The short answer to the question; ”Does massage help with stress?”, is “YES”, it does, in so many amazing ways.
Biochemical and hormonal changes occur when your body is under stress. This stress chemistry can damage cells through inflammation. This will create waste and clog up the lymphatic system, which can cause physical problems like sleeplessness, headaches, fatigue, tension in your neck and shoulders, and digestive issues.
Through gently pulling and squeezing the muscles during a relaxation massage, the lymphatic system is supported in flowing the lymph along. Lymph is a pale fluid inside the lymphatic system that removes bacteria from tissues, and is an important part of your immune system, it is the responsibility of the lymph fluid to carry the body's waste products away. Lymph eventually becomes plasma, which is then filtered through the kidneys.
A full body relaxation massage is a great option to help you reduce your stress. It helps to loosen up your body and mind, calm your nervous system, reduce your tension and anxiety, and improves your blood circulation. It also balances your stress hormones and increases your happy and love hormones, thereby lowering your heart rate, improving your mood and your overall outlook on life.
How does your body achieve all of this and more, during a relaxation massage?
During a relaxation massage, your body’s relaxation response is activated through the manipulation of your skin, soft tissue, tendons and muscles, and this provides you with the stress relief you are looking for.
This relief is underlined by the fact that a massage results in the production of beneficial levels of various hormones and neurotransmitters, while at the same time decreasing and balancing the levels of less beneficial hormones.
The role of Endorphins on the body
Your skin’s sensory nerve endings react to a relaxation massage through your nerve system, and as a result your brain releases endorphins. Endorphins are hormones that have a calming effect on you. They make you happy, reduce your stress levels, and slow down your aging process. They are your body’s own natural painkiller as they boost your immune system, slow down your breathing, decrease your heart rate, increase your body’s excretion of waste and toxins, and give you an overall sense of well-being.
Low levels of endorphin can result in chronic pain (of unknown cause), lower pain tolerance, depression, chronic fatigue and a lack of energy and /or enthusiasm.
The number of endorphins that are released increases with the depth of the massage.
The role of Dopamine on the body
At the same time as endorphins are released, your hypothalamus also releases a neurohormone called dopamine. Dopamine plays a major role in your reward-motivated behaviour, emotional response, pleasure, movement control, long-term memory, smell, learning, attention, intuition, inspiration, joy and problem solving. Dopamine also increases your sodium excretion and urine output.
Low dopamine levels can result in a lack of motivation, low energy and the inability to focus.
Benefits of raised levels of Serotonin
A relaxation massage will also raise your serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurohormone that regulates your wellbeing, happiness, behaviour around emotions, social behaviour, appetite, digestion, sleep and memory. It also helps to maintain a balanced mood by acting to repress irritability, and unhealthy cravings for sex and food.
Last but not least, Serotonin assists to regulate your body’s internal clock, and therefore your sleep-wake cycle.
Low serotonin levels can result in anxiety and panic disorders, attention disorders, eating disorders, multiple sclerosis, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, seasonal affective disorder and social phobias.
Benefits of raised levels of Oxytocin
Oxytocin is referred to as our “bonding hormone”, “love hormone” or our “Peace and Trust” hormone. It releases during orgasm, when dark, when you feel safe, during massage, during childbirth (helping with bonding) and breastfeeding. Oxytocin reduces your body’s negative response to stress, and the effects caused by stress. It supports your body for optimal levels of physical health, love, kindness and empathy which results in a warm and fuzzy feeling.
Low oxytocin levels can result in poor communication, irritability, anxiety, fears, difficulty achieving orgasm, bigger appetite for sugar-rich foods, feeling little joy from life, disturbed sleep, and muscle aches.
More oxytocin is released during a relaxation massage than during a deep tissue massage.
The effects of Cortisol on the body
During a relaxation massage your cortisol levels decrease to bring them into balance, this allows your body to enter a relaxed rest-and-recovery mode. Cortisol is your stress hormone, it interferes with your learning, memory, immune function and bone density. It causes the narrowing of your blood vessels, high blood pressure, cholesterol and heart disease. It also impedes the function of your cells that are responsible for wound healing, and results in the death of your natural killer cells. Natural killer cells are your first line of defence against viral infections.
Prolonged elevated levels of cortisol increases your stress, risk of depression and blood pressure. It may also result in weight gain, mental illness, suppression of your immune system, and lower than normal life expectancy.
Low levels of cortisol can result in fatigue, low blood pressure, emotional hypersensitivity, social anxiety, extreme craving for salty foods and motion sickness.
The benefits of massage on Adrenaline and Noradrenaline
During a relaxation massage your adrenaline and noradrenaline levels decrease to bring them back into balance. High levels of adrenaline and noradrenaline have been directly linked to mental and emotional stresses. Adrenaline and noradrenaline are the activation, arousal, alertness and alarm hormones of your flight-or-fight response that prepares the body to react in an emergency.
A relaxation massage balances your adrenaline and noradrenaline levels. As a result, your heartbeat slows down, your blood pressure lowers, and the flow of blood to your muscles decreases. This allows your body to rest and repair itself which decreases your anxiety and stress.
Low adrenaline and noradrenaline levels can result in drowsiness, low energy, fatigue and sluggishness.
In conclusion, a relaxation massage not only helps you to de-stress at a body and mind level in the moment, but it also helps to keep your immune system strong and resilient. This in turn helps you to fight the build-up of stress hormones in your body more successfully, and stay stress free for longer.
I am not a medical professional, therefore the information provided in this post is general information, and should only be used as an information resource. Do not use it to diagnose or treat any condition that you may have. Contact your health care provider to discuss your symptoms and possible treatments with them.
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This blog is written by Lionie Fromentin to help clarify and deepen your understanding of the services provided by 360 Alignment. You will also find self-help tips, ideas and techniques to assist you to better manage stress, anxiety, insomnia and depression.