By Boris Prilutsky
In order to understand why massage is so efficient in reducing side effects of stress, the mechanism of development of these side effects should be well understood. Imagine being confronted by a large angry dog. The human body responses to this shocking stress with the “fight or flight” reflex, expressed by a sharp increase in breathing rate, heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormone production. Such reflect is common to all mammals. In a situation of confrontation with the adversary mind is pumping blood to the extremities preparing the animal to either chase the prey, defend the kill, fighting for their life or running away.
In our daily life stress-causing factors are usually much different than that of the dog attack. It could be small things like the news headlines of tragedies and disasters, job or business related stress, personal problems or responsibilities, intellectual pressure of studies or exams, etc. So the stress causing factors could be different, but the mechanism is the same as it was when our remote ancestors had to make a split second decision of clubbing the cave bear or running away. The stress causing factors impinge on our health little by little, but year after year their effect causes increasing imbalance of sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, resulting in high blood pressure, clinical depression, anxiety, diabetes, heart attack, etc. Stress management massage is the most powerful method in balancing the activities of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and therefore it is so effective in managing side-effects of stress.
Stress and Cardiovascular Abnormalities
Arteries are equipped with smooth muscles and nerves to contract as well as dilate. Stress factors cause elevated activities of the sympathetic nervous system, which result in vasoconstriction (constriction of blood vessels). Constricted vessels cause an increase in blood pressure and significant amplification of peripheral vascular resistance, which is the main obstacle in a way of proper cardiac work. Under stressful conditions the heart must not only perform its non-stop function of pumping blood to all body systems, but it must also work extra hard to overcome the added peripheral vascular resistance.
With time this overload of cardiac work leads to heart attack and other heart diseases related to exhaustion of the cardiac muscle. Also, elevated level of cardiac work demands a greater amount of arterial blood supply, which is unavailable in the presence of vasoconstriction. The constant vasoconstriction and high blood pressure accelerates the development of arteriosclerosis. In turn, arteriosclerosis can be the main cause for heart diseases, kidney diseases, and strokes.
Stress and clinical depression
Additional stress related phenomenon that supports all negative reactions of our body to stress is an increased production of stress hormones. Constantly being overstressed, the central nervous system is excited sometimes to a point when it cannot take anymore. At this point, as an act of defense, the centers cause a reduction of the amount and activities of serotonin within the brain. One of the twelve neurotransmitters, serotonin is largely responsible for our waking state. Reduction of the quantities and activities of serotonin in the brain is clinically expressed as depression.
Stress and diabetes type 2 (insulin receptor resistance)
The constant increase of stress hormones is causing higher receptors resistance to insulin. Recapping the case of confronting an aggressive dog, a person needs an extra sugar level in blood to support the “fight or flight” action. In the daily stressful routine, many of non overweight people are developing diabetes.
Physiological effect of massage on the human body
From the very first treatment, the positive changes occurring in the functions of organs and systems include reduction of the factors that constantly bombard/excite the central nervous system.
The two factors define the physiological effect of massage on humans.
Thus massage therapy tremendously helps in breaks the vicious cycle leading otherwise to the developments of illnesses related to stress.
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