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Massage, Bodywork, Health and Fitness

4 Effective Ways to Reduce Stress

BlueLotusStress reduction is a popular topic these days and for good reasons. Chronic stress can lead to a weakened immune system and increase the risk of diseases. Over a prolonged period, this can damage the body and emotional well-being in a number of ways.

Some symptoms of chronic stress include depression, weight gain, panic attacks and stomach ulcers. According to an article by Amanda Chan, written for the Huffington Post, there is research suggesting that chronic stress can lead to and/or increase the risk of major diseases and problems such as cancer, brain shrinkage, stroke, heart disease and more. Click here to read the article.

Stress activates a center of the brain known as the amygdala. Its primary functions are to process memories with emotional events and emotional reactions. Different sub regions of the amygdala regulate the release of cortisol and activate the autonomic nervous system (the fight or flight response). Too much stress will impact the neural development of different areas in the brain. According to one study done at Yale University, extreme stress decreased gray matter in regions of the brain that deal with emotional regulation and response.

This may look like dire news, especially if you suffer from chronic stress. However, there is good news. There are a number of ways to reduce stress and you can easily incorporate these methods into your daily life. Better news still is that many of the methods can create changes in the neural structures of the brain, like the amygdala, to help you create long-term, permanent changes. Read below four ways to reduce stress in your life.

1. Massage Therapy

Massage Therapy both immediately reduces stress hormones like cortisol after a single massage session as well as over a period of treatments. According to a review of studies done by the Touch Research Institute, it significantly alters biochemistry by both lowering levels of cortisol and increasing levels of serotonin and dopamine. This change in biochemistry lead to reduced anxiety, depression, anger and hostility as well as improving mood, immune function, range of motion, and overall lifestyle. Studies on the affects of massage therapy on immune disorders like HIV and Breast Cancer have shown that massage increases natural killer cells that destroy viral and cancer cells. Massage therapy is an effective therapy to immediately reduce stress and with regular treatments it can help you maintain lower levels of stress.

2. Meditation and Mindfulness

There is a lot of research now showing that meditation is effective for short-term and long-term stress reduction. A study done at the University of Wisconsin by Dr. Davidson, looked at the brains of several individuals, specifically the left and right regions of the prefrontal cortex. The right region is more active in individuals who are anxious, hypervigilant, stressed and depressed. More activity in the left side pertains to feelings of contentment and positive emotions. Of all the people who participated in the study, it was a Tibetan Monk who showed significantly more activity in the left side. Davidson continued to study the brains of Tibetan Monks and these studies demonstrated that larger regions of the left side were activated in comparison to individuals who do not meditate. As a number of other studies suggest, meditation changes your brain by reducing activation in regions that deal with stress and it increases activation and strengthens neural structures in areas that deal with peace and contentment.

Click here for a resource on how to do Mindfulness Meditation.

3. Yoga

Hatha Yoga is not only a great way to exercise the mind and body it also significantly reduces stress. One research study measured the stress levels before and after a 3-week intensive yoga program. The measures showed that the women who participated in the yoga course had much lower cortisol levels than compared to the control group. Another study done at the University of Oslo, measured the gene expression of people who participated in a week-long yoga retreat. The measures showed that gene expression, particularly in immune cells, changed significantly after a 4-hour yoga session. It nearly tripled the gene expression of those who performed a walking-based relaxation technique.

Here are some Yoga basics and poses.

4. Guided Imagery

More and more guided imagery is being used in hospitals as a way to reduce stress in patients and to improve immune functioning. There are various studies that demonstrate that guided imagery reduces cortisol levels and is an effective aid in preparing for and recovering from surgery. It has shown to decrease pain and the side effects following a medical procedure. It improves immune functioning thereby improving the healing process.

Here is a resource on how to do guided imagery.

Massage Works Los Gatos offers massage therapy that does just that, it works, to help you get relief from chronic or acute pain as well as stress and strain. Our mission is to help active women and men incorporate massage as part of a healthy lifestyle to live with positive energy and vitality. Our skilled massage therapists help you get relief from problems such as headaches, carpal tunnel, knee pain and sciatica.

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