We live fast paced lives and most of us are no strangers to life’s stressors. Stress plays such a huge role in our lives that some people create classifications to our personalities based on how we respond to stress.
As defined by the Business Dictionary:
Type A personalities are : “… characterized by excessive ambition, aggression, competitiveness, drive, impatience, need for control, focus on quantity over quality and unrealistic sense of urgency. It is commonly associated with risk of coronary disease and other stress-related ailments.” (1)
Type B personalities are : “… characterized by moderate ambition and drive, accommodating attitude, cooperativeness, focus on quality over quantity and, in general, an easy going approach to life.” (2)
Which personality type best describes you? Many would find that they fall under Type A (if based on extremities).
Constant exposure to stress have led to disassociation and disconnection from our bodies. You may know when you are feeling stressed or pressured, but do you know what happens to your body when we enter this state?
Let’s start with identifying the different types of stress. Stress comes in different forms:
- Physical – activities that affect the physical body directly (eg. exercises, travelling, working and resting habits etc).
- Emotional – stressors that affect one’s emotions and mental state of mind (eg. family issues, financial stress, work stress etc.)
- Traumatic – an event which causes physical, emotional, spiritual, or psychological harm – eg. car crash, natural disasters, violent crimes etc. where even when the event has passed, one might still experience strong emotional or physical reactions.
- Acute (short-term stress) – result from stress that occurs ‘on-the-spot’ or for a short period of time. (eg. traffic jams, being stuck in the lift, an argument with a loved one etc.)
- Chronic (long-term stress) – psychological or emotional pressure inflicted over a prolonged period of time in which one has the perception that one has little or no control.
When the body undergoes stress, our nervous system reacts by releasing stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which prepares the body for split-second reactions. When this happens, our body switches from a parasympathetic mode (rest and digest) into a sympathetic mode (fight or flight reaction):
- Heart pounds faster
- Blood pressure rises
- Muscles tightens
- Breathing accelerates
- Senses become heightened
While some doses of stress can be beneficial to us. (With everything in life, there must be a balance, as with stress: there’s good stress and bad stress.) When we are under stress, we sometimes realize that you can work more efficiently, and remember things better (4). However, if we were to remain in the state of stress for a long period of time, the consistent and ongoing increase in heart rate and the elevated levels of stress hormones and blood pressure can take a serious toll on our body. This in turn increases the risk for hypertension, heart attack or stroke. In addition, high levels of cortisol can also wear down the brain’s activity to function properly.
Yes, we can work on relaxing and releasing stress, through exercising, reducing our caffeine intake, spending time with people who bring us joy, laughing, writing or drawing, etc. Unfortunately, sometimes these preventive measures might not be sufficient to balance the stress levels in our body. More often than not, some types of stressors we encounter in our lives leave lasting impacts on our bodies which requires more intentional and deeper intervention.
In an article discussing stress that’s stuck in our bodies, Lauren Roxburgh (structural integration and alignment specialist) & Jill Willard (fascia and pelvic floor specialist) indicated that stress can be stuck in five main areas: “The five areas are the jaw/neck/face, the shoulders/heart, the diaphragm/lungs, the stomach/gut, and the pelvic floor/hips. What I’ve observed in literally thousands of clients is that stuck stress manifests itself in blockages, pain, tension, and rigidity in the fascia or connective tissue; it can actually be felt as I work on these parts of the body.” (5)
We hold so much tension in our bodies which we are literally unaware of. For example, our throat clamps up and our jaw tightens when we hold ourselves back from speaking our truths. When we carry the weight of responsibilities we hold them in our shoulders and chest, gradually hardening them as we carry these burdens in our physical bodies, as if braced for impact at any one time. All these stressors contain energy which winds itself in our bodies, seeping into our muscles and joints and manifesting emotions and memories into our physical bodies.
There are measures in place which we use as a band-aid whenever we get too overwhelmed, thinking that we’ve dealt with the calming down and de-stressing, we go back to our normal lives. Over time, the build up becomes too overpowering, and we end up burning out or having a melt down. It’s our bodies telling us that enough is enough.
When we ignore these signs and signals, we see an increasing number of illnesses related to stress. Some of the common ones are:
- Chronic fatigue
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Migraine headaches
- Muscle tension
There are no medical cures for stress and yet a large number of patients visits to the doctor are for stress-related illnesses.
“There is an intimate and dynamic relationship between what is going on in your life, with your feelings and thoughts, and what happens in your body.”Dep Shapiro, 2007
So, how do we go about unwinding the stress that’s seeped into our joints, muscles and tissues?
Craniosacral therapists evaluates the bodies’ Craniosacral Rhythms. Through hand placement on the skull and sacrum, we are trained to feel for shifts within the body. Craniosacral Therapy (CST) uses the body’s innate ability to move and ease the layers of membranes and fluids within the body through gentle manipulation of the sacrum and cranium.
CST works on encouraging the release of symptoms caused by physical, emotional, and traumatic stress. As I work on tuning down the body and Central Nervous System back to its parasympathetic state, the physical restrictions holding our body in its fight or flight reaction loosens, and this releases the stressors and emotions that were trapped in corresponding parts of our bodies.
Therapy by Sharon provides general information and discussion about medicine, health and related subjects. The words and other content provided in this blog, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the reader or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other health care worker.
Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog or in any linked materials. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 995 immediately.
The views expressed on this blog and website have no relation to those of any academic, hospital, practice or other institution with which the authors are affiliated.