The Effects of Stress and Anxiety on the Body

Have you ever been stressed out before? Of course you have, we all have at some point in our lives. But when we really look at it, stress may have a little bit more of an effect on us than we think. According to The American Institute of Stress (AIS); Hans Selye in 1936, coined the term “stress” who defined it as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change”. When looking at how our bodies react to stress, or “demanding a change” it shows evidence of the Body-Mind connection. We have all felt that electric shock course through our bodies, after someone almost crashes their car into ours. That sudden urge to use the restroom when you're nervously awaiting to make a speech. These are our built-in defense mechanisms allowing the right hormones to release when we need them most. It is important to note that none of these things are conscious thoughts that we need to think about, they just simply happen by themselves. Our bodies are equipped with this intricate network designed to keep us safe.

When we are under stress, our Sympathetic Nervous System responds in the famous “fight or flight” response. Two major stress hormones are Cortisol and Adrenaline, working to protect the body in an instant. During this response these hormones are focused on preparing the body for battle, causing chain reactions. Here are a few familiar ones:

Heart rate increase; possibly causing shortness of breath or increase in blood pressure.

Muscles to contract; causing muscle tension which can lead to soreness.

Disruption in digestion; which can cause slow digestion following a stressful event.

Another major reaction to chronic stress, is increased inflammation. The issue with inflammation, although it may not seem important, is it underlies many diseases. An article written by Paula Derrow (2018) quoted Dr. Gupta listing these diseases linked to inflammation: “heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis (MS) and even pain”.

Much like stress, the body also has a response to anxiety. Someone who suffers from stress and anxiety might also suffer from things like panic attacks, chest pain, light headedness, fatigue, muscles aches or an upset stomach. Some minor symptoms can be alleviated through the use of holistic medicine and integrative therapies.

Here’s how Massage can help:

Massage Therapy activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System, also known as the “rest and digest” response. This response restores the body to a state of calm and equilibrium to allow it to relax and repair itself (Hansen 2018). Massage may encourage an increase of endorphins, serotonin and dopamine levels. Those three hormones are important for relaxation, a sense of well-being and promoting better sleep. Also, during this response a few important things happen that encourage the healing process:

Heart rate drops; allowing you to feel a sense of calm and relaxation.

Muscles relax; giving your body a break from constant tension.

Digestive enzymes are released; the reason you may pass gas during a massage session and a completely normal response.

A few other benefits of massage from The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) are: relieve stress, reduce anxiety, manage low-back pain, help fibromyalgia pain, enhance exercise performance, relieve tension headaches, ease symptoms of depression and promote better sleep. Now who couldn't use some of those benefits? It is so important to find a wellness plan specific to your body and what it needs. Some people find themselves going to the gym to blow off steam when they are stressed. Others find themselves scheduling a spa day to relax and unwind. We are only given this one body to live in, so where will you live if you don’t take care of it?

Quick relaxation: The 4-7-8 breathing exercise

With your mouth closed inhale through your nose for a count of 4

Hold your breath for a count of 7

Exhale through your mouth for a count of 8

Repeat this three times or as needed until you feel your natural breath is calmer.

This exercise is said to slow your breath to that if you were sleeping. Try this during a stressful day at work or when you are trying to fall asleep!