Getting treated with massage therapy means that you will have your muscles cared for in a manner conducive to improving the blood flow in your muscles, and secondarily the tissues that connect to your muscles. But how does this help reduce your stress? Most people are aware that we 'carry stress' in our muscles, and so it only makes sense that a massage of your muscles would help to reduce your stress. But what is going on when this happens? To answer this, let's take a look at the stress response, and what it does to your body.
When you experience stress, various reactions take place to raise your heart rate and blood pressure, tightening your muscles while at the same time decreasing brain activity in other areas (like your stomach) to conserve energy. Your body reacting in this way is referred to as the 'fight or flight response', a necessary physiological evolution to enable us to flee or fight predators. Although this is rarely needed in our day and age, the response mechanism still exists in us and has definite effects on us, especially with chronic stress. Chronic stress refers to a state where the 'fight or flight response' is virtually continuous, causing widespread detrimental effects on our bodies, e.g. heart issues. Luckily, massage therapy can help reduce stress, and thus limit the effect that chronic stress can have.
What does massage therapy do that relieves stress?
Massage therapy can help reduce your stress from a variety of angles. Firstly, the increased circulation to your sore muscles and tissues helps them resolve the tension and helps your body eliminate the toxins that have built up there. Secondly, massage therapy encourages your brain to release endorphins such as serotonin and dopamine, which help tremendously when it comes to stress relief. Furthermore, massage therapy simply helps take your mind off of your daily worries and gives you an opportunity to encourage good feelings instead.
Overall, your visit to a massage therapist will obviously help your muscles, but will also have a profound effect on the organs and systems in your body affected by stress. These organs include your heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, immune system, and digestive system, for example. It is recommended, especially if you have a high-stress job or lifestyle, to visit a massage therapist on a weekly or semi-weekly basis to help keep your stress levels down.
By Richard Lobbenberg, BSc BHSc DAc
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