Surprising as it may seem, stress is intended to be a perfectly natural, healthy response to danger. It evolved in humans during ancient times to help them fight off predators and avoid other pitfalls when hunting and foraging for food. When faced with a real or perceived threat, the body learned to activate a series of physiological changes, designed to increase alertness and energy and help us survive.
While most modern humans no longer face these kinds of imminent threats, our bodies have not caught up yet. When faced with the low-grade stresses which we experience in our daily lives, such as traffic problems or computer failures at work, our bodies still react the same way. As a result, many people end up living in a near-constant state of stress, which can be incredibly detrimental to health over time and lead to number of physical and psychological issues.
For those pursuing careers in massage therapy, stress relief is possibly the most common problem you will encounter in patients. Here’s what you need to know about how stress affects the body.
Students taking massage courses might be interested to learn that some of the earliest research into the effects of stress was conducted in the 1930s by Hungarian endocrinologist Hans Selye. He developed the theory that chronic stress caused major chemical changes in the body and could lead to disease. In 1936 he introduced the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) model, which characterized three specific stage of stress and their effects:
One of the most effective modalities for stress relief that students will learn at massage school in British Columbia is Swedish massage. A gentle massage technique involving light, fluid strokes, Swedish massage can help to lower the heart rate, promote deeper breathing, and improve sleep, which can all be helpful in reducing stress. In addition, a number of studies have shown that Swedish massage lowers cortisol levels in patients, helping the body return to homeostasis.
Massage therapy can also be very effective in treating the physiological affects of chronic stress. The stress response causes the muscles in the body to tense up, which can lead to various aches and pains, and even more serious long-term issues for chronic sufferers. More intense forms of massage, such as deep tissue therapy, can help to stretch and loosen muscles that have become tightened over time from stress.
Want to learn more about the role of massage in stress relief?
Contact OVCMT to find out more about our massage therapy program!