“I’m so stressed!” How many times this week has that thought crossed your mind? How many times this week has the thought of how stressed you are consumed you and derailed your day?
Dave Wheeler, DW Sports Massage expertly explains the root of your stress response, how it affects your body and what you can do to counter that response
The hidden tiger: stress
A caveman decides to go out hunting.
He’s glad to get out of the cave, with all the noise of his partner and kids.
As he’s walking along enjoying the sounds of the wildlife in scrubland around him, a tiger suddenly jumps from behind a rock in front of him, roaring.
Actually, in that split second a lot of things are going on in our caveman’s body:
- a huge surge of adrenaline is released into his body
- his heart rate and blood pressure jump up
- the major muscle groups tense up ready for action (especially in his arms and legs)
- non-essential systems like the digestive system close down to allow more energy to be diverted to the emergency task of dealing with the tiger
- his range of vision narrows to focus only on the tiger, and he loses all peripheral vision
- his pupils dilate so that as much light as possible enters the eyes
- the veins in his skin constrict as blood is diverted to the major muscles – this is why, he’ll feel the chill of fear when he sees the tiger
Our caveman isn’t the only one to react like this: it’s a natural automatic reaction of all animals to danger. It’s called the fight or flight response and provides the caveman, and the animals he hunts with a way of responding quickly to danger without having to spend time thinking about what to do.
The modern tiger: stress
There aren’t too many tigers hiding behind rocks to pounce on us these days.
But what’s interesting is that this flight or flight response that’s triggered in our caveman when faced with the roaring tiger is the same response that our body uses when we face stress. Our bodies are pretty much still the same as the caveman’s, so when we’re stressed the only response that our body has in its armoury is the fight or flight response.
Adrenaline starts pumping round your body, your blood pressure goes up, your arms and legs tense up, your range of vision narrows so that all you can see is the problem you’re facing (what’s causing your stress) and you can’t see around it.
The caveman’s body is designed to deal with the short term danger of the tiger. It’s not designed to live with the constant threat of danger day in, day out for months or years.
Your body’s not designed to deal with stress. A mechanism that’s meant to be useful in short term ends up being really destructive if its just left to run in the long term – and since it’s a natural reaction of the body that happens without thinking it pretty hard to think your way out of it.
This fight or flight response is triggered by part of the nervous system, and it can only be switched off by the same part of the nervous system.
Rest and digest response
For the caveman, when the danger from the tiger has passed (he’s either fought it and won, or run away), the fight or flight response and the body initiates an opposite response to restore normal body function. This is called the rest and digest response.
When the rest and digest response is fired, the following things happen:
- adrenaline production reduces
- heart rate and blood pressure go down
- your digestive system gets back to normal functioning
- your range of vision (and the ability to think about things that aren’t immediately posing a threat) widens out again
- your major muscles relax
- you relax
Now imagine that you’re under stress constantly and your rest and digest response never really kicks in to get you back to normal. Think of what that’s doing to your body and your health.
Massage stimulates the same part of the nervous system that initiates the rest and digest response – in other words, it counters the effects of stress. A deep tissue massage will:
- reduce your heart rate and blood pressure
- relax your muscles
- relax your mind
- make your stomach rumble (yep, that’s your digestive system getting back to normal)
It’s all about reducing the stress. Reduce your stress with a visit to DW Sports Massage