Monday, December 12, 2011

Stress and You

'Tis the season. The holiday season is upon us and with it comes a myriad selection of activities that flood our days (and sometimes nights). We add these holiday activities and functions to our already full plate consisting of home, family, work, volunteering, recreational activities (Feel free to add your own choices to this list) and before we know it we've got headaches, fatigue, feelings of overwhelm, colds, indigestion, sleeplessness, and short tempers.

What's the solution? From my perspective as a licensed massage therapist (and crazed holiday enthusiast who partakes in creating, sharing, eating rich holiday foods, decorating in an eclectic country home spun yet elegant Martha Stewart-esque style, seeing clients daily, writing a business manuscript on massage therapy, taking care of a home, pets, family, volunteering with a civic organization and trying to fit in time for socializing with the special people in my life); it's safe to say I know a little something about the topic of stress, it's effects on the human condition and how to effectively reduce it.

First, it's important to know how stress registers for you. Some people can go, go, go and not even know they ARE stressed so it's important to recognize the signs before you become worn out.

  • Fatigue (feeling like you wake up tired and go to bed tired.)
  • Muscle tension (especially neck, shoulders, chest and abdomen)
  • Racing thoughts (too much in your head to think about)
  • Easy to anger (that %*@$% cut me off in traffic!)
  • Feeling overwhelmed (manifesting as sadness, frustration, anger, anxiety)
  • Sleeplessness (worry, tension, a long "to do" list)
There are other symptoms that may present as well but these are some of the more commonly overlooked signs of stress overload. After these come the ones that FORCE us to take notice. Things like: headaches, heartburn/gerd/acid reflux, colds and flu, and other problems that effectively put us down for the least temporarily.

It's vitally important (all the time) but especially at busy times of the year like the holidays to induce the relaxation response as frequently as possible to keep stress from becoming more problematic. Unchecked stress can lead to many serious health issues like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and diabetes so knowing how it affects you and how you can deal with it is well worth the time and effort. Here are a few options for you to try:

  • Massage and bodywork. (Of COURSE I'm going to mention this! Massage is one of THE premier ways of inducing the relaxation response through soothing the nervous system, releasing muscular tension and shutting off monkey mind chatter).
  • Deep breathing. (When stressed, we naturally breathe more shallow. Deeper breathing sends nourishing oxygen to all the cells of your body. Good stuff, trust me.)
  • Mindful exercise. (Yoga, tai chi, qi gong, walking. These options help you to focus your mind, increase rhythmic breathing, stretch your body while releasing stored tension and improving circulation)
  • Guided meditation or visualization. (These offer verbal guidance to help you to progressively relax your muscles, deepen your breathing and slow your conscious brain activity)
The holidays needn't be a time of dread due to a to-do list that extends around the block. Take on those things that are "have tos", interspersed with the things that make you feel great. Don't feel you have to do it all or be it all. You don't. The more relaxed you feel, the better you'll enjoy your holidays, friends and family and the reason for the season. (You get to choose what that is for you.)

So go color a picture and just let go.....

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Dancing in the Rain

From time to time I get videos that inspire me and renew my energy.

Learning to Dance in the Rain is one.

So how's your attitude of gratitude shaping up? Do you wake in the morning and say, "hey! my bed is warm and soft.", "I can wiggle my toes!", or "I get 5 more minutes before I have to get up"?

Throughout your day did you take a moment to say "thank you" for the close parking space you got, the door someone held open for you, the smile you received when you bought your coffee?

When that day ended, did you think, "I'm so grateful for my children, my spouse, my cat?"

An attitude of gratitude is a habit you can form at any moment. What you will soon notice is the more you find to be grateful for, the more you'll HAVE to be grateful for.

So, watch the video. Then make your gratitude list.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

How Can Massage Help?

Being a licensed massage therapist for the past 10 years, I have heard a lot from people on what they think massage is like and how it benefits the body/mind. Some of the information is spot-on and some of it is most definitely lacking.

For instance, far too many people associate massage with this luxurious service that only pampered, rich people (who don't need it) can afford to get. Well, they're right that it can be luxurious, but it's not just for the spoiled set.

Massage therapy is highly beneficial for relieving the effects of every day stress. Whether that stress load comes from work or family obligations, ill-health, relational difficulties or any other situation, massage can effectively reduce (and relieve) the body and mind with the very first session. Why is this important? With stress linked to nearly every disease known to man, keeping it to a minimum may be a "secret" to a longer, healthier life.

Beyond stress relief, massage is frequently used for pain control, to release muscle tension and speed injury rehabilitation. When used regularly, it is effective for headache, shoulder and back pain relief.

Massage works on all the systems of the body, not just the muscles. It rejuvenates the entire body by increasing the blood and lymph circulation. Oxygen is much more effectively distributed and utilized as well.

The skin brightens and internal organs become more toned. Certain massage techniques benefit the digestive tract and may curb constipation or symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. The nervous system is positively impacted and a release of "feel good chemicals" is allowed to flood the body.

Now, with all that massage therapy a panacea for every ailment out there? No. It does not suit all conditions, nor does everyone respond well to it.

However, it IS another tool to use to increase the quality of your life. Give it a try. Your body and mind will thank you.