Managing Stress in a Healthy Way

Stress affects all aspects of your life, including your emotions, behaviors, thinking ability and physical health. No part of the body is immune. But, because people handle stress differently, symptoms of stress can vary. Symptoms can be vague and may be the same as those caused by medical conditions.

Advertisements

Stress affects us all.  You may notice symptoms of stress when disciplining your kids, during busy times at work, when managing your finances, of when coping with a challenging relationship.  Stress is everywhere.  And while a little stress is OK (in fact some stress is actually beneficial), too much stress can wear you down and make you sick, both mentally and physically.

One of the greatest benefits of massage therapy is stress relief.  Humans have always been aware, it seems, of how detrimental unresolved stress can be.  Various herbs, aromatherapy, alcohol and drugs have been used throughout our history to ease the mental, emotional and physical stress that builds in the body, with touch therapy being the #1 choice throughout history.

Unknown

The first step to controlling stress is to know and recognize the symptoms of stress.  But recognizing stress symptoms may be harder than you think.  Most of us are so used to being stressed, we often don’t know we are stressed until we’re at the breaking point.

What is stress?

Stress is the body’s reaction to harmful situations – whether real or perceived.  When you feel threatened, a chemical reaction occurs in your body that allows you to act in a way to prevent injury.  This reaction is known as “fight or flight” or the stress response.  During stress response, your heart begins to race, breathing quickens, muscles tighten and blood pressure rises.  Your body is ready act.  This is how you protect yourself.

Stress means different things to different people.  What causes stress in one person may be of little concern to another.  Some people are better able to handle stress than others.  And, not all stress is bad.  In small doses, stress can help you accomplish tasks and prevent you from getting hurt.  For example, stress is what gets you to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting the car in front of you.  That’s a good thing.

Our bodies are designed to handle small doses of stress.  But, we are not equipped to handle long-term chronic stress without ill consequences.

Symptoms of Stress

Stress affects all aspects of your life, including your emotions, behaviors, thinking ability and physical health.  No part of the body is immune.  But, because people handle stress differently, symptoms of stress can vary.  Symptoms can be vague and may be the same as those caused by medical conditions.  You may experience any of the following:

Emotional symptoms of stress include:

·      Becoming easily agitated, frustrated and moody

·      Feeling overwhelmed, like you are losing control or need to take control

·      Having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind

·      Feeling bad about yourself (low self-esteem), lonely, worthless and depressed

·      Avoiding others

Physical symptoms of stress include:

·      Low energy

·      Headaches

·      Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation and nausea

·      Aches, pains and tense muscles

·      Chest pain and rapid heartbeat

·      Insomnia

·      Frequent colds and infections

·      Loss of sexual desire and/or ability

·      Nervousness and shaking, ringing in the ear, cold or sweaty hands and feet

·      Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing

·      Clenched jaw and grinding teeth 

Cognitive symptoms of stress include:

·      Cognitive worrying

·      Racing thoughts

·      Forgetfulness and disorganization

·      Inability to focus

·      Poor judgment

·      Being pessimistic or seeing only the negative side 

Behavioral symptoms of stress include:

·      Changes in appetite – either not eating or eating too much

·      Procrastinating and avoiding responsibilities

·      Increased use of alcohol, drugs or cigarettes

·      Exhibiting more nervous behaviors, such as nail biting, fidgeting and pacing

 

Consequences of Long-Term Stress

A little stress every now and then is not something to be concerned about.  Ongoing, chronic stress, however, can cause or exacerbate many serious health problems, including: 

·      Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety and personality disorders

·      Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks and stroke

·      Obesity and other eating disorders

·      Menstrual problems

·      Sexual dysfunction, such as impotence and premature ejaculation in men and loss of sexual desire in both men and women

·      Skin and hair problems, such as acne, psoriasis and eczema and permanent hair loss

·      Gastrointestinal problems, such as GERD, gastritis, ulcerative colitis and irritable colon

Help is available 

Stress is part of life.  What matters most is how you handle it.  The best thing you can do to prevent stress overload and the health consequences that comes with it is to know your stress symptoms.

If you or a loved one is feeling overwhelmed by stress, it may be time to start a program of regular massage or arrange for a holistic health consultation to help you identify your triggers and symptoms.

Few experiences rival a full-body massage for pleasure and stress relief.  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).  And, you’ll find the benefits of massage therapy for stress relief are only the beginning. 

“Americans are looking to massage for much more than just relaxation,” says Mary Beth Braun, President of the AMTA.  Massage therapy can be effective for a variety of conditions, including arthritis, back pain, insomnia, headaches, anxiety, circulatory problems, injury recovery, postural deviations and structural imbalances. 

Call me now at (619) 818-5397 to schedule your next massage now! 

Please note:  Massage is not a substitute for medical advice.  In times of extreme stress response, you may want your doctor to evaluate your symptoms to rule out other conditions.

Why Everyone Needs a Massage

Bodywork therapies can help correct the postural imbalances, nerve impingements, inflammation in the tissues and trigger points caused by overuse of these thechnological wonders, as well as reducing the symptoms caused by nerve compression due to improper posture. 

From smartphones to tablets to laptop computers, you can’t look anywhere today without seeing someone on one of these devices and sometimes more than one.  I constantly see the postural issues related to using these devices which will eventually cause pain.

massage1

Narrow keyboards cause strain on the hands and wrists.  Improperly carrying a laptop can cause neck, shoulder and arm pain.  The manner in which smartphone and tablets are held can also cause problems.  In order to relieve strain in one area, you may be causing strain in another.  Placing the device at a good height to avoid neck strain, for instance, can mean straining the arms as they elevate a tablet or smartphone to eye level; but lowering the device to protect the arms can compromise the neck through excessive flexion.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and cubital tunnel syndrome are two issues that people in an office setting may face and, with these conditions, come a variety of symptoms that massage therapy can help relieve – pain being but one.  “Pain, fatigue, weakness, and stiffness in the affected areas are the most common symptoms of these injuries,” explains Deborah Kimmit, a massage therapist and educator from Missoula, Montana.  “Numbness and tingling, as well as trigger point referrals are also common.”

Along with overuse, Kimmit also sees poor posture being the cause of painful conditions affecting the neck, shoulder and back.  “For example, a forward head posture can lead to neck pain as the person unconsciously reaches forward with the head to better see the screen,” she says.  Additionally, improper posture can sometimes be the result of other conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome.  “Sometimes, improper posture occurs because the body is trying to find a comfortable position,” Kimmit says.

Bodywork therapies can help correct the postural imbalances, nerve impingements, inflammation in the tissues and trigger points caused by overuse of these thechnological wonders, as well as reducing the symptoms caused by nerve compression due to improper posture.  These imbalances are not limited to the neck, shoulder and arms, but are widespread throughout the pelvic girdle, abdomen, the low back, mid back and shoulder girdles as well as the arms, upper back and neck, sometimes even the legs will be involved.

Knowing which muscles to release, which to stimulate, and which to leave alone is key to correcting these postural imbalances.  

If you are having problems from overusing your computer, laptop, smartphone, tablet or even your gaming console, perhaps it’s time to schedule a session to find out what can be done to help you.  

Call now to schedule!  (619) 818-5397.

 

Preventing the Damaging Effects of Stress

Managing stress and overcoming its affects are critical for achieving and maintaining optimal health.  My mantra has always been:  Eat well, exercise properly and manage your stress for optimal health.

stress

Eat a well-rounded whole food diet full of fresh (preferably organic) fruits and vegetables, staying away from packaged, prepared and genetically modified foods, and drinking plenty of clean, filtered water.

Exercise for balance, as well as strength and cardio.  Our bodies and nervous systems were designed for movement.  Humans are unique in our ability to stand up and walk around on two legs.  In order to accomplish that, our spines curve in and out which allows us to balance in an upright stance.  Advances in technology, however, require many of us to sit far too much and use our bodies in ways that were never intended causing repetitive strain disorders and muscular imbalances which cause skeletal imbalances.  So, when you exercise, it’s important to balance the muscles used repetitively by focusing on their counterparts.  Or cross train.

Stress management is a huge subject, because the causes of stress are so complex.  Stress comes in many forms: physical, mental and emotional.  Physical stress can be caused by such things as poor diet, injuries and environmental factors such as smog.  Mental stress may come from your job, and emotional stress may come from relationships, or even a buildup of other types of stress in the body.  The important thing to remember is that the body itself does not differentiate between the various types of stress – all of it is handled in exactly the same way: stored in your tissues somewhere.

The first step to controlling stress is to know and recognize the symptoms of stress.  But recognizing stress symptoms may be harder than you think.  Most of us are so used to being stressed, we often don’t know we are stressed until we’re at the breaking point.

And, while a little stress every now and then is nothing to be concerned about, ongoing, chronic stress, can cause or exacerbate many serious health problems.

We all experience some form of stress in life.  Mental tensions, frustrations, and insecurity cause the most damage.  Hormones released by stress shrink the vessels inhibiting circulation.  A stressed mind and body means the heart works harder.  Breathing becomes rapid and shallow and digestion slows.  Nearly every bodily process is degraded.  Studies show stress can cause migraines, high blood pressure, depression, etc.  In fact, researchers estimate 80% or more of disease is stress related.

And yet, the antidote to stress is readily and easily available:  Massage Therapy.  Massage helps counteract the effects of stress.  Massage knows no age limits.  It works wonders on the young, the old and the in-between.  It can be especially helpful for the elderly experiencing the effects of aging which can include thinner and drier skin, reduced tissue elasticity, loss of mobility, slower nervous system response, decreased bone mass, sleeplessness, constipation, and a less efficient immune system.

Getting a massage does you a world of good.  Getting frequent massage does even more!  This is the beauty of bodywork.  Taking part in this form of regularly scheduled self-care can play a huge part in how healthy you’ll be and how youthful you’ll remain with each passing year.  Budgeting time and money for bodywork at consistent intervals is truly an investment in your health.  As a wise man has said “The best time to start taking care of yourself was 20 years ago, the second best time is now.”

How Hypertension Affects your Health

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is often called a “silent disease” because you usually don’t know that you have it. There may be no symptoms or signs. Nonetheless, it damages the body and eventually may cause problems like heart disease

hypertension

It’s important to regularly monitor your blood pressure, especially if yours has ever been high or above the “normal” range, or if you have a family history of hypertension. Because hypertension can cause heart disease, you may also need to be tested for heart disease.

Measuring Blood Pressure

You can get your blood pressure measured by a health care provider, at a pharmacy or you can purchase a blood pressure monitor for your home.

Blood pressure is measured in two ways: systolic and diastolic.

  • Systolic blood pressure is the pressure during a heartbeat.
  • Diastolic blood pressure is the pressure between heartbeats.

Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and is written systolic over diastolic (for example, 120/80 mm Hg, or “120 over 80”). According to the most recent guidelines, a normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg. Pre-hypertension consists of blood pressure that is 120-139/80-89. Blood pressure that is 140/90 or greater is high blood pressure, or hypertension.

Blood pressure may increase or decrease, depending on your age, heart condition, emotions, activity, and the medications you take. One high reading does not mean you have the diagnosis of high blood pressure. It is necessary to measure your blood pressure at different times while resting comfortably for at least five minutes to find out your typical value.

In addition to measuring your blood pressure, you need to take into account your medical history (whether you’ve had heart problems before), assess your risk factors (whether you smoke, have high cholesterol, diabetes etc.), and your family history (whether any members of your family have had high blood pressure or heart disease).

If you suspect you have high blood pressure, you need to consult your doctor.  If heart disease is suspected, your doctor may recommend other tests, such as:

  • Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG): A test that measures the electrical activity, rate, and rhythm of your heartbeat via electrodes attached to your arms, legs, and chest. The results are recorded on graph paper.
  • Echocardiogram:   This is a test that uses ultrasound waves to provide pictures of the heart’s valves and chambers so the pumping action of the heart can be studied and measurement of the chambers and wall thickness of the heart can be made.
  • Cardiac stress test: During this test you may exercise on a stationary bicycle or treadmill to increase your heart rate while EKG readings are taken. A stress test can also be combined with an echocardiogram or nuclear medicine X-ray to get additional information.
  • Cardiac catheterization: A catheter, a small flexible tube, is inserted into the femoral artery in your groin or one of the arteries in your arm and guided to the coronary arteries. Your doctor can locate any blockages in the arteries and can also observe pressure and blood flow in the heart.
  • Ultrasound: High-frequency sound waves are used to look for blockages in blood vessels in the neck (carotid arteries) or other parts of your body.

Prevent Hypertension with Regular Massage

Stress reactions require major rerouting of blood throughout the body. This is largely controlled by the speed of the heart rate and the tightness or looseness of the various arteries (the tubes that carry blood away from the heart). So the cardiovascular system is particularly sensitive to changes when we’re under stress, and it suffers when that stress is prolonged.

There are many stress-related disorders of the cardiovascular system, and many of these problems are closely interrelated. In other words, having one cardiovascular problem can greatly increase your risk of having others.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a situation where the arteries are chronically tight, rather than flexible and elastic. Having them tighten down increases the force with which blood moves through them, just as squeezing your thumb over a garden hose increases the force with which the water moves through it. Long-term consequences of untreated high blood pressure are very serious; arteries become prone to damage (atherosclerosis), which will raise the risk of blood clots and heart attacks or stroke.

All of these are life-threatening problems that can be prevented or ameliorated by taking action to reduce stress in your life.  Daily exercise, regular massage therapy, and good nutrition contribute a great deal to lessening your stress while prolonging your life.  Swedish massage has been shown to reduce blood pressure, while sports massage and trigger point therapy raised blood pressure.

Staying Healthy Beyond Middle Age

My aunt always said “getting old ain’t for sissies!”.  She had a point.  By age 60, the average person has lost 30% of their muscle mass and chronic disease rates swell in middle age

Aging

My aunt always said “getting old ain’t for sissies!”.  She had a point.  By age 60, the average person has lost 30% of their muscle mass and chronic disease rates swell in middle age (after age 40):

  • Diabetes is the fastest growing disease in America
    • At the turn of the century, only 1% of the population contracted Type 2 Diabetes
    • Currently, 1 in 3 people will contract Type 2 Diabetes
  • Cancer rates continue to escalate
    • Estimated new cases in 2018 1,735,350
    • Cancer is one of the leading causes of death
    • Your risk of developing cancer is as high as 40%
  • Heart disease – the leading cause of death in America
    • 25% of all deaths in the United States are due to heart disease
  • Obesity
    • In California alone, 41% of students are overweight
    • 40% of American adults are considered obese
    • Obesity related health conditions include: diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, some cancers and physical inactivity

There are several factors common to chronic diseases, but the one that really stands out is stress.

Stress is fairly complex and includes physical, emotional/mental and environmental factors.  Perhaps the biggest contributor to stress today is diet.  When I was a child, our farm lands were healthy and our farmed foods were full of nutrition.  Not so much anymore.  When I was a child, we ate a whole food diet that was not genetically modified.  Not so much anymore.  Neither is it so easy these days to control your diet, especially if you eat out, even if you eat an organic whole food diet.

So, what’s the answer?  There is no easy answer today.  Control your weight, control your exposure to chemicals, control your body’s pH balance, control your diet – these will all contribute to your overall health, but won’t necessarily ensure that you won’t develop some sort of chronic disease.  Adding in appropriate exercise will further increase your health – but what’s appropriate?  That is a subject for another article!

But, the most important thing you can do is control your stress.  Add meditation, a Yoga, Tai Chi, or Qi Gong practice to your daily routine.  These will do more for you than pre-packaged “healthy” juices or smoothies.  Or, increase the frequency of your massage sessions.

One of the really nasty side effects of stress is that it accumulates in the body, tightening your muscles, reducing your immunity, raising your blood pressure, reducing your pain tolerance, interfering with your body’s ability to properly process what you eat, and disrupting your sleep.  This kind of stress accumulation doesn’t go away on it’s own.

The good news is that massage not only feels good, it’s good for you!  Just a few benefits of receiving regular massage range from reducing blood pressure and chronic pain to improved muscle tone and posture, improved skin tone, reduced anxiety, better recovery time, and improved sleep quality.  Massage should be a part of every person’s routine health maintenance plan.  

Myoskeletal Alignment Therapy and Pain Desensitization

We’ve all seen how pain can reduce strength, flexibility, and endurance, as well as create a sense of fatigue. The brain is trying to do anything it can to avoid what it believes may cause injury. With a built-in adaptive mechanism, it can determine whether the body needs less or more protection at any given time.

In an environment that promotes relaxation under the guidance and reassurance of a qualified bodywork professional, I believe a client’s brain can be trained to associate slow, precise, graded-exposure stretching maneuvers with security instead of pain. Pain is essentially a threat warning, so pain exposure therapy (PET) requires time for the brain to process these bodily changes.

In the myoskeletal application of PET, therapists and clients use active feedback while working at the feather edge of the client’s painful barrier, just above comfort level. Muscle energy, fascial hook, and pin-and-twist maneuvers, encourage the client to engage the painful barrier with active movements and gradually push the discomfort level a bit further with each repetition. By progressively introducing stretch to areas that have been problematic in the past, the nervous system begins associating the new movement with safety instead of pain.

We’ve all seen how pain can reduce strength, flexibility, and endurance, as well as create a sense of fatigue. The brain is trying to do anything it can to avoid what it believes may cause injury. With a built-in adaptive mechanism, it can determine whether the body needs less or more protection at any given time. There is little doubt that traditional stretching routines produce an immediate increase in muscle extensibility due to the viscoelastic nature of muscle, but these effects quickly dissipate. The more permanent extensibility seen in PET is likely the result of two factors: the client’s willingness to tolerate the discomfort associated with stretch, and muscle, ligament, and joint pain gating.

According to the gate control theory, pain sensations are affected by descending modulatory influences from the brain, which can make the stretch either more or less sensitive to pain. When danger-signaling nociceptors are stimulated by excessive stretch, mechanical compression, and inflammation, the stimuli are fast-tracked to different parts of the brain. The brain then quickly interprets the information based on things such as prior therapeutic experiences, elevated mood, and confidence from positive expectations of stretch benefits. If performed correctly, afferent input from muscle and joint mechanoreceptors during a stretch can interfere with danger signals and inhibit an individual’s perception of pain.

Efficiency of movement and improved function are the desired outcomes of any bodywork strategy. Tension, trauma, and even overly aggressive bodywork can result in excessive soreness and stiffness, which compromises fluid movement. Such stiffness typically results from nonoptimal neuromuscular firing due to altered brain maps, rather than passive stiffness based on adhesions, scar tissue, or degenerative changes. Remember that the body’s physical and mental states interact bidirectionally, so we can decrease pain by moving better, and we can move better by decreasing pain.

A PET desensitization approach is aimed at normalizing sensation by providing consistent stimulus to the affected area for short periods of time. The brain will respond to this sensory input by acclimating to the sensation, thereby gradually decreasing the body’s pain response to the particular stimuli. Good clinical assessment and the appropriate application of PET, combined with self-care advice, can be successfully used in conjunction with other therapies to build an effective pain-management program.

Shoulder Pain

The muscle testing protocols I use allow me to unravel the musculoskeletal cause of dysfunction.

Many people suffer from shoulder pain, but, because the shoulder joint is the most complicated joint in the body, it can come from many different sources.  It’s important to get it diagnosed correctly.  Sometimes it’s from a rotator cuff tear, which may or may not need surgery.  Sometimes the long head of the bicep comes out of its groove, causing weakness and discomfort.  A frozen shoulder is quite common, with painful abduction and external rotation. Any of these can be the result of poor biomechanics and joint compression.  Most commonly shoulder pain is from poor posture and improper use.

A thorough assessment, both biomechanical and neurological, is necessary.  Since there is no one cause, there can be no one treatment.  While the muscle testing protocols I use allow me to unravel the musculoskeletal cause of dysfunction, treatment outcomes may be dependent on how willing the client is to do “homework” which is very specific for the individual.

Why is homework necessary?  Most postural problems develop over a lifetime.  So, while I can and most often do correct the deviation during one or a few sessions, in order for the brain, nerves and muscles to hold the corrections, the client must be involved in correcting his bad habits.  It’s that simple.  There is no magic wand.  The benefits of doing your homework far outweigh the disadvantages of not doing your homework, though.

Correcting your posture goes a long way to correcting pain syndromes you may have developed – shoulder pain, back pain, even foot and leg pain!

Call for your appointment today!