Alastair Bishop writes: Since I started my massage practice 4 years ago, I have been amazed by the number of clients complaining of stiff neck and shoulder muscles caused by stress. It is the 21st Century disease. Stress leads us to hunch our shoulders in a defensive position, leading to bad posture and stiff painful muscles. Deeper in our bodies, things can be much worse.
A bit of stress is actually good for us. It gets us going in the morning. Early in our evolution the body developed the “fight or flight” mechanism to help us deal with stressful situations, like running away from predators. The brain tells the adrenal glands to get to work releasing hormones. Blood pressure rises, breathing increases, blood flow to our limbs and digestion slows down as we flee from the sabre tooth tiger or fight for survival. Afterwards the body returns to normal.
However modern life can be constantly stressful, (“I have a million things to do”), and the body cannot cope with constant stress. Too much stress causes mental problems like anxiety. It also leads to physiological problems like heart attacks. It can damage the immune system. The list of stress-related ailments keeps on rising. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is now thought to be triggered by stress.
The NHS recommends a number of strategies to counter stress. These include:-
- Physical activity will not make the causes of stress disappear, but it can reduce its emotional intensity and clears the mind. Go for a walk, play with the dog.
- Tell a friend. My mum used to say “a problem shared is a problem halved”.
- Make time for “me-time”. Do something you enjoy.
- Help someone; it gives you a buzz.
- Work smarter, not harder. Divide tasks into things that are urgent and those not so pressing, and identify things that are important and those less so.
- Accept things that you cannot change, and concentrate on things that you can.
Holistic therapies can be great instant stress-busters. They all have something to offer. For example, in my own specialism of massage, some strokes relax muscles, ease pain and smooth nerve endings. Other more vigorous massage strokes loosen overworked and tense muscles. It’s surprising the number of nasty knots I find hiding under the shoulder-blades. More generally, massage improves circulation, drains toxins, reduces blood pressure and improves digestion. I also often use Indian Head Massage techniques to work on key points on the head and face to relax clients. For example, working on the deep occipital muscles at the base of the skull can reduce tension headaches. All my clients say it’s wonderful.
I am not claiming massage to be the universal cure for 21st Century stress, but it certainly helps.
Alastair Bishop is available at the Down 2 Earth Heart Centre on Thursday Drop In’s between 11am & 4pm.