Many people know that massage helps relieve stress. But, how does that work? First, let’s look at stress. Stress is pressure or tension exerted on a material object (muscles, for example) and it is also a mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. In other words, stress can be physical or mental/emotional or both.
Some stress is normal. It is a great motivator to get anything accomplished in the world. It is also a natural fight-or-flight response to outside influences that are perceived as dangerous. In both cases, this means your cortisol levels rise and your brain goes on heightened alert as your mind and body get ready to tackle a goal or defend itself. Cortisol is a hormone your body naturally releases to help you react more quickly and efficiently to stress. The problem is that too much for too long makes people sick. The dangers and stressors may be real or perceived. Normally, the body can shake off stressors and return to a normal stasis when the task is complete or the danger is gone. However, when we feel assaulted by circumstances beyond our control or a perceived danger never abates, the stresses can become stuck in our body and cause us to feel tight, tense, and stressed-out all the time. This is a red flag. We need to take action or succumb to the ill health created by constant stress.
The good news is that there are ways to combat this. Massage is one of those ways. Numerous studies support this benefit and our experience tells us it’s true. It is thought that the use of moderate pressure on the body leads to changes in EEG activity (brain activity), decreased levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), and increased activity of the parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for resting and digesting) – all of which help calm the body and brain. This is the keeping it simple version of how it works. That’s great news that it works on both the physical and mental/emotional processes at the same time. That covers both definitions of stress.
Make massage a part of your self-care routine and lessen the stress felt by the body and experienced by the mind. You deserve that time off from the every-day stresses that keep people from feeling calm.