Stress & CST

The Fulcrum, Issue 65 May 2015

The PR group decided for 2015 to highlight the benefits of CST for people suffering from stress. We believe that CST deserves to be seen as an important port of call for people who are suffering the effects of debilitating or overwhelming stress due to its ability to encourage balance and restore equilibrium. The PR group wants to bring this to people’s attention, and try to raise our profile in this area.

On the whole, CST has been most widely recognised in the treatment of babies and children and, while many people may be aware of its reputation in relieving stress in the young, it is perhaps less well-known as a treatment for stress in adults. It’s estimated that approximately 11.3 million working days were lost in 2013/14 due to stress or anxiety, and many of the adult clients who come to us may be experiencing high levels of stress – whether from current or past situations. In many cases, clients may not be aware that stress is at the root of their problem as it can produce such varying symptoms.

We all constantly experience stress, from small day-to-day events right up to major traumas, with the effects accumulating over time. Triggers including noise levels, financial problems and technology can all play their part, and pollution is a constant. On a broad level, everything that happens to us can be described as a ‘stressor’ and stimulates a bodily response. These responses may involve adjustments to temperature, reactions to noise and light and threats to the immune system. In addition, constant adaptations to our changing environment create a general wear-and-tear, which also can be described as stress. Hans Selye in his book The Stress of Life describes stress as ‘the non-specific response of the body to any demand’. Dr Selye points out though that not all stress is damaging, and not everyone experiences stressors at the same level. Indeed, what may be extremely stressful for one person could be invigorating for another. However, although some stress may be enjoyable and indeed an essential part of our survival, if it occurs in doses that we cannot easily process, it can also lead to problems.

Stress stimulates changes in the body, such as the release of chemicals or the activation of the inflammatory response. Our bodies are usually very efficient at maintaining homeostasis in the face of many challenges, but when the burden of either external or internal stress becomes too great, this automatic self-regulation fails, and symptoms arise.

Signs of excess stress can be complex and confusing. They may manifest both physically and/or psychologically, and do not necessarily make sense to the person experiencing them. Clients may report diverse symptoms such as headaches or stomach problems, and at the same time they may tell us they feel anxious and/or restless. Sometimes they feel unable to cope, which may be indeed going on at a microcosmic level, as a constant bombardment of challenges result in stress hormones flooding the bloodstream. There may be changes to the immune system, blood pressure and nervous responses. When someone experiences internal events like this, they may feel subtly ‘different’ without knowing why. Another classic sign is tiredness and an inability to concentrate, which may contribute to confusion about their condition. Often they might say ‘I just don’t know what is happening to me’ or ‘I just feel awful’. Over time, tensions can become chronic. As defence mechanisms are weakened, the body becomes less able to deal with further stress, creating a vicious circle which can manifest in symptoms such as insomnia, digestive problems, panic attacks, depression and anxiety.

As mentioned, stress in itself is not necessarily the problem, what matters is how we deal with it. Importantly, how resourced we are, how we look after ourselves, or conversely whether we learn to be helpless in the face of stress and allow it to become a habitual state. Stress becomes a negative, destructive factor in life when it exceeds our ability to adapt to it. As we all differ in our emotional and physical makeup, we have varying degrees of susceptibility to stress overload, and in our ability to rebalance ourselves. Once stored in the body, stress can lie dormant, only to be triggered again at a later time by a sound, a word, or even the tone of someone’s voice. Our body unconsciously remembers and reacts to the new stimulus in the same way it did to the first event, even though this reaction may be out of proportion to what has just happened. Reacting automatically to the past, rather than responding appropriately to the present can keep us trapped in a pattern that forces us to re-live the original stressor again and again in a variety of forms. It is one of the reasons that we feel so powerless to change a situation, and can lead to feelings of helplessness and impotence.

How might we explain to the public how CST could affect their diverse symptoms of chronic stress?

Consider some of the words that can describe stress, or may be associated with the onset of symptoms:

tightening – insomnia – pain – strain – nervousness – alarm – fatigue – desperation – discomfort – jumpiness – fearfulness – anguish – distress – dread – torment – panic attacks – palpitations – digestive problems – collapse – heaviness – powerlessness –stagnation – depression – doctors – psychotherapists – medication

And then consider words that might describe CST:

space – deep stillness – quietness– peace – contentment – serenity – comfort – tranquillity – harmony – release of tension – lightness – choice – balance – hope –clarity – calm – healing – enlightening – awareness of self – wholeness – responsibility– acceptance – inner peace – a sense of relief – relaxation

Bodywork such as CST can be a powerful tool for shifting out of the reactive stance of chronic stress, and into a space where we find freedom not only physically, but also allowing agency and choice to become real possibilities as the grip of our habitual stress responses are lessened. When the body slows down during a session, it can begin to untangle its confused responses and reactions. CST can provide a space where further stimulation is limited and homeostatic rebalancing is enabled. Responses can be re-educated to become more co-ordinated, more flexible and more appropriately responsive. A body/mind system that is integrated like this be more able to resist depression or disease, and more able to attend to and repair itself in times of need.

Simply put, recurring or continuous stress that the body is unable to deal with affects us physiologically, structurally and emotionally. Eventually we reach a point of constant alertness, which depletes the body, and downgrades its ability to balance itself. By stimulating the rest and recovery systems of the body, the subtle work of CST allows the body to re-source its powers of rehabilitation and revival.

This gives us an opportunity to avoid familiar mental barriers and to let go of accumulated physical tensions. CST practitioners offer stillness in which to listen to the body. The simple act of just listening to the bodily felt sense can allow these repetitive patterns to be less insistent and overbearing. They can be released – they have been heard.

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