Massage & Bodywork

March | April 2014

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Page 42 of 141

Stress is likely to have some degree of influence on every client you work with; it can also be a factor in your health and happiness as a therapist. It is essential that every massage therapist understand stress in order to recognize its impact on various conditions and diseases, on general health, and on a person's sense of wellness. STRESS DEFINED In the broadest sense, stress is defined as any event that threatens homeostasis and causes the body to adapt. This might include any change in external temperature, water intake, physical exertion, dietary changes, or even positive excitement like that experienced at a sporting event. Physiologists point out that while the reaction of the body to cold temperatures is different from its reaction to fighting an infection or to 40 m a s s a g e & b o d y w o r k m a r c h / a p r i l 2 0 1 4 CLASSROOM TO CLIENT education Understanding Stress By Anne Williams an event that causes anxiety and fear, in one respect, all of these types of stress are the same—they all cause an increased secretion of cortisol by the adrenal cortex. Therefore, physiologists define stress as any event that causes increased cortisol secretion. 1 Most people think of stress as the resulting factor when an event triggers the fight-or-flight response. The fight- or-flight response is a full-body reaction mediated by the sympathetic nervous system as an inborn, automatic reflex to any perceived danger. It has protected mankind throughout evolutionary history by rapidly preparing the body to respond to a life-threatening event (e.g., an animal attack). The problem is that the body can't differentiate between a hypothetical threat that might be caused by something like an unpaid bill, and a genuine threat where immediate action is required to survive. It is possible for the fight-or-flight response to be triggered multiple times in a day by non-life-threatening events such as sitting in traffic, being late for a job interview, worries about finances, or relationship issues. Furthermore, people are socialized to behave a certain way. You might get the full-body adrenaline rush of the fight-or-flight response when a coworker challenges your opinion, but you would be unlikely to act on it by running away or beating him up. Instead, you suppress your physical and emotional responses with muscular, mental, and emotional tension to avoid the embarrassment of acting in a socially unacceptable way.

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