Bodywork and massage are one of the most well known treatments for stress. When we are stressed out, our muscles tighten, our breathing gets shallow, we have trouble concentrating, and it can impact our sleep. We can feel this tension and dysregulation in our bodies.

Receiving bodywork helps reset these stress symptoms, but how does it work its magic? It all begins with the parasympathetic nervous system. Our bodies react to stress by activating the sympathetic nervous system, better known as fight or flight mode. The parasympathetic system turns off fight or flight and moves us to rest and digest mode. Bodywork is a very effective way to activate the parasympathetic system and turn off the alarms of stress.

Stress tightens muscles, getting them ready to fight off lions. Since there usually aren’t any real lions to fight, we can end up carrying around a tremendous amount muscle tension. Bodywork works directly with this tension to reset the state of the muscle. This helps cue the nervous system to reset as well, so that tension releases both from outside stimulation and internal cues.

Stress is also a biochemical event in the body, releasing cortisol, adrenaline, and other stress hormones. Bodywork is effective for lowering the stress hormone levels of the body. This in turn promotes more restful sleep, regulates digestion, and even helps regulate mood for a deeper sense of wellbeing.

Bodywork is an effective treatment for stress because it helps reset the nervous system and turn off the biochemical alarms. It helps activate the body’s own ability to recover and heal by improving blood and nutrient flow, reducing tension, and releasing endorphins. This in turn helps you sleep and feel better.

When we feel stress, it is a whole body event. Moving our bodies, dropping in to our breath, and being more fully present helps us shift the state of our nervous system. It supports our ability to move out of crisis mode and toward health and wellbeing.

Our stress hormones are designed to flood our bodies with the extra boost we need to escape lions, tigers, and bears. This is great when we need it, but modern stress does not involve a lot of literal running for our lives. Instead, we often end up stuck in a chronic stress state, where our body thinks that we are always in mortal danger and is constantly sounding alarms. This impairs our ability to repair, restore, and nourish our health.

Movement classes create a dedicated time and space to speak to our stress alarms and give them permission to quiet down. When we drop in to our bodies, it brings us to the present moment and helps turn our attention away from thoughts of the future and past. In this moment, we have breath. We have a heartbeat. There are parts of our bodies that ask for our attention, like sore knees, tight shoulders, or clenched jaws. We can greet them and allow them to move back toward balance.

Being in class also works with our natural neurobiology to reduce stress. It helps to rewire the reactions of our nervous systems away from crisis mode, increasing our ability to handle a stressful situation and recover. It also engages mirror neurons in the brain, amplifying the effect of our practice. When we practice self-care and therapeutic movement with others in a class setting, our brains see other people doing what we are doing, and it increases its effectiveness within our own systems.

Movement classes help manage stress by releasing muscle tension, resetting the nervous system, and increasing our resiliency in the face of difficult situations. Where stress is our body trying to help us survive, we can utilize movement and breath to help ourselves recover and thrive.

The stress of the holiday season can reduce the joy we feel when we are giving and generous, and can deplete our capacity to give. We can restore our joy and activate the proven health benefits of practicing generosity through connecting with other people and practicing empathy.

Managing stress is key to restoring joy! Because the holiday season is often a time of family gatherings and social togetherness, it can bring up old hurts and emotions. Talking through your feelings with a counselor can help clear the air and restore your emotional equilibrium. Counseling can also help address climbing anxiety levels and work through feelings of depression. Creating time to take care of your emotional self can be a very effective way to address the increasing stress of this time of year, since unacknowledged emotions, unmet expectations, and mood dysregulation can all translate into general feelings of high stress.

When we are able to manage our stress levels, it can greatly increase our capacity to give and to feel generous. This in turn has proven health benefits, as it activates positive feedback loops in the brain. This positive feedback has been shown to increase longevity and improve heart health. It also releases oxytocin, the hormone that helps you feel deep wellbeing through trust and happiness.

Another way to increase our joy and capacity for generosity is to practice mindfulness. When we give to others, no matter the size of the gift, we can be mindful of how that gift makes them feel, and allow ourselves to connect to their feelings. By mindfully practicing empathy, we are able to increase everyone’s joy!

Treating stress through self-care, counseling, and mindfulness replenishes our resources for connection with others. We are then able to feel more of the joy that comes from being generous, filling our own hearts and the hearts of those around us.