Stress Relief with Massage Therapy


Stress is an important and useful part of life. It stimulates learning and personal growth, and is a part of any major accomplishment. The healthiest and most effective people are not those who avoid stress, but those who respond successfully to it.

Therapeutic massage is a remarkable tool for helping you manage stress. A deeply relaxing massage can give you a welcome break and help you feel better physically and mentally. Over time, regular massage can help you develop healthy and productive responses to life’s many challenges.

The stress response

Under stress, your body really has just one response: it mobilizes to fight or flee. Your nervous system becomes highly activated and hormones such as adrenaline prepare your body to respond to an emergency. Muscles tense for action, heart rate and blood pressure increase, breathing becomes rapid and shallow, and digestion and other maintenance functions are put on hold.

Unfortunately, fighting or running is rarely a useful response to modern difficulties, such as moving to a new city, relationship upheavals or a job change. In addition, today’s stresses are often ambiguous and ongoing, for example money worries or interpersonal conflicts. This means your body and mind do not receive a clear signal that it is safe to stop, relax and recuperate.

As pressure mounts

You may find that as your stress goes on without relief, you become less and less able to unwind.

Muscle tension can develop into problems such as chronic headaches or shoulder and back pain, which are themselves stressful. Worry and physical tension can interfere with sleep, leaving you exhausted with little energy or mental focus to tackle your problems. You may even find your normal coping strategies add stress as you struggle to find time for exercise or social engagements.

As pressure mounts, the level of stress hormones in your bloodstream can become so high that very little is needed to trigger a stress response. You may find yourself constantly agitated, reacting not only to actual events, but to anticipated events and memories.

Massage for immediate relief

In a stress emergency, massage provides immediate relief with soothing sensations that refocus your attention away from your worries and tensions.

Studies show that massage triggers the relaxation response, taking your body off alert and setting in motion the biological processes needed to restore your resources and reverse the physical responses of “fight-or-flight.” With massage, calming touch sends your nervous system the signal that it is okay to take a break, allowing your body and mind to relax and unwind.

Comfort massage can be given in almost any setting. The person receiving the massage can be in bed or seated upright in a chair or wheelchair, and may remain fully clothed. While benefits tend to increase with regular sessions, the frequency and length of sessions are based on individual needs.

Renewing your energy reserves

When you are overtaxed and running on empty, massage can help you recharge and restore your energy and creativity.

Massage relieves painful muscle tension that saps your energy. It softens your muscles and their connective tissue coverings (called fascia) and releases painful trigger points in both muscles and fascia. What’s more, while the effects of a single session may be temporary, a well-spaced series can actually reverse chronic muscle contraction.

Massage increases circulation, clearing out accumulated stress hormones and waste products that can make you feel tired and sore, and bathing your cells with nutrients vital for tissue repair. A short-term increase in oxygen to your brain can reduce mental fatigue and improve your ability to concentrate and attend to your problems.

The quality of restful sleep usually improves in the days following a massage. This gives your body a chance to further repair and restore your energy levels.

Massage supports you psychologically by giving you a measure of control. Just knowing there is something you can do to take care of yourself helps you feel less at the mercy of external events. You may even experience relief from emotional symptoms such as anxiety or depression, along with a renewed sense of optimism which can last for days.

Learning how to relax

Relaxation is a skill that can be learned. With massage you experience deep relaxation, making it easier to consciously recreate that state in daily life. Massage also focuses attention on sensations in your body which can increase your awareness of early stress signals such as stomach or shoulder pain. You can then act to take control of your situation and your response to it.

Support for healthful changes

Massage is a simple way to care for yourself that may help you develop more energy for other healthful activities such as exercise or spending time with family and friends. Your massage therapist may also be able to recommend additional strategies such as stress management counseling, yoga or stretching classes, biofeedback, nutritional support or exercise alternatives.

Finding what’s best for you

When and how often to get massage varies from person to person. You may want to schedule just before or after a stressful event to cultivate a calm state of mind or to help you recover. If you are in crisis or want to reverse the effects of long-term stress, consider scheduling a series of massages. If you feel you are under so much pressure you can’t afford to relax, you can even request a massage that leaves you feeling alert and energized.

Massage for ongoing relief

Although stress is a fact of life, therapeutic massage can help you feel better, teach you to consciously relax and increase your ability to cope.

When you feel at the mercy of events, massage can give you a welcome stress break. By making massage a regular part of your life you can experience ongoing, cumulative effects .of reduced muscle tension, increased vitality and a calmer state of mind.