Rachel Richards

licensed massage therapist

east village, nyc

News: July 2023

When Stress Overstays Its Welcome

You probably know that major life changes are stressful. Marriage, divorce, retirement, pregnancy and personal injury are a few examples of highly stressful life events. For many, stress levels lower once the event has passed. The real dangers are the daily little hastles and inconveniences that add up over time, causing chronic stress that wears us down. Examples of smaller stressors are disliking work, familial conflicts, financial burdens, too many responsibilities, being taken for granted, and dissatisfaction with your appearance.

We often think of stress as a fight or flight reaction to a threat. In fact, stress is a physiological process that happens over time, and can be outlined in stages: alarm, resistance, exhaustion. The alarm stage is your immediate response to a stressor. Something disrupts your equilibrium, causing a racing heart, fast and shallow breathing, sweaty palms, and stomach butterflies - a classic fight or flight response.

In the resistance phase, our bodies try to regain equilibrium as we assess the problem, consider solutions, and establish control over the situation. We build resistance to the threat. In an ideal world, the stressful event comes to an end and our physiology returns to normal. Unfortunately, many stressors are ongoing and we enter into a state of exhaustion. With chronic stress, our bodies continuously try but fail to adapt to ongoing challenges, leaving us depleted of energy and vulnerable to illness and injury.

The majority of us live with this psychosomatic disorder - mental stress leads to physical damage. Although the physiologic processes of stress are the same for everyone, the manifestations differ for each individual. We might develop headaches, digestive issues, insomnia, or depression, to name a few. Pain from old injuries will come back to plague us.

Chronic stress also creates muscle tension that can be painful, decrease our range of motion, and disrupt muscle coordination. Tense muscles squeeze off their blood supply, creating oxygen deficiency and a build-up of metabolic waste. This sensitizes pain receptors and we experience tenderness, or pain with touch. Muscle tension also compresses joints, restricting normal movement and stressing the joint surfaces. This puts us at greater risk of strains and sprains. Over time, muscles forget how to relax, so to speak, and retain tension even in the absence of a stressor. A relaxation intervention is needed to break the cycle.

This is where massage therapy works wonders. A lot of first time clients ask me if I think they feel tight. I'll tell you a secret - you can't feel if a muscle is tight by the quality of the tissue. Some people naturally have a lot of muscle tone, some not as much. If there is no pain with massage, it's likely the muscles are healthy. If tenderness is felt by the client, it's a strong indicator of excessive muscle tone.

We know that massage is relaxing and feels great, but we don't always appreciate the power of massage to undo the harmful effects of stress. A meta-analysis of 37 studies found that a single massage session decreased anxiety in the short term, but multiple massage treatments yielded greater and longer-lasting results, decreasing pain, anxiety, and depression. So if you're looking to reduce stress, release muscle tension, ease pain, and substantially boost the quality of your life, get a massage! And then another, and another, and another ...

Eric Brown, "Stress Busting: Your Massage Superpower." Massage Mastery Online
Hans Selye, "Adaptation Syndrome."
Kohn PM, MacDonald JE. "The survey of recent life experiences: A decontaminated hassles scale for adults." Journal of Behavioral Medicine 15(2):221236. 1992.

Relieve Neck Pain and Tension with Soothing Self-Massage

Follow along with this soothing yet powerful self-massage routine to alleviate neck pain and tension, and improve alignment. You'll learn easy myofascial and active release techniques that you can use whenever you have neck pain or discomfort, as well as throughout the day to prevent pain and injuries and keep your neck healthy!

What's new with me ...

For my birthday, Jesse got me tickets to my favorite musical, Sweeney Todd, on Broadway. It did not disappoint. We were in the second row, which made it extra exciting!

Sienna begins her new school year today. After being with the same teachers and students for two years, she's been anxious about starting in a new class. I'm hoping she comes home happy!

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American Massage Therapy Association

Swedish InstituteCertified Myoskeletal TherapistNational Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork

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