don’t always relax. That’s when we get the “knot,” as everyone refers to it. This keeps the body from getting all the blood, oxygen, and nutrition it needs to work properly, causing our immune system to wear down. A full-body massage is the best to fight stress since every muscle gets worked. Working just the neck and back muscles is also very beneficial. The one area that a lot of people don’t think would relax them is the face/scalp! We get those tension headaches by tightening up those facial muscles.
I recommend and share with my clients that they also need to stretch and exercise. Our bodies were not made to be sedentary. Many athletes hate to take the time to stretch. But without stretching, your muscles, ligaments, and tendons do not get the proper warm-up or cooldown needed. More injuries occur without stretching. Think of your muscles as the framework of your body. In comparison to a house, if the foundation isn’t strong and solid, it affects the structure of your house. So, if your muscles aren’t working properly, the rest of your body is affected. If you get a good therapeutic massage, your body may feel like it just did a full body workout! You don’t want to work out for at least 24 hours after a massage so your body can fully recover.
I enjoy strength training, stationary bike, and power walking. Because of COVID-19, our mayor suggested a “100 miles in 100 days” walking challenge. It started April 18, 2020 and ended July 31st. He encouraged selfies. Prizes were awarded weekly, and a grand prize was given out to the most inspiring story. I decided to do it; I accomplished it 100.4 miles on June 10th! That was just my power walking, not all the other walking I do. Some days I would only do a mile or two, others I would do several. There were days I didn’t do any due to the pain in my feet from permanent damage caused by an accident. It doesn’t matter if you have never exercised before or do it regularly. Get out and start moving! You will notice how much better you feel emotionally and physically.