Why Foot Reflexology Improves and Regulates Stress

Nuria Sáez. Enfermera

By: Núria Sáez Gómez

Registration n. 53119 (COIB)

Graduada en Enfermería en Blanquerna, Ramon Llull. BarcelonaExperta en gestión de la imagen corporal

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Stress is a global alteration of the organism. It affects the physical and psychological system of people and noticeably alters their quality of life. Through the appropriate pressure of the reflexology points of the foot we can regulate the body and significantly mitigate the symptoms and signs of stress.

We live in a world conditioned by a dizzying pace, in which individuals who are not able to adapt and respond quickly to changes experience feelings of anguish, emotional exhaustion and disorders in their eating, physical activity and rest rhythms. These physical and mental ailments are known as stress.

Fortunately, the human being has the psychological and physiological capacity to face and adapt to adverse circumstances. However, when he or she feels overcome by circumstances, an excess of stress leads to physical and psychological disorders.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines stress as “the set of physiological reactions that prepares the body for action.” In general terms, it is a biological alert system necessary for survival. Any changes or different circumstances that arise in our lives, such as changing jobs, speaking in public, attending an interview, or moving can create stress.

A certain degree of stress stimulates the organism and allows it to reach its objective, returning to the basal state when the stimulus has ceased, this is what we know as eustress, or good stress. The problem arises when the pressure is maintained and a state of resistance is entered, this is when distress is triggered, or bad stress.


The Stress Hormone

In an alert or eustress situation, the sympathetic (autonomic) nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis are activated.

The sympathetic (autonomic) nervous system regulates the functioning of the internal organs and controls some of its functions involuntarily and unconsciously. In addition, it is in charge of preparing the body to react to a situation that we perceive as stressful.

The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis is made up of the hypothalamus (which acts as a link between the endocrine system and the nervous system), the pituitary and the adrenal glands (which are part of the endocrine system). It is an essential part of the neuroendocrine system that controls stress reactions and regulates various body processes such as digestion, the immune system and metabolism in general.

Both systems produce the release of hormones into the bloodstream and these are responsible for exciting, inhibiting or regulating the activity of the organs.

The autonomic nervous system triggers the secretion of catecholamines, such as epinephrine and norepinephrine in a stressful situation. These hormones, in general terms, are responsible for putting the body on alert and preparing it for action.

Epinephrine and norepinephrine are responsible for pupil dilation, bronchial dilation, and fatty acid mobilization, and may lead to increased blood lipids, coagulation, and cardiac output, as well as muscle vasodilation. and cutaneous vasoconstriction, reduction of estrogen and testosterone levels, etc.

On the other hand, the hypothalamus secretes the hormone CRF (corticotropin releasing factor), which acts on the pituitary and secretes the hormone adrenocorticotropin (ACTH), which acts on the cortex of the adrenal glands, which in turn leads to the production of corticosteroids (glucocorticoids and androgens) that pass into the bloodstream.

The most notable of the glucocorticoids is cortisol, also called “the stress hormone.” Cortisol is an unconditional ally of the brain. Its main objective is to provide glucose to the brain, for this it can destroy other tissues, such as muscle tissue, to obtain proteins, and will use fatty acids and prevent the entry of glucose into other tissues.

The problem is when cortisol is kept at high levels due to continued stress (distress), then the organism is placed in an altered state generating different physical and psychological symptoms. If this pressure is maintained over time, the immune system is also altered and then we are more vulnerable to infections.


Physical symptoms of stress

Physical symptoms are often the first to appear. They include chronic fatigue, headaches and migraine, irritable colon and duodenal ulcer, muscle pains, respiratory disturbances, sleep disturbances, dermatological disorders, menstrual disturbances, sexual dysfunctions, and gastrointestinal disturbances such as abdominal pain, among others.


Behavioral alterations

Behavioral alterations highlight an irregular eating behavior and the abuse of drugs, medicines, and alcohol. Violent behaviors are usually very frequent, such as aggression, defensiveness, and cynicism.

Sometimes defensive paradoxical behaviors arise, such as the excessive pursuit of hobbies or an increasing dedication to study to break free from the routine.


Emotional disturbances

Emotional alterations closely related to stress are anxiety, depression, irritability, low self-esteem, lack of motivation, concentration difficulties, emotional distancing and feelings of professional and/or personal frustration, among others.


Preventing Stress

Preventive measures of stress are closely linked to quality of life. Regular exercise is important, as it quickly reduces stress hormone levels and improves mood.

On the other hand, eating well, including fruits and vegetables, avoiding alcohol and caffeine and sleeping 7-8 h regularly improve stress states.

Relaxation and meditation exercises balance the nervous system and therefore improve stress. Maintaining a healthy mind is essential, to this end it is necessary to have free time for oneself and maintain a good social environment.


How to Treat Stress with Foot Reflexology?

Since stress is a process of activation of the whole organism, the complete way of working to relieve distress will be the complete treatment of the foot, affecting the reflex points of the nervous system (mainly: the solar plexus, epiphyses, pituitary, hypothalamus, central nervous system, spines, adrenal glands and liver) and the endocrine system (affecting, in addition to the aforementioned reflex points, the pancreas).

Pressure applied to these reflex points allows us to regulate the synthesis of hormones derived from stress such as cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine. These hormones are responsible, among others effects, for triggering physicochemical alterations such as the alteration of blood pressure generating hypertension, hyperglycemic processes that can degenerate in diabetes and lipid alterations such as hypercholesterolemia.

If the patient reports gastrointestinal disturbances, muscle pain, menstrual disturbances or sexual dysfunction, an impact on the corresponding systems will also be considered.

It is important to consider that each individual will require a different treatment method, since we are unique beings with different needs. We must establish the protocol based on the symptoms of the person.

Foot reflexology allows a comprehensive and holistic approach to the majority of  stress-related psychological and physical symptoms described above.