Massage & Bodywork

MAY | JUNE 2019

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CLASSROOM TO CLIENT education Honoring the Stress Response Effective Ways to Guide a Client Into Calm By Cindy Williams 32 m a s s a g e & b o d y w o r k m a y / j u n e 2 0 1 9 • Increased heart rate and a rise in blood pressure, so plenty of blood is available for large muscle groups to take powerful action • Tensed muscles ready to fight or flee • Dilated pupils for clarity of vision to identify and respond to the threat • Increased breath rate to feed oxygen to the lungs, brain, and muscles • Breakdown of glycogen in the liver to fuel the body with glucose and increase energy • Constriction of blood vessels to nonessential organs and systems that don't need to be used in fight or flight, such as those of the digestive and immune systems • Increased perspiration to cool the body during these high-level metabolic processes Now that is a big domino effect! Once the danger has passed and the body is back in balance, the hypothalamus "turns off" the process, and the whole- body responses return to homeostasis. In contrast, when an individual is in a constant state of perceived or real danger, the process perpetuates. Something as typical as always driving in heavy traffic can fall into this category, and, in many people's lives, this is their daily reality. A high-demand job. Raising children. STRESS DEFINED defines stress this way: "In a medical or biological context, stress is a physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension. Stresses can be external (from environmental, psychological, or social situations) or internal (illness or from a medical procedure). Stress can initiate the 'fight or flight' response, a complex reaction of neurologic and endocrinologic systems." 1 So, what exactly are these complex reactions? THE STRESS RESPONSE IN A NUTSHELL The stress response begins when a real or perceived threat arises. The hypothalamus, which controls the autonomic nervous system (both sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions) and the endocrine system, receives a neural signal from the amygdala that there is a threat. In response, it releases corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH), which stimulates the pituitary gland to release the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). The ACTH makes its way to the adrenal glands, causing them to release epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol into the bloodstream. Simultaneously, the sympathetic nervous system, which originates in the spinal cord for quick response, is activated to release the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh) that causes the release of norepinephrine (another form of adrenaline). The chain reaction of the release of these neurotransmitters and hormones creates responses throughout the body, such as: Stress is a catalyst for nearly every scheduled massage session. If a client has booked a massage with you, they are likely managing some type of stress. Physical pain and injury; emotional challenges of anxiety, depression, or sadness; and mental demands of a high-pressure job or an excessively busy life are all common stressors that clients experience and that their bodies are handling behind the scenes. Clearly every client is different. What works to reduce the effects of stress for one client may not work for another. Also, if the stress is short-term and isolated versus long-term and perpetual, then the effects on the body will be different. However, a couple of factors remain consistent. First, understanding what the stress response is and how it works will make you more capable of identifying its effects in each individual and planning an appropriate course of action. Second, listening intently with your eyes, ears, and hands, and honoring what you see, hear, and feel with intent and precision will help the body more readily respond to you. Your role in the feedback loop is greater than you may realize. The basis of your approach needs to heavily rely on these factors in order to best guide the client into calm.

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