It is well known that a balanced life is essential to optimal health. Finding equilibrium in diet, exercise, work and play, and social relationships plays an important role in physical and mental well-being. In today’s changing world, one of our greatest health challenges is equity in the mental and physical effects of stress during this impactful global event.
Stress in certain doses can be the “spice of life.” The right amount of it keeps life interesting, stimulating and exciting. Too much stress, especially if it is unrelieved over a long period of time, can have a negative impact on the quality of our lives and our health. This is the kind of stress that is compounding for many of us while we are social distancing, increasing anxiety and feelings of depression.
Stress can accumulate over time and lead to panic. A feeling of being “stressed-out”, and a modern problem sometimes called “skin hunger” are both adding to the “stress pot.” It is not surprising that many of the illnesses plaguing humans are either directly related to, or greatly aggravated by, too much stress. Chronic stress has also been shown to impair the immune system - our first line of defense against many diseases and conditions.
Most experts agree that long term use of medication to relieve stress is counterproductive. Some healthy and time-honored methods recommended for finding balance include recreation and hobbies, holidays and vacations, fresh air and exercise, time at the spa or health club, and, of course, a relaxing therapeutic massage. Many of these activities and resources are currently not available to us. Alternative options include gardening, soaking in a magnesium or salt-infused bath, listening to meditation podcasts, walking or running, and doing workouts at home.
We can look forward to previously-enjoyed activities in the near future as the states begin to re-open. What sort of antidotes will be available for us when that happens and why should we seek them out?
The first measure that comes to mind is massage. A therapeutic massage helps restore balance, and brings the body back to a more normal state by triggering the relaxation response. When we are touched, the receptors under our skin send messages to our central nervous system. Massage also relieves many of the mental and physical problems caused by prolonged stress, as we begin to resume regular activities. Massage is especially important for people who need to reconnect physically with others, but are experiencing fear. Professional therapeutic massage is always performed in a safe space, allowing the client to absorb, process and heal.
Another upside to the relaxation response is that it helps to improve the functioning of several of the body’s systems. The endocrine and autonomic nervous systems activate bodily changes resulting in a slower heart rate, a metaphorical “sigh of relief.” Sore muscles become relaxed, and better internal circulation and digestion is promoted. Certain massage techniques, especially those involving long, smooth, stroking movements - better known as Swedish massage, are known to significantly trigger the relaxation response.
Stress may also block or distort energy flow within the body, which can leave us feeling disconnected or fragmented. Some therapeutic massage and bodywork techniques which work directly to restore the free flow of energy include acupressure, polarity therapy, and Reiki.
Massage can be thought of as a one-hour vacation from stress - a getaway from life and its challenges. During a massage, you create a peaceful space and give yourself permission to relax. Recent research has confirmed that massage for relaxation also boosts your immune system and increases feelings of overall well-being, making massage one of the best antidotes to stress there is.
Heat has long been used to relax tense and sore muscles. Far infrared heat has been shown to penetrate the muscle tissue on a deeper level without impeding your ability to comfortably breathe. Far infrared heat is generated by waves of energy at the far end of the infrared spectrum. The sun naturally produces this type of invisible light. The warmth you feel from the rays of the sun or the heat from a coal fire is the same radiant heat you will experience in a far infrared sauna. This type of sauna heats the body directly, without causing the room temperature to rise, allowing you to sit comfortably and enjoy the warm sensation as your skin absorbs the beneficial long rays.
During a sauna session your peripheral blood vessels dilate. This temporarily increases heart rate, cardiac output and metabolic rate as your body works to cool down. These effects can result in weight loss, reduced blood pressure and increased blood flow throughout your body. Fat cells and cellulite can dissolve as toxins are released, or sweated out, through the skin, your largest organ. Far infrared heat can also help to loosen tight muscles and improve the tone, texture and elasticity of your skin. Cells are revitalized. Many users report extreme stress relief and relaxation.
For a detoxifying experience, a session in an infrared sauna is hard to beat. The high heat open pores as your body releases impurities while simultaneously soothing muscles. Thirty minutes in a sauna will certainly be a favorite stress antidote for those who prefer the feeling of high heat.
Many of us are showing signs that our optimal level of stress has been exceeded. If you are experiencing chronic muscle tension, short temper, anxiety, excessive worry, insomnia or chronic fatigue, please consider scheduling a massage and or sauna session as a way to help your body battle the debilitating effects of stress.