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Stress accumulation and our two nervous systems

Imagine this situation: Driving along on Neil Street, a car thoughtlessly pulls in front of you and you swerve to avoid an accident. Thirty minutes later, your heart rate is still increased. You know you’re safe, yet your body hasn’t quite gotten the message. Sound familiar? Events like this are an example of two very different parts of our nervous system.

One aspect of our nervous system can process information at with lightning speed; you saw the car approaching, made lightning mental calculations, and swerved out of the way. A different part of our nervous system governing the body responds much more slowly; resolving long after the mind is done with the event. Because of this delay in processing, the body is always behind the mind after a trauma or stress. Two aspects of this are quite interesting and affect our lives on a daily basis.

  1. Since physical processing is slower, it is very likely that issues never get completely resolved before another stressful event happens. What follows is a slow accumulation of tension in the musculature that is not directly related to any identifiable cause. The person may feel tense, but with no specific cause, it is hard to know how to respond or what to correct.
  2. In the old model of emotions and the body, it was thought that our emotional experience created a physical response. New research has shown that the reverse is also true. If you “feel” tense (have the physical sensations associated with tension), your mind will look for a reason that would explain your tension. When we look for reasons, we usually find something.

The process of the brain looking for an emotional reason to explain our physical experiences can work for us as well as against us. When someone comes to BodyWork Associates and one of the Precision Neuromuscular Massage Therapists removes physical restrictions in the musculature, the person now moves much more freely and with more ease. This in turn has a very powerful and very positive effect on mental state of the client.

Physical strategies like taking walks, exercise, massage, or yoga are very effective in helping to process physical residual tension. New research shows that this physical release is potentially just as powerful for our mental health as well!

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