By Amber Mills.
Many Americans feel stress coming at them from every direction. Money, work, job stability, and home life are just some of the many stressors Americans cited as causing their never ending battle with stress, according to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in American 2010 Survey. The survey also showed that American’s are dealing with stress in unhealthy ways and that the stress parents are feeling is starting to trickle down to their children. We as a nation are overwhelmed by stress. We must get our stress under control by changing our lifestyles and behaviors.
We all know how we feel when we encounter stress but exactly what happens inside our bodies? Cortisol is a hormone that gets released by your adrenal glands when you are in a stressed state or in “flight or fight” mode. Entering into “flight or fight” mode or feeling stressed out from time to time is normal and the body is able to keep hormones in balance. However, many American live under stress constantly and that is when it becomes a problem for your body. When cortisol is released continuously in your body, it will cause your immune system to be suppressed, your blood pressure to be elevated and fat can deposit around your abdominal area. These negative side effects of cortisol elevation can put you at risk for a heart attack and stroke. To keep cortisol regulated, the body must enter into a relaxed state. If not, our bodies start to pay the price.
What can we do to rid the body of stress? We can never totally eliminate stress and stressors, but every effort to reduce or cope with them has to become a priority! Studies have shown that massage and mindfulness are just two natural ways to effectively reduce stress and improve your overall health and wellbeing.
Massage lowers cortisol levels, boosts immunity and increases serotonin and dopamine levels. By lowering cortisol (our stress hormone) and boosting serotonin and dopamine (our “feel good” chemicals), massage can knock out stress and bring back a sense of calm and well-being that your body needs. According to the Touch Research Institute, massage can decrease cortisol levels by about 31% and elevate serotonin by 28% and dopamine by 31%.
What thoughts or images pop into your head when you hear the word mindfulness? For me, the image I conjured up in my mind was a person sitting with crossed legs, eyes closed, saying “om” and trying to focus on a good thought. As I have studied mindfulness in the last six months, I have come to realize it is really quite different than the image I had in my head and perhaps yours too. Mindfulness is rooted in Buddhism and focuses on being present in the moment. Jon Kabat-Zinn, who developed Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, defines mindfulness as “a moment to moment, non-judgmental awareness”. As a person focuses their awareness on their sensations of anger, anxiety and frustrations, without passing judgment or reacting to them, a person can begin to quiet their mind. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction is now being used in over 250 hospitals in this country and universities such as Duke and the University of Massachusetts are offering classes and training in it. General Mills, Google and Aetna are just a few large corporations that are seeing the benefits of mindfulness for their employees so they are less stressed and more productive.
So, if stress has been an ongoing battle for you, perhaps it is time to defend your body before irreversible damage is done.
Do you desire to become more mindful in your day to day life so that your life isn’t centered around stress? There are numerous mindfulness training programs available and some great books to help you incorporate mindfulness in your daily life. Make it a priority to get a massage so that your “feel good” chemicals can overpower that evil stress hormone cortisol!