Everyone knows massage is good for reducing stress, but do you know all the ways massage is good for stress relief? The five main ways are listed here, as well as the benefits of the different types of massage for de-stressing.
#1 The relaxation response – activation of the parasympathetic nervous system
When we are stressed, our sympathetic nervous system is activated. This produces various changes that prepare us to face danger – the so-called “fight or flight” response. The touch, warmth and pressure of massage activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which has the reverse effect and takes the body out of stress mode.
#2 Promoting muscle relaxation
When we’re stressed, we tend to keep certain muscles slightly tensed – especially those in the upper back and shoulders. This tension can cause discomfort, which leads to even more stress and irritability. Massage encourages muscles to relax completely and let go of the tension they are holding.
# 3 Release of hormones and neurotransmitters that make us feel good
As well as initiating the “relaxation response”, massage also stimulates release of a range of “feel good” chemicals that help us to feel happy and relaxed.
Endorphins: hormones released to reduce stress and pain. They give feelings of happiness and wellbeing.
Serotonin: also gives feelings of happiness and wellbeing. In addition, it plays a role in healthy sleep patterns and decreases levels of cortisol. (Cortisol is a hormone that is part of the “fight or flight” response.)
Dopamine: a neurotransmitter that acts on the pleasure and reward centre of the brain
Oxytocin: a hormone and neurotransmitter that relieves stress, anxiety and depression
#4 Improves sleep patterns
Insomnia is often caused by stress and then becomes a source of stress in itself. A downward spiral develops, in which we are so stressed about not being able to sleep it makes us less able to sleep. Massage can help break the cycle, not only by leaving you more relaxed, but also because it stimulates the production of the hormone serotonin. As mentioned above, serotonin plays a part in healthy sleep patterns. This is because as well as having a calming effect, serotonin is essential for the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
#5 Relieves muscle pain
Muscle pain can be caused by injury, overuse, poor posture habits or long term tension in the muscle. Being in pain is stressful obviously, even to someone who isn’t usually stressed. Massage can help with muscle pain by breaking down painful areas of muscle fibres that have become hard and tight (“knots”). Whatever the reason for muscle pain, reducing the pain helps to reduce stress levels.
In the case of injury, it’s best to wait for the initial healing to take place before having massage on the area. After the first few days, massage can encourage healthy healing and reduce the formation of scar tissue. Scar tissue reduces flexibility and can cause long term discomfort. If you have an old injury where scar tissue has already formed, massage can break it down.
What is the best type of massage for stress relief?
This depends on what factors are causing your stress. Muscle pain is best treated by deep tissue massage, whereas muscle tension, aches and general stress may be better treated by hot stones or aromatherapy massage.
Hot stones massage
Unless you have specific muscle problems, hot stones massage is ideal for relaxation. It’s a gentle treatment, but the warmth of the stones increases the depth of the massage and promotes release of muscle tension and easing of muscle ache. Learn more about hot stones massage here.
Deep tissue massage
If you have bad back and neck tension, or any other specific areas that are causing you pain, then deep tissue massage will be more helpful. Working deep into the muscles can be a little uncomfortable, but is necessary to break down stubborn tension. Learn more about deep tissue massage here.
Essential oils have different effects on the body depending on their chemical components. Many of the oils have a relaxing effect and work well with a soothing massage to help you relax and let go. Learn more about aromatherapy massage here.
Book a massage for stress relief
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Phone: 07835 346476