Chronic stress has a widespread, deleterious effect on all parts of who we are. We waste our creative energy and miss out on the joy of life when we worry endlessly.

One example of how stress affects us on a physical level is the negative impact on our cardiovascular system when elevated cholesterol levels—which occur when fat cells are under stress—dump their contents into the bloodstream.

As massage therapists, we are not immune to normal human responses to stress—but how do we cultivate healthy responses to stress? 

The first clue we are being affected negatively by stress is often worrying: intrusive or repetitive negative thoughts. Here are some steps to meet and disarm such thinking:

1. Become aware of exactly what your thoughts are saying.

Often they are running in the background of your consciousness, so take a quiet moment to turn inward and ask yourself, “What am I worried about right now?” Then pay attention to what comes into your consciousness. Journal it or share it with someone who is a good listener.

2. Assess whether your worry is based on current reality or past experience.

Your worry may not be relevant here and now.

3. If your worry is based on current reality, check your gut for whether you actually need to do anything about this worry.

Present-moment gut intuition is often extremely accurate in helping you discern whether an action needs to be taken, or not. If not, set an intention to let the worry go.

4. To counteract the physical effects of stress, especially cardiovascular effects, make sure you are moving enough.

At a minimum, take a 20-minute walk daily. Incorporate regular exercise that is right for your age and physiology into each day. This is mandatory.

5. Take a look at your diet.

Are you eating enough fresh, unprocessed foods? Are you eating a diet right for your body and age? Are you drinking enough water?

6. Make a list of healthy resources, those intangible qualities that enhance your energy and sense of aliveness.

Make sure you choose to do them regularly, especially when stress hits.

For many of us, life is becoming fuller and faster all the time; we cannot change that. What we can change are our responses to life. These steps will help you take back control of your life and put you in the driver’s seat again, so you can enjoy the ride.

Suzanne Scurlock-Durana is the author of Full Body Presence: Learning to Listen to Your Body’s Wisdom and has taught CranioSacral Therapy for Upledger Institute International since 1987. She is the developer of the Healing From the Core curriculum (www.HealingFromTheCore.com). She wrote a two-part series, “Massage Therapist Self-Care” on the topics of “How to Reduce Your Own Stress and Anxiety” (April 2012) and “Stay Creative and Inspired” (May 2012) for MASSAGE Magazine.

Note: This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of MASSAGE Magazine. To purchase this issue or other past issues of MASSAGE Magazine, click here.