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Your Stress Response system (SRS) is what responds to the stress you are under on a daily basis. When it is over taxed it can actually kill you. The work piling up on your desk, sitting in traffic on I-5, waiting in lines at the bank, balancing your budget, engaging in a relationship with your spouse or significant other, taking care of children or elderly family members, not having enough time in the day and especially not having enough time for yourself can put too much stress on your body and health. Having a healthy stress response system will allow you to deal with or respond to the stress in a healthier more efficient way.
What happens to your body when under stress? Your body responds by sending out more adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances the brain's use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues. Cortisol alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system and growth processes as a first response as these systems are not as essential when under stress. Your stress response system usually will quiet down on its own after the stress has stopped.
The thing is that most stress is ongoing meaning the body is always responding to stress. An uncontrolled increase in adrenalin and cortisol can have a negative affect on health. Over exposure to these and other stress hormones can disrupt almost all your body's processes, increasing your risk of obesity, insomnia, digestive problems, heart disease, depression, memory impairment, physical illnesses and other complications. A healthy SRS allows reactions that are appropriately gauged to the circumstances: big reactions to big threats; small reactions to small threats. Furthermore, people who have a sluggish SRS also tend to have more stress responses, more often, to less threatening stimuli; those responses have longer lasting effects on the body. This type of person fumes in a long checkout line, frets in heavy traffic and explodes when the dog gets into the garbage. This person may have a sluggish, but overreactive stress response and a tendency to develop depression.
What Determines the Health of the SRS?
Studies on animals reveal one reason for a sluggish stress response: lack of tactile stimulation, or touch. Touch improves the efficiency of the pituitary-adrenal axis or your stress response system. Receiving non sexual, nurturing, non threatening touch is one of the most important ways humans and other mammals have to keep a healthy stress response. Massage moves people from a sympathetic to a parasympathetic state. This brings about several physiological and chemical changes in the body, including an increase in serotonin secretion and a decrease in cortisol.
"Soothing touch, whether it be applied to a ruffled cat, a crying infant, or a frightened child, has a universally recognized power to ameliorate the signs of distress. How can it be that we overlook its usefulness on the jangled adult as well? What is it that leads us to assume that the stressed child merely needs "comforting," while the stressed adult needs "medicine"? -- from Job's Body: A Handbook for Bodywork by Deane Juhan
"Jangled" Adults Touch and the Stress Response System By Ruth Werner Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, February/March 2006.
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