We do know that stress weakens our immune system’s ability to fight off disease. It can do this via direct or indirect mechanism. For example, directly, we know that an overwhelmed immune system leads to inflammation. Inflammation, in turn, can exacerbate underlying conditions and contribute to pain, which if not dealt with, can lead to chronic pain.
Indirectly, elevated cortisol (a major stress hormone) leads to poorer sleep quality. The American lifestyle is very fast paced. This often leads to increased cortisol levels, which in turn, affects our quality of life and quantity of sleep. It’s generally thought that Americans get far less sleep than we actually need and I attribute this to our busy lifestyle. While experts say we need a good, solid 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep to keep our immune system healthy, most Americans report only getting 5-6 hours of sleep a night.
We know that people who are more resilient, be it psychologically, physically, or spiritually, bounce back from overly stressful situations quicker and with less difficulty. Massage therapy is one way that you can be more physically resilient against chronic stress. Getting good quality sleep, diet and exercise, are other ways.
While I work with clients on their physical resilience in my massage therapy practice, I work with their emotional and mental resilience in my health coaching practice.
Our immune system is a critical component to fight off diseases, assist in regulating important hormones, and keeping our bodies in balance. Chronic stress is a trigger to persistent inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation has been associated with a long list of health problems, including diabetes and heart disease. In addition, it can lead to changes in the brain that affect our emotional reasoning ability, cause irrational fears, and shut down our rational decision-making processes.
Research has shown, it’s not the severity of the stressor, but it’s the duration of it that more directly affects our overall health. Studies on touch have shown how critical touch is in the development and maintenance of our immune systems. Touch deprivation can contribute to physical violence, sleep disturbance, suppressed immune system, and growth deprivation. In addition, the Framingham Study, which is a major cardiovascular study, has shown that married (or coupled) people where touch is involved, lived longer lives. This is because touch has been shown to reduce stress hormones and stimulates our immune system. Other studies indicate that touch can lower blood pressure, decrease our chances of stroke, and decrease levels of depression and anxiety.
All these points support the idea that massage therapy can be an excellent way to address the effects of chronic stress.