Not only does a massage release tight muscles, it is very effective in helping you manage the health impacts of stress on the body. Stress isn’t always bad -- it gives you the energy you need to react to danger or to be energetic at work when you need to be. But too much of it for too long can be deadly.
This “fight or flight syndrome,” the pre-historic response built into our brains that caused the caveman to either fight the tiger or run from it, now causes problems in our modern day world. The adrenaline that the syndrome produces causes your heart rate to shoot up, and cortisol increases your blood sugar. Meanwhile, energy is diverted away from your digestive system and immune responses. This was great for the cavemen and cavewomen under attack, but not good for 21st Century humans.
This kind of physical distress leads to a variety of behavior changes, physical symptoms and diseases. Stress can cause angry outbursts, drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, social withdrawal, tobacco use and a variety of mood changes such as anxiety, irritability, lack of motivation and depression. In the body, it can result in chest pain, high blood pressure, fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, loss of sex drive, sleep problems, immune system problems and stomach upset.
When you’re stressed, it’s tempting to grab a chocolate bar, to drink alcohol or go shopping – or to engage in some other unhealthy activity that you think will help you relax. These things may temporarily take your mind off of your stress, but they can cause more problems than they relieve. A much healthier way to deal with your stress is to use exercise, meditation, yoga and massage to relieve your stress.
When a massage is administered by a well-trained, licensed practitioner such as at Soulful Journey, a massage can help with many conditions that affect your mind and body, including stress, depression and anxiety. It will help you feel more in control of your life and health, and help you to relax and manage chronic illness. If you schedule regular massage, you will soon begin to look forward to your massage as your favorite hour of the week as you relax by candlelight with soft music in the background and smell the scent of essential oils.
But massage doesn’t just feel great – it really works to lower the levels of the stress hormone in your body. Research reported in the New York Times and published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine showed that Swedish, or deep, massage is linked with decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol and produces “amped-up levels of a vital player in the body’s immune system, white blood cells.”
In addition, the 2010 study showed that the effects of Swedish massage included an increase in oxytocin levels (also called the “trust hormone”) and decreased levels of the hormone arginine vasopressin, linked with cortisol.
The Mayo Clinic pointed out that other benefits of massage include a stable blood pressure, relief of stiffness and pain, and help with anxiety and depression.
The bottom line is this -- regular, deep massage is not just a way to pamper yourself, it is a commitment to your health. Just as you budget time and money for nutrition and exercise, you should do the same to take care of your body through massage. When you take care of your body, your body will then take care of you. And we all can use that, regardless of the time of year.
Graphic: "StressSymptoms" by Gdudycha - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:StressSymptoms.gif#/media/File:StressSymptoms.gif