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Q&A With our Chief Wellness Officer Eric Stephenson

At Elements Massage, we’re focused on providing a world-class experience for all Elements’ studio members and massage therapists, which is why last year we appointed Eric Stephenson as our Chief Wellness Officer! With over 20-years of experience in the industry, Eric is focused on creating best-in-class experiences for our clients and our teams.

On today’s blog we talked to Eric about the importance of daily self-care. With all your day-to-day tasks, it might seem impossible to make time for self-care. If you’re not making time for yourself, then you’re more likely to feel stressed, which can lead to a whole slew of health issues. While self-care is sometimes associated with “selfishness” or over-indulgent, it’s actually quite the opposite.

Elements Massage (EM): Stress — particularly in a heightened, prolonged state — can have severe and adverse health effects. Can you elaborate on the physical effects of stress on the human body?

Eric Stephenson (ES): Stress may be the culprit for a variety of mental, emotional and physical health effects including headaches, insomnia, obesity and stomach issues. Stress hormones trigger your body’s “fight or flight” response, causing your heart rate to elevate, your breath to shorten and quicken along with an overall contraction of your muscular system. This alert system is good for short-term reactions, but for an extended period, it can put your health at serious risk. When the stressor is gone, your stress response should return to a resting state and normalize. If it stays heightened, the response continues and can be problematic for all of the body’s major systems.

EM: What about mental health?

ES: The same is true for mental health, and in the broader sense, many times it is hard to separate the body from the mind regarding cause and effect. Anxiety and depression can be triggered by stressful events of an acute or chronic nature.

EM: How do you see people start creating stress as the new norm?

ES: In our fast-paced society in which there are hundreds of things demanding our attention on a daily basis, one can stay in a “fight or flight” response without even realizing it. Equating the concept of “busyness” with productivity is a seductive concept and may become a less than optimal mindset.

EM: Massage is one way to help reduce stress, but what other daily habits can one do to help reduce stress?

ES: For beginners, diet and exercise are a crucial part of well-being. The other big part of reducing stress is becoming aware of signs that you are entering into a stress response and shifting the behavior such as clenching your jaw, nail-biting, shallow breathing, or sweating. Any activity that initiates your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) such as meditation, yoga or sitting and listening to a relaxing piece of music will help to reduce stress. One of my personal favorites is to sit at my desk or lay down and watch my breath go in and out, for two minutes. Just two minutes is all it takes to begin. Think about the small steps you can take today!

EM: As Chief Wellness Officer, what type of services are you implementing to help manage stress?

ES: In our service enhancements such as the Elements AromaRitual®, we are using essential oils to affect the olfactory (smell) system to stimulate the client's relaxation response. There’s purposeful space in this massage where the practitioner is completely present with the client but not directly stimulating their musculoskeletal system. This allows a client to integrate the input coming into their nervous system and hopefully, encourage their body to move back towards balance or what we would call homeostasis.

EM: How can members practice daily self-care to manage stress?

ES: Look for opportunities to trigger your brain’s response to practice each day. For example, before starting your car, train yourself to take three, deep mindful breaths. Over time, this will become a routine. One of my other favorites is to find five minutes a day to sit in a darkened room and do absolutely nothing but sit and watch your racing mind. Over time, this practice will allow you to see the endless activity of your brain and how silence can increase to separate some of your thought patterns from reality.

EM: What other stress and daily self-care advice can you share?

ES: The biggest, and my personal favorite is to create a bit of space between the daily activities of life. The famous composer, Debussy once said: “Music is the space between the notes.” I like to say life (and wellness) is in that space as well. Take time to be quiet, breathe, and call on your body’s relaxation response often. There is also research from Harvard’s Shawn Achor, that suggests writing three things down in a gratitude journal, can have a big impact on your overall sense of happiness and well-being.

Whether it’s regular massage, meditation or yoga, there’s no set prescription for “me time.” It’s an individual’s practice, so find what feels best for you. To find an Elements Massage near you visit:

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