Beating Depression with Massage Therapy

Why should you try massage therapy for depression?

Massage therapy can do much more for you beyond making your muscles feel better. While you probably know that it can help conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, back pain, neck pain and athletic injuries, you may not be aware that massage therapy is also beneficial for treating some emotional issues, such as depression.

There are categorically different types of depression, and varying levels thereof. Serious depression, of course should always be treated first by a physician, to determine what can best help you. Massage therapy should be used only as an adjunct for minor cases of depression, whereas more serious cases may require other types of health care. Speak to your doctor about what is best for you.

How does massage therapy help with depression?

Essentially, massage therapy stimulates nerve receptors in your body, which in turn releases mood-enhancing chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine. Because serotonin and dopamine affect your brain cells relating to mood, sexual desire and function, appetite, sleep, memory and learning, temperature regulation, and some social behaviour, lack of these brain chemicals can have widespread implications for your life. You can already see how a massage would be beneficial.

In addition to improving serotonin and dopamine levels naturally, massage therapy can also reduce the levels of cortisol in your body. Cortisol is a hormone secreted by your adrenal glands, and is secreted in higher levels when we experience a 'fight or flight' reaction to something. Obviously a necessary hormone during emergencies, repeated exposure to stressful situations causes resting levels of the hormone to remain higher than they should be, driving up your blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and suppressing your immune system. An ongoing condition like this can lead to depression, what is essentially your body's defense against repeating stressful events (like your mind going into a fetal position to protect you). Massage therapy then, can reduce these levels and thereby improve your ability to handle ongoing stress in your life.

Furthermore, massage therapy has been shown to improve alpha brain wave activity, the brain activity commonly seen when we are relaxed, yet focused and still conscious. Alpha brain waves are commonly seen in people meditating, as well as athletes who are competing at elite levels. By improving the frequency of alpha brain wave activity, you will function better at work and in stressful situations.

So keep in mind that while your massage feels good, it is actually having a physical effect on you to accomplish this.

By Richard Lobbenberg, BSc BHSc DAc

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