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About Stress and Touch from
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Long Term Effects of Constant Stress


We all have stress. A little stress is actually good. It can spur us on to meet a deadline or complete a project. The normal stress cycle is:

Stressor ~ the project or event

Response ~ do the work

Resolution ~ finish the project or event ~ then relax.

The “Fight or Flight” response~

The stress response turns off activities that aren't required for short-term survival, such as digestion, growth, immune system response, bone and tissue repair, reproductive functions and more. This is why when we are working on a project deadline we may skip a meal and not feel hungry or get less sleep and not feel tired. In everyday life we tend to go from one stressor to the next, or even take on more than one stressor at a time, without completion or relaxation.

Over time, constant stress becomes damaging. Skipping lunch one day has a much different effect on the body than skipping lunch every day for a week or a month.

Chronic Stress~

Some symptoms of chronic stress are:

Feeling pressured to do more, exhaustion and fatigue, depression, anxiety, memory loss, poor judgment, colds, flus, headaches, sleep disturbances weight loss or gain and many more.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety (CCOHS) lists these as signs that “the help of medical and psychological professionals is highly recommended.”

Brain Changes in Chronic Stress~

The amygdala is an almond shaped mass of nuclei located deep within the brain. It is a limbic system structure that is involved in many of our emotions and motivations, particularly those that are related to survival and learning. The amygdala is involved in learning and memory storage as well as the processing of emotions such as fear, anger and pleasure.

Recent studies show that under long-term, ongoing stress the amygdala grow extra branches to the fight or flight centers while the branches to the learning, reasoning, and memory centers shrink.

The negative effects of stress on our bodies are many and vary in each person. Scientific evidence mounts every day to encourage us to reduce the stress in our lives.

Reducing the stress (Resolution)

One of the easiest ways to resolve a stressor is to remove ourselves from the stressor. This is easy when a project or event is completed but how do we do that with on-going situations? Removing ourselves in a productive way such as a massage, mild exercise, meditation, or breathing exercises is a great way to start the “Rest and Repair” response which is the body's antidote to “Fight or Flight”.

Getting enough rest for your body and the proper nutrition intake are also important.

Cut back on caffeine and sugar, include two fruits and/or vegetables at every meal or snack, eat mini-meals instead of large meals, and cut back on alcohol.

Of course, if you are under the care of a physician, you should always check with him/her before making and changes.

The “How Stressed Am I” Quiz

Compiled by Sheila Star Coulbourn, HHP, CMT


Emotional stress:

Rate yourself as to how you typically react in each of the situations listed below.

There are no right or wrong answers. Try to rate yourself honestly without judgment.

4 = Always  3 = Frequently  2 = Sometimes  1 = Never


Enter a number in the box for each question. When you complete the questionnaire, add up your total number of points.

1. Do you try to do as much as possible in the least amount of time?
2. Do you become impatient with delays or interruptions?
3. Do you have to win at games to enjoy yourself?
4. Do you find yourself speeding up the car to beat the red light?
5. Are you unlikely to ask for or indicate you need help with a problem?
6. Do you constantly seek the respect and admiration of others?
7. Are you overly critical of the way others do their work?
8. Do you have the habit of looking at your watch or clock often?
9.Do you constantly strive to better your position and achievements?
10. Do you spread yourself "too thin" in terms of your time?
11. Do you have the habit of doing more than one thing at a time?
12. Do you frequently get angry or irritable?
13. Do you have little time for hobbies or time by yourself?
14. Do you have a tendency to talk quickly or hasten conversations?
15. Do you consider yourself hard-driving?
16. Do you have trouble concentrating?
17. Do you have a tendency to get involved in multiple projects?
18. Do you have a lot of deadlines in your work?
19. Do you feel vaguely guilty if you relax and do nothing during leisure?
20. Do you take on too many responsibilities?



Answer Key

If your score is between 20 and 30, chances are you are non-productive or your life lacks stimulation.

A score between 31 and 50 designates a good balance in your ability to handle and control stress.

If you tallied up a score ranging between 51 and 60, your stress level is marginal and you are bordering on being excessively tense.

If your total number of points exceeds 60, you are in a state of chronic stress.


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According to Hank Wesselman, Ph.D., “Science has revealed that the power of touch triggers changes in the body that activate healing and increase longevity.”

Touch is essential for survival. We all need to be touched and to feel the connection to other human beings. Single people, or those whose significant other is gone for extended periods of time, who go for more than a few weeks without being touched may start showing signs of touch deprivation which include depression, raised levels of stress and tension and are more likely to develop symptoms of illness.
In a six-month study by Otto Weininger of infants whose mothers were taught to stroke their infants’ backs, it was reported that these infants had fewer sniffles, colds, vomiting and diarrhea than the infants whose mothers had not been taught to stroke them.

One of the ways you can safely allow yourself to be touched is through massage. A one hour massage once a week or every two weeks can fulfill one’s need for touch. It can also lower stress levels, release tension held in the body and induce a deep state of relaxation.

In an article published in Newsweek, written by Anne Underwood, she states, “Scientists are now finding that massage can reduce blood pressure, boost the immune system, dampen harmful stress hormones and raise mood elevating brain chemicals such as serotonin”.

I believe that an act of self-care, such as bodywork, helps reduce stress and promotes a calmer emotional state. This leads to more caring actions in a calmer manner which keeps the levels of stress and tension reduced which leads to more caring actions which leads to another act of self care, and so on. I refer to this as a positive spiral effect. Any act of self-care will start the spiral. If not massage, a hot bath with calming music, a peaceful walk in nature or any other act that causes you to physically slow down, breathe slower, deeper and relax, would be beneficial.


Sheila Star Coulbourn, HHP, CMT



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