Avoid Desktop Stress: Therapeutic Techniques with Holden J. Zalma

Last Editorial Review: 10/23/2003

WebMD Live Events Transcript

Holden J. Zalma, founder of A Touch of Magic Therapeutic Massage, will be discussing the use of massage as a way to relieve stress.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Welcome to WebMD. Today we will be discussing "Avoid Desktop Stress: Therapeutic Techniques" with Holden J. Zalma

Holden Jay Zalma, owner and founder of A Touch of Magic Therapeutic Massage, has been practicing the art of massage for the last eight years. He started his career at the University of Southern California with his undergraduate education in physical therapy and psychology. During his first year at USC, Holden acquired a position as an assistant athletic trainer for the USC Athletic Department. After four years assisting with the football, swimming, and volleyball teams, Holden opened his own massage business. He has expanded his offices in Culver City, California.

Holden, welcome to WebMD Live.

Zalma: Thank you.

Moderator: What is desktop stress?

Zalma: Desktop stress is the stress that is accumulated by today's work environment, which is sitting at a computer all day. People, when they're sitting at a desk all day in the same position with their fingers at the keyboard, have the tendency to lock up, it's not a natural position.

Zalma: We're meant to be hunting and gathering. A combination of things happen starting with the neck and back and moving on to the arms and hands, with the muscles and ligaments fatiguing over time by being in that same position, and that's what we try to get rid of.

Moderator: What does "desktop stress" put us in danger of? Everything from arthritis to carpal tunnel to neck and back problems, and not to mention atrophy. Most people have a tendency to move after work,  but those who sit at a desk all day run the risk of their muscles getting smaller and weaker.

Moderator: How about mentally? Staring at a computer all day has to do something to our heads, too.

Zalma: Well, humans are social beings. A lot of work places now are so forced on the computer and not as much into human contact, that our brains get tired and there's no outlet for ... It just turns into mental fatigue. A lot of offices I go to, people would rather email others, cutting out just the verbal contact and that takes its toll on people. You'd be surprised how much people get excited when they have a room with a window, cause they're getting away from the everyday grind of sitting at a screen, because they are sitting in a room with natural light and that's exciting for them.

Moderator: What techniques do you advise to relieve stress in the office?

Zalma: Breathing! (laughs) Start with that. One of the good techniques is getting up once in a while. People have a tendency to sit at their desks all day and get caught up. One of the things I recommend is that every fifteen minutes or so, get up and get a glass of water, anything that gets the blood moving. Stretch, do hand stretches, roll your neck around, scrunch your muscles up. If muscles are stiff for a long time, they're more opt to reject you. So, do things that will get you moving and away from sitting at a computer all day.

Moderator: What different types of massages exist?

Zalma: Everything from Swedish, which is pretty commonly used by most therapists, more of a kneading motion, like a piece of dough or bread, that's more general. You go over the full body with that, you won't get a lot of therapeutic value. There's shiatsu, taking pressure points and putting them into patterns, it's part of the old Chinese medicine, hitting certain points to bring your energy source back into line. There's acupressure, individual points in the body .... a point on your hand can help headaches, or a point on the ankle can help liver function ... same idea as acupuncture. There's another that I use a lot called myofascial release which uses connective tissue instead of muscles and ligaments. The connective tissue surrounds everything, so it surrounds all your muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons and holds them all together. So, if you injure that, you're injuring everything that it's surrounding.So, if you get a bruise on your leg or a tear or pull, you're not only damaging the muscle, but the tissue that's holding it. So, we unravel it and take out the scar, it sounds painful, but it's no more than a deep stretch with long-lasting results. Sometimes you get a massage but by the time you get to your car, it's gone. We try to make it longer lasting. There's reflexology based in the hands, feet and ears, again points that relate to organs, systems and glands. You can stimulate these things by points on the feet and hands (organs) .. and that's the theory of this. That covers the most basic techniques.

Moderator: Do you advise businesses to have massages provided?

Zalma: Yes. Very much so. There's been a trend in the last five years that originally went with companies thinking massage would be slacking and taking time away from their employee's work. Now with the Internet and more companies coming out, progressive young companies are saying this is a beneficial benefit, cause not only are you increasing morale with stress-free, happier employees, but you're reducing stress-related injuries. A lot of people are getting neck and back pain, stress related injuries and carpal tunnel claims. They're costing millions of dollars. So, we come in there and say we'll reduce your stress, and search and destroy the ailments we find and improve the attitude.

Zalma: So, we're taking what might have been a stressed and overworked environment and making it more positive. Also, companies are overworking their employees, the hours used to be 9-5, I haven't found that in a long time~! They're working 10-12 hours and on Saturdays ... there's no overtime ... so this is like saying "we appreciate you and we want to take care of you."  More and more companies are paying for it and seeing it not only as a benefit, but as a necessity.

Moderator: How can workers convince their superiors that this is a good idea?

Zalma: Have them set up a demo with me! (laughs) The companies that are most against it, I've found, are the ones that really don't like making their employees happy. They think they have to work as hard and as long as they can and like it. More companies see that a happy employee makes a harder working employee and they're more up to it. Go to your HR department and say "My staff is stressed out and I'm stressed out, this seems like a great idea and we can work longer and better."  It can't hurt to try a demo. If you don't like it, we'll never see you again! Some companies we'll see once a month, some once a day .. do it according to your company's needs and what you can afford. But, it is fathomable for almost every company.

Moderator: How can someone relieve stress by himself or herself?

Zalma: It goes back to what I was talking about earlier ... stretching, a good diet ... When you're eating like crap, it comes out in your body. Sugar levels go down, if you eat a lot of fatty foods, when you eat heavy, you get tired. Exercise. It has an amazing effect on stress, the more you do, the less stress you have, there's an outlet there. Massage is good, helps relieve the stress and bring your body back to an even kilter. Drink lots of water, keep your body hydrated, it can deal with stress better.

Moderator: Are there simple exercises, stretches or meditations one can do at the desk?

Zalma: Mm hmm, quite a few. The first would be .... I'll start with hands, a lot of people get cramps from typing. Put them in the prayer position, bring the elbows parallel with the ground and then push, moving from the hands to opening the hands up so your fingers are being stretched and hold that for 15-20 seconds. The next one is if you've ever made a shadow finger of a butterfly, putting thumbs together and fingers apart, pull one thumb as far as you can and pull the other one at the same time. Hook them - exactly. A lot of people think wrist pain is coming from the wrist, but there are no muscles there, they're in your forearm. So, anything you can do to relieve those muscles in the forearm will help the hand and wrist. So, take your hand against a desk with fingers at the tip and bring the palm down as far as you can, stretching the bottom part of the forearm, then flip it around, almost like a self-defense move, don't push too hard, just lightly. Do that with both hands. Do the same thing with the thumb, pulling it under the table or stretching that one big muscle in the palm.

Other things are a way to self-massage your arms. Take a tennis or racquet ball and put it on your desk, put it on the muscle, put pressure on it and roll ... it's like someone putting their thumb on it. Other stretches are more neck related. Sit up straight, turn your head 45 degrees left or right, you'll do both, grab from the top of your head, you're looking at the inside of your elbow, then pull straight down, chin to chest, hold for 15 seconds, then resist if you want to get really technical. That way you'll trick the muscle into stretching a little farther. From that position, you can turn your head in about 2-3 degrees and stretch again and that'll change your muscle group. Do that on both sides. The last one of those is pull your chin straight to your chest, grab the top of the head with both hands, and pull straight down. Hold that for 15-20 seconds and you can also do the contract and release if you want. That alone will get rid of jaw pain (TMJ) to neck and shoulder pain, kinks in your neck, it's a good series of stretches.

Zalma: Other things are stand up and touch the sky, reach as far up as you can. Grab your elbows and pull them together, hug yourself, stretches the back and chest. Do light neck rolls and shoulder stretches, all the things we learned in PE in grade school (laughs!)

Moderator: Please explain what a chair massage is.

Zalma: A chair massage is usually done in a specially designed chair with a pad for the chest and face and arms. You slump forward and your arms rest on a pad in the front of you and your face goes into a circular pad, puts you in the fetal position. You do it fully clothed in the corner of an office somewhere, we work on your neck, arms, hands and back. Or we can flip you around and work on the legs, they range from 10-35 minutes. And, you can touch on most trouble areas.

Moderator: Smoking seems to relieve stress for me tempo,rarily but I've heard it can ultimately make stress worse. Do you know anything about this?

Zalma: Smoking causes vasoconstriction, which limits the blood to your organs and systems. It closes up your veins and arteries, just like coffee, and prevents liquid from going into your body. Smoking has a maleffect because you're not getting as much oxygen into your lungs and are becoming dependent on it as well, so you might get a temporary relief from having a smoke, but the long term effects are much more damaging than any short term gain.

Moderator: What diseases are related to stress?

Zalma: Heart disease. That's the main one. When you're stressed, your heart pumps harder and faster so it's working more. I'm sure there are many others.

Moderator: What do people who manage stress well have in common? Is there a common denominator? How about similarities for people who manage stress poorly?

Zalma: Hmm ....People who manage stress well usually have a good diet, have found outlets for their stress (exercise or hobbies that take them away from stressful situations), and they deal with stress better by not getting worked up over it as much! (laughs) We all know the person who, when confronted, they blow off and scream and yell! A person who doesn't deal with stress well usually has a poor diet, doesn't have a lot of extracurricular activities and is the person that blows up! It's all how we perceive things. If you take everything that happens to you as life or death and the end-all, then you're going to drive yourself nuts! If you pick and choose your battles, and say "This isn't worth it and I shouldn't get all flustered," and you can make that determination, then you'll be a happier person. That's just my opinion.


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Moderator: How do YOU manage stress?

Zalma: (laughs)!! Very badly! I play volleyball, that's my big stress reliever. My company's gone from small to very large very quickly and I'm just learning how to deal with it. I'm getting a better diet, and exercising more. And, I'm finding people around me that I can lean on. Having a good social support system helps. My wife is my best friend and biggest supporter, and she makes it so that I can go on. Having good friends and family can help. If you don't do that, then get out there and find things that make you happy or find things that supplement the things that don't make you happy.

Moderator: What can you recommend for someone who has very little time to exercise or get massages?

Zalma: Hmm ...Probably the best thing would be to look at your life! (laughs) Why don't you have a lot of time? I hear "I don't have time to eat. I don't have time to breathe." How well are you functioning without taking that 1/2 hour or hour for lunch?  I see so many people that don't eat because they're too busy. You'll find you'll feel better and get more done if you find the time to eat, take that hour. Find a moment that you can do a bit of exercise, run around the office for five minutes, that'll get your heart rate up. That doesn't take a lot of time. Or, when you're in bed, so a few sit ups. It's not as much the exercise you do, it's if you enjoy it or not, and if it takes you away from the situation that you're in. I know people who put headphones on, sit in a corner and listen to music that they love and sometimes that's all you need! Just those five minutes by yourself, listening to something other than someone yelling at you.

Moderator: If stress management is so important (I recently read that two-thirds of all visits to the family doctor are for stress-related disorders) why isn't there more value or education on stress in our society?

Zalma: Because the modern medicine world still considers stress an individual problem. Nowadays they're finding out more that it is a problem that affects everyone and if it is not addressed, it'll be a big problem. The family doctor usually doesn't know what to do. They'll prescribe drugs that'll calm you down or suggest a change in diet, but usually the person that can change things is you. My advice is take it slow and take one little thing and take that step ... go for a walk after work, or walk to work if you can. Maybe that's the first step toward a less stressful life.

Moderator: How important are sleep, exercise and diet to combat stress in the workplace?

Zalma: It goes back to what I've said earlier

Moderator: What typical injuries can be helped by massage?

Zalma: Almost any physical injury. As long as it's not disease-related, but even with those ....We get a lot of fibromyalgia. Things you can help are muscle pains, stiff necks, pain in the arms, depression, even the flu! Sometimes people come in when they're sick or they have a head cold, stuffing up their noses, and there's points that will help open up their noses, sinuses. You can't say the benefits of massage in one sentence. It's just finding a therapist that can do that for you. It's the oldest medical profession.

Moderator: What can we learn from Eastern medicine to relieve stress?

Zalma: A lot! I wish the western medicine people would look more toward the east. Everything from herbs, to acupuncture to energy work. Everything that the east has brought us, we disregard and call it holistic, when in actuality it's been here a long time before western medicine has been. It's researching and finding out what you need ... an herbalist or an acupuncturist ... or a massage therapist .. it's just what you need.

Moderator: How can people distinguish external stress (work, family, money, bad luck, car trouble, etc.) from internal stress (like depression or bipolar disorder), when internal and external stress both seem to drive a person crazy?

Zalma: (laughs!!) Good question! Internal problems like depression and bipolar are usually manifested and always there. A bipolar person will usually be always depressed and always manic, one or the other. Stress will make them worse, but it's usually a deeper rooted problem. If every once in a while you feel like you're going crazy because of the situation, that's different than an internal illness. Do you get stressed out because of the situation? Or just because you're awake? (laughs)

Moderator: What are the main causes of stress in today's society?

Zalma: Not having enough time. People working so hard that they feel like they don't have enough time for themselves, let alone their families, dogs, pets ...  It never seems like there's enough hours in the day. Americans, in general, are very bad at time management. In European countries, there are siestas! I'd still love to see the day that we can take a nap. (chuckles) Especially during work.

Moderator: Lets talk about traffic for a second. How can we remain unstressed and calm while stuck in a car in traffic?

Zalma: (laughs!!!) Okay .... I wish .. I'm going to be hypocritical because I have the same problem! But, I recommend ... getting in your car and stuck in traffic, you have no control, and because you're losing control of that situation, that stresses you out. It's easy to say "don't get flustered over it" but not easy to do. Make sure you have some good music, give enough time to get where you're going. When you're rushing, it will make you more stressed, cause you're pissed off at the person in front of you for going slowly but also at yourself for not getting there on time. So, if you can leave earlier, that will lower your stress. Make sure you're comfortable, buy a pad for your back. Keep breathing! (laughs) ... try not to carry a shotgun! But, don't take everything so personally. People that get angry in the car are usually not mad at that individual but at everything that happened to them that day. The long commutes are even worse. But, a lot of people think ... they tell me that's their time to unwind .. they think about their day, what they want to do, and there's no one there to bother them, they turn off their cell phone. So, it can be beneficial. If you have the cell phone on, you've never left the office. On top of that, you've got someone cutting you off!

Moderator: What can a massage therapist provide for a patient that a physician can't?

Zalma: Time.

Zalma: The average physician visit is 10-15 minutes tops.

Zalma: The massage therapist visit is a minimum of 1/2 hour. We listen, too. We'll read your file and talk to you, ask you what you're feeling. During a massage, you're not only getting physical ailments treated, but also getting mental treatment. Most people getting a massage are surrendering their body to someone and when the body surrenders, the mental will, too, it will open up. Because the therapist is listening, they'll find the actual root of the problem and they have enough time to treat it. Opposed to a normal doctor, where if it's not written in the chart, most of the time they're not going to find it.

Moderator: What can be used other than massage to relieve stress and anxiety?

Zalma: Just finding time for yourself and the things I've mentioned above.

bzalma_WebMD how does massage relieve stress?

Zalma: Someone asked me that the other day. We all think massage=stress reduction. Technically, you're increasing circulation to the areas you're working on, so there's more oxygen, more glucose, which is the sugar that your muscles burn to contract. By loosening those muscles and increasing the circulation to the body, tension will reduce. Tension is things contracting and your mental state being constricted, so if your body starts relaxing, your mental state will, too. And, all this equals reducing stress!  That's about as technical as I can get.

Moderator: What do toxins do to us and how important is it to evacuate them from our body?

Zalma: Most people, if they've never had a massage before, will be sore the next day. Not because the person pressed too hard, but because the body harbors lactic acid. It's a toxin the body produces to protect itself. That's why when you exercise, you're sore the next day because the body says, "I need a minute to recover!" So when that acid is released, your body is trying to prevent itself from hurting itself further. Those toxins accumulate over time. The only way they're flushed out is if you contract the muscle, so if you're sitting all day without exercise, the toxin level will build up higher. There's different ways to release them. Massage is one way to flush them out into the blood stream. Drinking water will help as well, hydrating you. Breathing deeply. Sounds funny, but really does work. The more oxygen you bring in, the more carbon dioxide you breath out, the less there is in the body. So, it's not going to kill you, but it helps. Getting the toxins out will help your body work at peak performance.

Moderator: How do we accumulate lactic acid?

Zalma: Anytime you contract a muscle.  It's when you fatigue a muscle, actually. Like I said before, it's when your muscle is being used too much. When I worked for the swimming team, we'd do rubdowns afterwards because they'd be using their muscles so intensely and quickly that their lactic acid would build up and we'd have to flush it out before the next event.

Zalma: Some of them were getting 5-10 quick massages a day depending on how many events they were showing. I envied them! I didn't envy me! (laughs)

Moderator: What have we learned about stress in the past twenty years?

Zalma: That it's actually there. And, we've learned ways to remedy it.  People now use the word freely when they would have said before, "It's just me, don't worry about it." Stress is an actuality not only being recognized by individuals, but by companies, corporations and the medical field. It plays a big role in our health. How many studies have you seen that say "high stress levels can cause certain cancers" or "stress related to health" ... So, avoiding it and lessening it makes us healthier humans.

Moderator: How does a company acquire your services?

Zalma: There's a few ways, you can call us directly: 310-397-3422. You can see our website: atomtm.com. A Touch Of Magic Therapeutic Massage. You can email me at [email protected]. And, if they call us, I can set up a free demo and we can come to your office if it's in Southern California and introduce our services.

Moderator: Anything else?

Zalma: I'd like to say that massage is being more accepted in the workplace and turning into an almost common benefit in companies. And, I believe companies will work more effectively because of this and the employees will be more effective and less stressed. And, it's a nice change in the corporate world for companies to start paying more attention to their employees.

Zalma: And, thank you for having me!

Moderator: Thank you for joining us, Holden. Please join us again on Monday, February 14, at 10 p.m. EST in the Special Events Auditorium when Holden will return and present a Valentine's Day Couples Massage Class in a special live slide show and audiocast.

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