Can Regular Massage Relive Stress?

Everyone feels stress from time to time, and not all stress is harmful.  It’s the chronic, long-term stress without any rewards to balance it out that causes health problems.

According to The American Institute of Stress, “Contemporary stress tends to be more pervasive, persistent and insidious because it stems primarily from psychological rather than physical threats.  It is associated with ingrained and immediate reactions over which we have no control that were originally designed to be beneficial such as:
•heart rate and blood pressure soar to increase the flow of blood to the brain to improve decision making
•blood sugar rises to furnish more fuel for energy as the result of the breakdown of glycogen, fat and protein stores
•blood is shunted away from the gut, where it is not immediately needed for purposes of digestion, to the large muscles of the arms and legs to provide more strength in combat, or greater speed in getting away from a scene of potential peril
•clotting occurs more quickly to prevent blood loss from lacerations or internal hemorrhage.”

Other research links chronic stress with hair loss, digestive issues, insomnia, lowered immunity, lowered libido, elevated cholesterol and triglycerides, depression and anxiety, and accelerated aging.

Our bodies were designed to handle physical stress, such as running away from or killing a woolly mammoth, that is temporary and then goes away.  Today’s mental and emotional stress is ongoing and relentless.  Because of its ongoing nature, we get used to it and don’t even realize the effect on our bodies.

What to do?  We can’t all go meditate in caves for the rest of our lives.  Massage to the rescue!

Relaxing, Swedish (spa) massage used to be thought of purely as an indulgence, but no more.  One of the primary health benefits of massage is the reduction of stress.  Given all the negative health consequences of chronic stress, the positive benefits of regular massage are major.  And I’m not even talking about pain relief in this blog – I’ll address that in another blog on therapeutic massage.

Massage can enhance blood flow, lower blood pressure and improve body function. Studies have revealed that massage also helps reduce anxiety, depressed mood and anger, while the long-term impact reduces depression and increases serotonin values. Serotonin regulates mood, appetite, sleep, memory and learning.

Some studies have found massage may also be helpful for:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Digestive disorders
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Myofascial pain syndrome
  • Boosting immunity by improving lymph flow
  • Soft tissue strains or injuries
  • Sports injuries
  • Temporomandibular joint pain

Another often over-looked benefit of massage has to do with the power of compassionate human touch. In today’s society, we are increasingly “connected” and yet it seems like we experience less compassion and more isolation than ever before. In contrast, massage produces feelings of caring, comfort and true connection.

The bottom line is that massage can be a powerful tool to help you take charge of your health, and the benefits are amplified with regular massage.  Each session builds on the previous session, helping your body maintain its relaxed state even during times of physical and mental stress.  Budgeting time and money for bodywork at consistent intervals is truly an investment in your health.

~Carol McGlauchlin, DOM




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