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The Link Between Stress & Disease

The Link Between Stress & Disease

Stress is an unavoidable part of life. I mean, it would be nice if we could go most of our lives with little to no stress, but for many of us, that’s just not how life works out. Whether it’s related to work, family, finances, or just little irritants through the day like traffic, we’re regularly exposed to stressors. And while mild stress is usually manageable in a variety of ways, the link between chronic stress and some medical conditions is undeniable.

When you’re stressed, your central nervous system (CNS) goes into what is often referred to as the “fight or flight” response. Your body releases adrenaline and cortisol, your eyes dilate, your heart beats faster, your blood pressure increases, your muscles tense, and your digestion stops to allow blood to be redistributed to those muscles needed to fight or run for your life. When the perceived threat is gone, the CNS will usually act to ease the mind and body, going back to a state often referred to as “rest and digest”, because the body calms and functions return to normal. However, chronic, or long-term stress means that signal may not be sent for quite some time, so your body is staying in that state of stress for far too long. This can wreak havoc on your body over time. Here’s 4 conditions that can be directly related to chronic stress.

Insomnia: When you’re stressed, your mind never turns off due to all those perceived ‘threats’. This can easily lead to trouble sleeping. You may be planning the next day’s events, worrying about bills, family issues, or any number of other problems. But if this continues over time, it’s not just about having trouble turning your mind off to fall asleep, but can progress into true insomnia; an inability to fall asleep, even when the brain and nervous system have calmed. Not getting enough sleep only continues to add to the problem, by increasing your body’s level of the stress hormone, cortisol.

Depression: When you’re in a constant state of stress, especially when the root of your stress isn’t easily resolved or is out of your hands, depression is common. Feeling like you have no control over your life leads you feeling helpless, hopeless, and sometimes even angry. You may distance yourself from your loved ones and avoid activities you once enjoyed.

Heart disease:  When you’re stressed, your body produces a large amount of adrenaline and cortisol, both hormones that put physical stress on the heart. Because these hormones cause the heart and blood vessels to work harder, over time this can lead to damage to those structures.

Digestive disorders: When you’re in that fight or flight stage, your digestive system shuts down most of its functions. This can cause problematic delays in the digestive process, leading to constipation, diarrhea, and making you more susceptible to the development of stomach ulcers. Long term stress can lead to irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux, and ulcerative colitis.

While we may not be able to control the stresses that pop up in life, we CAN control how we react to them. So even though we experience stress, we can make choices that allow us to handle that stress in a healthy way; in a way that keeps our bodies from becoming damaged from the stress. And don’t forget to add massage therapy into your regular stress-management routine to keep you as healthy and happy as possible!

How an Overactive Nervous System Creates Pain

How an Overactive Nervous System Creates Pain

Have you noticed that you’ve become more sensitive to pain? Has your perception of pain changed over time? This may have more to do with an overactive nervous system than it has to do with your body actually experiencing more pain. Here’s what you need to know about something called central sensitization.

Did you know that pain can modify the way that the central nervous system (CNS) works? When the CNS becomes modified by pain, it’s often referred to as central sensitization. Central sensitization is when the CNS becomes regulated in a persistent high reactivity state. This means that what used to be a person’s pain threshold is often lowered and they experience pain with simple interactions such as touch. This also means that when they experience situations that are actually painful, the pain is amplified beyond normal. This sensitization can range from very mild to quite severe.

Central sensitization can be caused by anything that hurts the skin, muscles or organs. It can even be triggered by something as small as minor muscle damage. There is no clinical test for this phenomenon. It’s also difficult to diagnose in mild cases because everyone’s pain threshold is different, and you can’t compare one to another. But if you notice that pain threshold has changed, and things that should only cause some minor discomfort have started really bothering you, there is a way that you can find relief from this potential central sensitization; massage therapy.

 You may be wondering how massage, which involves touch, can help someone who is sensitive to touch. The answer; Gate Theory. So, when your body perceives that pain is occurring, that signal is sent to your brain, but has to pass through many “gates” before it reaches your brain. The Gate Theory suggests that when you’re experiencing pain, if you’re exposed to touch along those same nerve pathways, the touch signals will “block” those gates, essentially causing your brain to not perceive the pain as strongly. Along with that, the “feel good” hormones from the positive touch can override your brain’s perception of the pain, allowing you to finally feel some pain relief. Have you ever asked yourself why you have the instinct to hold or rub an area that’s suddenly experienced pain? Like grabbing your foot when you stub your toe, or holding your elbow after hitting it? Once you touch it, or even massage it for a minute, the pain goes away, or at least seems more tolerable? Same concept!

My focus in any massage session is your total relaxation and comfort. Each service is entirely about you, so be sure to tell me if you’re ever experiencing pain with anything I do, so I can adjust accordingly.

While each individual’s experience with this kind of overactive nervous system is different, it’s important to work with your health care provider as well as myself, to make sure we can get you the best care possible. You don’t have to live with pain. I can help!

Handling Stress

Handling Stress

 

We’ve talked about the ways stress is connected to disease, and things you can do to help combat stress. While both of those are very important to be aware of, it’s also important to make sure you’re taking actions daily to help you manage your stress level. Here are a few ideas you can implement into your daily life to help you manage your stress. Normally, a daily routine starts in the morning, but this one is a bit different. To be prepared for the next day and any stressors that may come with it, it’s important to start the night before.

Night Time

Before bed brain dump.

Many people struggle with going to sleep right away because they’re still thinking about all the things that happened during the day or of the things they need to get done the next day. Taking 5 minutes to dump everything that is on your mind down on a piece of paper helps you to clear your head before you lay down to rest. There doesn’t have to be any organization to it; you’re just putting thoughts down on a piece of paper that you can look at later. This brain dump may also help you to remember tasks you don’t want to forget.

Plan for tomorrow.

If you have a long list of to-dos without a plan for it, even if you complete a brain dump, your mind may still be running away from you. Write down all of the tasks that must be completed the next day and a plan of attack. When you wake up without a plan there’s a greater chance that your day will be frantic, and you may not get the most important things on your to-do list done. Start with a plan from the time you open your eyes. Give yourself time to complete the tasks you need to with wiggle room so that you’re not overwhelmed if something runs over on time. It’s not just about all the typical accomplishments of the day either. Schedule in some of the things farther down this list.

Morning

Quiet time.

There is something about a new day that is so refreshing. A fresh start; a chance to accomplish what you may have not done yesterday. Take a few minutes all to yourself. If 5 minutes is all you can manage, start there. Work your way up slowly over time to try to devote up to 30 minutes just to yourself. You can sit there in silence, meditate, pray, journal, read, etc. This is your time, enjoy it. It’s therapeutic.

Exercise

Whether you take a walk or go for a full body workout, getting your blood pumping will release those feel-good hormones and help you start your day off with a positive attitude. Not to mention all the other great health benefits, of course.

Afternoon

Take breaks

Whether you work from home, commute to work, or you’re a full-time parent, it’s important that you take time throughout the day to take a break and regroup. If you go non-stop without a break you may get overwhelmed and burned out, but if you take a chance to relax for even 5 minutes, you can recharge and take on the rest of the day.

Eat healthful foods

It’s so easy to grab unhealthy foods when you’re pressed for time, but those foods are often paired with guilt, and usually don’t leave you feeling the best physically, either. Eating a balanced diet can help you feel your best all day. And don’t forget to keep snacks with you. There’s nothing quite like being hangry to get your stress levels up.

Say no

It’s easy to add to your already busy schedule when a friend, family member, or coworker asks you to come to an event or help them with something. If it’s something that is going to prevent you from accomplishing what you need to and add stress to you, say no. It’s okay, and actually a good thing, to protect yourself from unnecessary stress.

Evening

You time

I know that for some people, evenings are just as hectic as, if not more so than, the rest of the day.  But if you can spare just 5 or 10 minutes again to take some time for you, you’ll end your day feeling so much better than if you’re constantly running around. This could mean blasting some of your favorite music, quiet time outside, a hot bath, or cuddling up with a good book. Whatever you can fit in and whatever works for your life, you deserve at least a little time to yourself.

Time with loved ones

We can get wrapped up in all that has to be done, but don’t forget what’s more important than the stuff and the to-do’s; those you love. Whether you snuggle up with your kiddos on the couch, your significant other, or even your dog or cat, spending time with your loved ones is therapeutic.

REPEAT…

While everyone’s lifestyles and schedules are different, having a daily routine to help you combat stress is important. Take this routine and make it your own. And to be sure you’re taking care of yourself fully, don’t forget to schedule your next massage here at Graceful Touch!