Reducing Stress for Improved Mental and Physical Health
The Dark Side: Stress, Inflammation and Disease
You’ve likely heard that stress is a “silent killer.” This CDC article on job stress lists these early warning signs of being overstressed:
- Sleep disturbances
- Trouble concentrating
- Short temper
- Upset stomach
- Job dissatisfaction
- Low morale
Research shows that unchecked stress can lead to:
- Cardiovascular Disease
- Musculoskeletal Disorders
- Psychological Disorders
- Workplace Injury
- Suicide, Cancer, Ulcers, and Impaired Immune Function
Science Daily notes that inflammation is a direct result of stress and contributes to many diseases. Researcher Sheldon Cohen at Carnegie Mellon University stated:
“The immune system’s ability to regulate inflammation predicts who will develop a cold, but more importantly it provides an explanation of how stress can promote disease,” Cohen said. “When under stress, cells of the immune system are unable to respond to hormonal control, and consequently, produce levels of inflammation that promote disease. Because inflammation plays a role in many diseases such as cardiovascular, asthma and autoimmune disorders, this model suggests why stress impacts them as well.”
Another Science Daily publication demonstrates that Greater lifetime exposure to the stress of traumatic events was linked to higher levels of inflammation in heart patients:
“Not everyone who is exposed to trauma develops PTSD,” said [Beth] Cohen [MD], who is also an assistant professor of medicine at UCSF. “This study emphasizes that traumatic stress can have a long-term negative impact on your health even if you don’t go on to develop PTSD.”
“We know that in the aftermath of traumatic stress, people become more sensitive to threats,” she said. “This is actually pro-survival, because if you’re in a dangerous environment, that alertness can help you avoid future harm.”
However, she explained, people with heightened threat sensitivity may also show increased inflammatory responses. “What we think is happening is that people with a history of multiple traumatic stress exposures have increased inflammatory response more often and for longer periods, and so inflammation becomes chronically high,” she said.
Psychology Today points out that stress from trauma can lead to poorer health:
“Where the rubber meets the road is that higher lifetime trauma was associated with higher levels of inflammatory cytokines at baseline and 5 years later. When the researchers controlled for psychological symptoms of the trauma (for example, PTSD or a clinical depression), the relationship held, meaning those who had undergone trauma had elevations of inflammation even if their behavior and coping seemed more normal by psychiatric diagnostic standards. In these folks with pre-existing cardiovascular disease, higher inflammation is associated with greater risk of death and complication.”
The Bright Side: Massage Helps
The good news is that massage therapy can help eliminate your stress, tension and their negative effects. Numerous studies have shown massage therapy can:
- Decrease high blood pressure
- Lower pulse rate
- Slow respiratory rate
- Lessen or eliminate anxiety
- Relieve stress
- Improve sleep
- Relax tension
- Reduce cortisol (the stress hormone)
- Alleviate depression
- Increase quality of life
Studies showing a positive correlation between massage and better mental and physical health outcomes include these and others:
- Conclusion: “Massage therapy caused a decrease in systolic BP [blood pressure], pulse, and respiratory rate. It can be concluded that massage therapy was useful for decreasing the vital signs associated with anxiety in healthy women.”
Comparing the effects of two Swedish massage techniques on the vital signs and anxiety of healthy women.
- Conclusion: “Recent results from self-report questionnaires have shown improvements in sleep pattern and quality of life following massage therapy. These findings demonstrate the effectiveness of massage therapy for the treatment of postmenopausal symptoms, particularly insomnia, and indicate that it is a promising line of research.”
The beneficial effects of massage therapy for insomnia in postmenopausal women.
- Conclusion: “Massage therapy significantly reduced the pain, anxiety, and muscular tension and improves relaxation and satisfaction after cardiac surgery.”
Massage therapy for cardiac surgery patients—a randomized trial.
- Conclusion: “Massage therapy lowered the level of cortisol in the group massaged by the patients’ companions. It can be recommended that massage therapy be used in patients admitted in CCU.”
Effect of Whole Body Massage by Patient’s Companion on the Level of Blood Cortisol in Coronary Patients
- Conclusion: “Findings of the study indicated that massage therapy was a safe, effective, applicable and cost-effective intervention in controlling BP [blood pressure] of the prehypertension women and it can be used in the health care centers and even at home.”
The effect of massage therapy on blood pressure of women with pre-hypertension.
- Conclusion: “This first monotherapy trial suggests that a complementary and alternative manual therapy, SMT [Swedish Massage Therapy], is an effective acute treatment for GAD [General Anxiety Disorder].”
Acute Swedish Massage Monotherapy Successfully Remediates Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder: A Proof-of-Concept, Randomized Controlled Study.
- Conclusion: “The results suggest that whole body massage was effective in reducing anxiety and stabilizing vital signs of patients with acute coronary disorders.”
Whole body massage for reducing anxiety and stabilizing vital signs of patients in cardiac care unit.
- Conclusion: “Massage therapy had immediate beneficial effects on anxiety-related measures and may be a useful de-escalating tool for reducing stress and anxiety in acutely hospitalized psychiatric patients.”
While small, this pilot study evaluating the effect of massage therapy on stress, anxiety and aggression in a young adult psychiatric inpatient unit showed promise.
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