A Body Approach To Stress Relief


The power of touch can cause numerous hormonal changes in the body, most of which are directly related to our overall health and emotional wellbeing. Many people in the United States are touch deprived. This is especially true now with social distancing and reduced social interaction. A welcome nurturing touch can soothe the psyche, reduce the heart rate, calm the nervous system and lower blood pressure—thus reducing cardiovascular stress. As we find ourselves still battling the COVID-19 virus, people everywhere seem to be experiencing additional stress.

Touch and Stress

The vagus nerve has sensory and motor function, and it is the longest cranial nerve. It runs from the brain stem all the way to the colon. Pacinian corpuscles are rapidly adapting receptors that message the brain through the vagus nerve. It is involved in sensation on the skin (body’s largest organ), as well as sensations of many internal organs. The vagus nerve is responsible for numerous internal functions, such as regulating respiratory rate, heart rate, digestion, vasomotor activity and many reflex actions. Research is currently underway that involves improving a host of conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and cluster headaches. While the fruits of the research may be in the future, what we know now is that the power of touch causes some vagus nerve stimulation. When the body’s vagus nerve is triggered, it can activate the release of joy hormones like oxytocin and endorphins that act as natural pain killers, both physically and mentally.

During periods of high stress, the body stays in the fight or flight mode due to an increase of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Eventually, this can lead to pain, inflammation, anxiety and frequent mood shifts. The vagus nerve (cranial nerve X) fights to regulate this stress, though not always effectively.

Science shows us that hugs are facilitatory in the release of oxytocin from the pituitary gland and help improve our ability to handle stress. The benefits of oxytocin and hugging are said to prevent postpartum depression, diminish crying in infants, increase positive communication during conflict and reduce anxiety before stressful events like public speaking. Though a 20 second hug is optimal, even a handshake or a pat on the back are processed by the reward center of the central nervous system and can have a positive impact on the psyche of all parties involved.

Some studies indicate that a 60 minute massage or body treatment is thought to lower cortisol (stress hormone) by an average of 30%, causing serotonin (anti-pain mechanism) to increase an average of 28%, helping people to better combat pain, anxiety and depression. Think of body treatments and massage as therapeutic hugs for your soul. One thing that our clients cannot duplicate is the power of touch both on the face and the body.

Moving Beyond the Face

All businesses feel the effects of COVID’s economic impact and the many restrictions and precautions it necessitates. Of course, we always want to comply with CDC guidelines and go above and beyond to keep our clients and ourselves healthy. It would be wise to post stringent sanitation practices in clear view and point them out to clients, in order to give them a sense of security during their services. It should also be noted that these services can be performed with both the client’s and the practitioner’s P.P.E. in place.

Many people don’t know that estheticians, in addition to traditional forms of facial massage, also perform manual lymphatic drainage, acupressure and ayurvedic massage, as well as back massage provided for back treatments. Even the methodic effleurage application of exfoliants, oils and creams can have a therapeutic, relaxing effect on the limbic system.

As estheticians, we can grow our practices by becoming adept at a wide variety of body treatments such as aromatherapy wraps, hot stone therapy, cellulite wraps, body scrubs, dry brushing and seaweed/mud wraps. Learning proper draping techniques is also important to accommodate all levels of individual client modesty. Estheticians tend to gravitate towards technological advancements when looking for continuing education. During these unique times we are living in, body treatment C.E.Us should be strongly considered to aid in de-stressing clients and growing one’s business.

To Start: Rhythmic Breathing

We can help our clients stimulate their vagus nerve with deep rhythmic breathing. We hold our breath when we are stressed, and this triggers the fight or flight response. It is important that we coach our clients how to relax and focus on their breathing (from the belly) during the service, making the exhale slightly longer. This triggers the relaxation response. A good way to implement this is to rub the appropriate essential oil in your hands and place your hands loosely over the client’s face. Next, have them perform a series of deep breaths, and in a soothing tone instruct them to successively relax the head, shoulders, chest, sacrum, buttock and legs on the exhale.

Foot Massage and Microdermabrasion

A foot massage is also known to trigger the vagus nerve. So, why not add a foot treatment/massage to your service instead or in addition to the traditional hand massage?

Also, microdermabrasion can be done on the feet. The tactile sensation is usually pleasant for the client, and they generally love the exfoliation benefits. In addition, the suction can improve lymphatic function and should help with vagus stimulation.

Body Wraps

Not only do seaweed and therapeutic mud wraps provide detoxifying effects, but another benefit can be temporary slimming and toning effects. The skin is left glowing and smooth, especially when preceded by a good mineralizing sea salt, herbology scrub or a sugar scrub, which is chemically and physically exfoliating. These organic therapies are followed by emollient oils and lotions, and each product is applied with nurturing effleurage manipulation, as the product is massaged into the body. The effects of body treatments are immediate, although temporary. However, since the skin is the body’s largest organ, the long-term detoxification results can promote a lasting positive impact on overall health. Even more importantly, the treatments also serve to fulfill the need for human touch and mind body connection.

Infrared body wraps are a newer, but rapidly growing body therapy trend. Infrared heat targets certain areas of the body. The light penetrates the body and generates heat. This raises the core body temperature engaging the sudoriferous (sweat glands), releasing toxins and metabolic waste, and some claim fat and cholesterol as well. The client is wrapped in an infrared emitting device for about an hour. As the heat penetrates the body, blood flow is increased which brings stimulation to nerve endings and oxygen to cells, aiding in muscle relaxation and pain relief. A few of the claims touted for proponents of infrared wraps are detoxification, weight loss, cellulite reduction, pore cleansing, pain reduction, healing, and sleep and mood enhancement.

Considerations. Clients need to drink more water prior to the service and continue flushing the system several hours after the service. Water should also be made available during the service. Unfortunately, some clients will have a full bladder before the service is complete. As with all detoxifying body treatments, clients should observe a healthy diet pre- and post-service. Clients should avoid sugar, foods that are high on the glycemic index, alcohol, caffeine and red meat for best results. Red meat is thought to contain a sugar molecule called Neu5Gc. This sugar molecule is not recognized by the body and is thought to lead to increased inflammation over time. Also, certain protein and fatty meats can take longer to digest, making detoxification more difficult.

Infrared therapy is considered safe for relatively healthy people. It is not recommended for individuals that are type 1 diabetic, pregnant, hemophiliacs, those with metal joint replacements, people taking diuretics and open skin lesions. Anyone with an illness or auto-immune disorder should consult their physician before beginning infrared therapy.

Since infrared wraps are a relatively new therapy, there is little to no scientific evidence to support most of the long-term effects. However, the anecdotal evidence does show that the benefits significantly outweigh any disadvantages. Much like other detoxifying body treatments, the results are enhanced when paired with a healthy lifestyle.

Hot Stone Therapy

The Chinese have used hot stone therapy for thousands of years to improve the internal health of various organs. Flat, smooth, hot basalt stones contain more iron and have greater heat retention. These stones are placed on specific acupressure points of the body to enhance energy flow, relax muscles and increase circulation, which aids in detoxification. The stroke of the stone is deemed to be more powerful than the stroke of the hand and thought to be healing. The combination of hot basalt and cold marble stones can increase lymphatic flow, which is a relatively sluggish disposal system for most, moving .5 inches per hour for sedentary people, and only 2 inches per hour for highly active individuals.

Considerations. As with all treatments, consult your physician for approval if any medical conditions exist. It is generally not recommended for the conditions including high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, varicose veins, migraines, rheumatoid arthritis, inflamed skin, open lesions, metal implants, tumors, chemotherapy, radiation, recent surgery, blood thinners and pregnancy.

Treat Yourself

Practitioners who provide body treatment services should also be sure to treat themselves, as well as they treat their clients, so they can have long productive careers. Go outside and take mask breaks in between clients. Be kind to your body, take care of your epidermis and breathe.


Lisa Shor is a makeup artist and an esthetics educator at Tricoci University of Beauty Culture. Prior to her current role, she served as director of makeup education for The Art Institute of Makeup, a division of the New Age Spa Institute.

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