Stress Cycle

By: Tanya Lafontaine RMT

Stress is quite prevalent both in my profession as a RMT but also in our society as a whole.  As a registered massage therapist, I see the physical effects of stress on my clients every day. While some bodies are able to tolerate it well, many clients come in with incredibly tight shoulders, back and neck.

In school, we learned about something called the pain cycle, where if someone is in pain, they will adapt their posture or their gait in order to feel less pain. This altered posture works to an extent but tenses other muscles, hence the cycle. I believe this closely applies to stress as well. When we’re stressed, no matter the cause, many of us adapt certain postures; for some it may be curling their shoulders inwards; others may lock their backs as if to almost guard themselves; some grind their teeth or clench their jaws. The body reacts to these different positions and tightens the affected muscles. Now not only are we stressed, but we’re really sore and possibly getting tension headaches from our tightened shoulders and neck and it builds from there.

These stress cycles don’t always affect just our physical bodies either. Often times our mental health and wellbeing are completely thrown for a loop, making the cycle last that much longer and that much harder to get out of.

So what can we do to?

Managing the stressor is the first step – first externally by changing what we can about the situation to make it more manageable and secondly, by changing how we deal with the stressor internally. (Easier said than done, I realize, but necessary nonetheless. )  Just as importantly, we need to start getting our bodies back to a painless or more manageable level. This could be through a few close-together massage appointments or a regimen of stretching, hydrotherapy and exercise – depending on what your health care provider or registered massage therapist suggests.

Once things are more manageable, we need to do what we can to ensure this does n0t reoccur.  There needs to be a rebalancing of our lives and priorities (here’s an article about relaxation and why it is important) Regular “maintenance massage” is something I recommend to most of my clients to ensure everything continues running smoothly. This way, if tension is beginning to build up, a little bit of attention is usually all it needs and voila! Problem solved. Exercise and a good regimen of stretching also make a world of difference to our wellbeing.

Our mental health also needs some love and so if you find massage relaxing, make it a part of your healthcare routine. Or do other things that help you unwind so that you’re able to deal with stressors in a calm, rational manner thus completely preventing a stress cycle. Take time out and take care of yourself.

And if you’re caught in a cycle right now, start making some baby steps to get out of it. It’s not easy, I know, but you can get out of it with a bit of help, promise.


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