December is National Stress-Free Family Holidays Month

9 years ago
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Stress diminishes productivity, motivation and concentration. It contributes to illness, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and strokes; has a negative impact on the immune system, and causes aging at the cellular level. Seventy-five to ninety percent of all visits to the doctor are for stress related complaints.

Cortisol (commonly referred to as the stress hormone) is a hormone released in the body during times of physical and psychological stress or agitation. This hormone is necessary for the functioning of almost every part of the body - it regulates blood pressure, cardiovascular function and the use of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. However, excesses or deficiencies of cortisol can lead to various symptoms and disease states. Relaxation helps the body to achieve and maintain the appropriate cortisol levels.

Stress Reduction Strategies

The use of aromatherapy dates back to ancient civilizations. Some of the oldest documented uses of aromatherapy were found in Ancient Egypt, as well as in Ancient Africa, Mesopotamia, Greece, Babylon and China. Resins, oils and fragrant plants were used for ceremonial, pleasurable and medicinal purposes. There are three basic types of aromatherapy used today: 1) cosmetic aromatherapy - essential oils used in skin and hair products containing all-natural ingredients; 2) massage aromatherapy - combines the healing touch of massage with the aromatic benefits of essential oils; and 3) olfactory aromatherapy - "application" of essential oils by direct inhalation or diffusion into the air.

Essential oils are derived from aromatic plants and are used to heal, relax, balance, rejuvenate, restore or enhance the body, mind and spirit. Different essential oils elicit different responses in the brain and on the body. For example, certain oils stimulate the body while others sedate. While one can raise the blood pressure, another can lower it. When applied topically, certain oils can be anti-microbial, anti-fungal or anti-inflammatory.

Findings from a recent study by the Thomas Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia suggest that practicing yoga, even for the very first time, can normalize cortisol levels in the body that are either too high or too low. People who take up yoga report that they feel more relaxed almost immediately after the first session.

A single yoga session can lower levels of cortisol. Yoga increases the range of motion of joints, enhances flexibility, and helps tone, lengthen and strengthen the muscles. Yoga has psychological benefits as well. Studies suggest that yoga can create or enhance positive states of mind. British and German studies found that yoga resulted in an increase in alertness, mental and physical energy, and life satisfaction; and a decrease in aggressiveness, emotionality and sleep problems.

Swedish, deep-tissue, hot stone, Shiatsu, Reiki, acupressure, Rolfing and reflexology are just some of the massage and bodywork techniques that are being used today. Several of these massage and bodywork techniques date back to ancient times. Massage can be used for relaxation, revitalization and healing.

The various techniques are known to release muscle tension, toxins and excess fluid from the body. Circulation is increased, the number of red blood cells and the amount of hemoglobin is increased, and muscles gain elasticity. The techniques are also believed to have therapeutic effects on conditions such as asthma, migraines, insomnia and high blood pressure.

Manage your stress by trying one or more of the techniques described above. Happy December and enjoy your stress-free holidays!