Stressbusters: The Holistic Way
STRESS...what is it? According to the great Austrian endocrinologist Hans Selye, it is "the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change."
Stress- a daily staple in life. The moment you get out of your door, stress is already hovering over your shoulder, like a Tinker Bell watching over Peter Pan. Rush hour, a crowded subway train or bus, a commuter cursing because he just missed his ride, are all real time examples of stressors, and they are here to stay. You can see that stress is not only reserved for the overbearing boss, but it's all around us. The body is a complex and fine-tuned structure that reacts to various stimuli, friendly or hostile. Maintaining balance of the internal environment is a full time job of our bodies, which is crucial to our continuous optimal existence. Anything that upsets this balance is immediately dealt with by our built in defense mechanisms. Ever wondered why you suddenly felt run down, feeling tired, when you were at the top of your game the week before? Dr. Selye in his quest for the origin of stress observed that patients suffering from different illnesses exhibited similar symptoms of feeling tired, poor appetite and these responses must be triggered by changes occurring in the body due to the particular illness. He further explained that this response, which he called, the "general adaptation syndrome," can be divided into three stages, namely the alarm stage, followed by resistance stage and finally, the exhaustion stage. What we are experiencing daily is mostly of the resistance stage because we are in a constant struggle to achieve balance against these stressors..
Let me give a classic example about a 65 year old employee, who works in the graveyard shift five days in a row. He starts at 11 pm where he is supposed to be in bed, but he has to stay awake till 7 am to finish his job. The body then begins to assess the situation and makes a decision to reset his setting. The adrenal gland, which sits on top of his kidneys, starts churning out massive amounts of the "stress" hormone, cortisol and adrenaline, resulting to increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure and increased sugar in the bloodstream to supply energy. When morning comes and the demand is gone, the hormone level goes back to normal and your blood pressure and heart rate normalizes. As you can see, stress is not that bad as it gets the job done, but when you expose your body repeatedly to this stressful condition, then problems begin to rise. A high blood pressure can cause a stroke or heart attack. The only single most effective way to avoid this pitfall, is to eliminate it and that's exactly what I did. I stopped working the night shift and eventually shifted to a more relaxing profession in the massage business.
Now that I have given you an idea of what stress is, and what it can do to your body, I will continue with ways on how to deal with it. First and foremost, is the state of mind. "One must clean the vessel before you can put water into it." A simple rule which resonate well in preparing the body for relaxation. Take for example, a bedridden client who is depressed, angry, hopeless, who is about to have a counselling session. Do you think the client is ready to listen when is feeling down? It cannot be overemphasized that preparation is of tantamount importance before you can start any treatment modality. One holistic way is utilizing massage to achieve optimal relaxation. Recorded history dates it back to 2700 BCE, in China and India, although the word massage originated from the Arabic word, " massa" which means " to touch, feel". The present day massage is generally perceived as pertaining to Swedish massage, which consists of various techniques. Knowing that stress can bring about these potentially harmful hormones, it's a relief to know that there is also the "feel good" hormone, oxytocin and a neurotransmitter, serotonin which counteract the effects of cortisol. When a baby suck at his mother's breast, this stimulates the pituitary gland, situated at the base of your brain, to secrete the hormone and causes the milk to be released into the ducts and into the baby's mouth. Oxytocin is also present in the male species and secreted in a different way. In a biological study by A. Jaeggi and B. Trumble, conducted "in vivo" in the Bolivian amazon, they found out that native hunters returning home from a successful hunt had high oxytocin levels in their blood because they needed to "bond, share and reconnect" with their families, especially if they were gone for a long time.
This "bonding" experience can also be replicated during massage. Warming up the client with light Swedish strokes is very important because this would put the body at ease. Touch produces a very unique experience to each individual and this feeling of being nurtured releases oxytocin. Another holistic modality is meditation. In a newsletter written by M. Thorpe, MD, he explains that, "meditation is a habitual process of training your mind to focus and redirect your thoughts." It is a simple way of reducing stress from obsessive and recurring unpleasant thoughts. You can start with five minutes increment, choosing a comfortable setting, preferably at five or six in the morning. The important thing here is to focus on an "anchor", such as your breath. If you find it more useful, you can count your breath and before you know it, all the tormenting thoughts are gone. All these modalities can help you lead a stress- free and healthier life but it needs commitment. Your body, whether you are nineteen or ninety is your utmost priority. You work hard and you deserve a time of relaxation. Relax, get a massage.