Responding to Stress by Siobhan Van Lanen, BA, LMT, CYI

Preventing stress from negatively affecting our lives is crucial to long-term health.  Prolonged over a period of time, chronic stress causes health conditions, some of which are, muscle pain, headaches and high blood pressure.  Stress depletes us in many ways.  With pressures from an over-worked, over-stressed modern society, we need to switch on the parasympathetic nervous system for rest, recovery, and relaxation.  In learning about lowering stress, it helps to understand stress and the types that affect us.

There are two parts of the autonomic nervous system, sympathetic and parasympathetic. The stress response triggers the sympathetic nervous system, our first line of defense in unexpected life events.  This part of the nervous system regulates what is called the physical ‘fight or flight response.’  Stress hormones; cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline, are released from the adrenal medulla, the inner part of the adrenal glands.  They stimulate us to react under hectic circumstances.

Many daily life challenges activate our fight or flight response causing the sympathetic nervous system to work over-time; the daily commute in traffic, health concerns, finances, job loss, relocation, school, losing of a loved one, relationship conflicts, social media, and world events.  When the stress response is set off, we experience spikes in blood pressure, heart and respiration rates, shallow breathing and feel irritable. ` Chronic stress disrupts our bodies’ homeostasis or equilibrium and also results in poor memory and concentration.

Physical, mental, and emotional stress are all are interconnected.  Physical stress can take form through strenuous, repetitive daily activities, excessive sitting, standing or other postures which create over-use in the muscles and joints.  Over-use of spinal muscles pull the skeletal structure out of alignment. Spinal misalignment puts pressure on the nervous system.  This all adversely affects the condition of our bodies’ health.

Physical stress is also set in motion through negative mental and emotional states such as anxiety and fear.  For example, when we are anxious, we tend to tense and contract our muscles and clench our jaw.  Mental stress is triggered from over-thinking and the over-use of the ‘left brain.’  Many frequently have a difficult time falling asleep at night worrying about problems.  Negative emotions including anger, worry, and fear cause emotional stress too.  Anxiety is a form of emotional stress with aching pressure in the chest and upper abdomen, racing heart and short, shallow breathing.

Stress affects us on all levels but how we deal with it can improve our health.  An effective pain and stress-relief modality is Thai bodywork.  This ancient practice combines acupressure and assisted stretching and is applied on a floor-mat in stretchable clothing using pressure from palms, thumbs, forearms, and feet.   When we commit to a relaxation practice on a regular basis, we can improve our quality of life and prevent health conditions from chronic stress.

Siobhan Van Lanen is a Licensed Massage Therapist and Certified Yoga Instructor and teaches regular group exercise classes in Yoga/Pilates MWF 7-8am.  She is offering a Partner Relaxation and Pain Relief Workshop Sat. Feb.17 12-1:30pm in Studio B.  Learn effective techniques for healing and relaxation combining partner yoga, and bodywork.  Members: $25 per pair Non-Members: $30 per pair.  Sign up at Timberhill Athletic Club or call 541-757-8559


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