Last week I wrote this post about the benefits of regular massage therapy for the body. This week, I want to talk about the benefits of massage for your mind.
As many of you are probably aware, the majority of our aches, pains, and illnesses are at least partially due to stress. Stress is a mental state that partially manifests as physical pain such as back pain, neck pain, headaches, digestive upset... the list is seemingly endless. You can absolutely go to a doctor and get medications or procedures to treat these physical symptoms, of course that is likely to lead to a whole host of other problems due to side-effects of the treatments. However, if you only treat the physical symptoms, the stressed mind will just cause these or other physical symptoms to come back. If your physical problems are caused by stress, it makes sense to treat the stress along with the physical symptoms. Massage is a great option for treating both. While your body is reaping the physical benefits of the massage, your mind also has a chance to let go of some of that stress.
There are many mental benefits that you can receive from regular massage therapy. Let's look at a few of them. You may notice that a lot of the benefits are results of other benefits. Massage can work like a chain reaction in your mind and body.
Most massages are relaxing. Massage is often thought of as a way to pamper oneself, or a loved one. Unless you are having massage in a medical setting like at a chiropractor or physical therapist's office, the therapist probably works hard to create a relaxing environment. The lights are usually dimmed, the room is probably warm, there is nice music playing, they may use aromatherapy oils, and many massage therapists have their own special touches to try to help you relax. The therapist may have you focus on breathing and letting things go. As your body begins to relax, your mind should as well.
As you read this, you may be thinking that you have trouble turning your mind off and allowing yourself to relax. Many people feel this way, and it may take a while for you to be able to truly relax. Incorporating relaxing activities like massage and meditation into your life in small increments can help.
Try meditating for 3-5 minutes every day. Sit in a quiet room with no distractions. Perhaps play some music that relaxes you and/or use some calming essential oils. Make sure you are in a comfortable position. Contrary to most of the meditation photos you see (like the one above), you DO NOT have to sit in lotus position with your hands in a mudra. It may take a while, but the more you do it, the easier it should become. When 5 minutes seems easy, increase your meditation time. Most importantly, don't beat yourself up if you can't seem to clear your mind. Acknowledge thoughts as they come, and let them go. These are just suggestions. Meditation is different for everyone. Find what works best for you and go with it.
Decrease Anger and Negative Feelings
People who receive regular massage tend to notice fewer instances of anger, lashing out, and negative feelings in general. A lot of that is linked to feeling better about yourself. We tend to lash out most when we feel insecure. We are also more likely to get angry when we don't feel well physically and emotionally. Improving your quality of life and decreasing your stress levels will help you to avoid jumping to anger quickly. As stated above, massage can also help to stimulate production of feel good hormones and neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine which should make you feel happier.
Improved Sleep Quality
So, in the last section, I mentioned that massage helps to increase serotonin levels which can help decrease depression. Serotonin is also a key player in your quality of sleep. The brain can convert serotonin into melatonin, a hormone which causes our brains to quiet down, and regulates our circadian rhythms. I'm sure many of us have experienced that inability to turn our brains off at night. When you receive massage, your serotonin levels increase. When you receive regular massage, your baseline levels of serotonin increase. This means that if you get regular massage the increase in your serotonin will last longer and will likely become permanent meaning that your quality of sleep should get better and remain that way. Not only will you have an easier time falling asleep at night, but you are less likely to wake up feeling exhausted. You should feel more refreshed and rejuvenated not only upon waking but throughout your day as well.
Lessen Depression and Anxiety
A lot of research has been done on the effects of regular massage therapy when used as a supplementary treatment for depression and anxiety.
If you suffer from depression, massage therapy is not a replacement for psychotherapy, but can be a great addition to the treatment that your therapist has for you. Receiving regular massage can help to decrease the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that can lead to increased blood pressure and blood sugar, and lower the effectiveness of your immune system. Massage has also been proven to increase levels of serotonin and dopamine, which are neurotransmitters which when in low supply can be a contributing factor in depression.
Massage is also great for anxiety. Allowing your mind to relax and helping your body to better regulate hormone levels can greatly decrease your anxiety levels. Massage can also help to lower blood pressure by improving circulation and decreasing cortisol levels. When your blood pressure is lower, you are less likely to feel anxious.
Increase in Energy
Being achy and stressed out is exhausting. Have you noticed that when you get more stressed out, you tend to be more fatigued? Basically, massage helps to regulate your hormone and endorphin levels, relax your mind and body, improve your circulation, and help you sleep better. All of these things can leave you feeling more energetic and less fatigued. If you receive regular massage, you may notice that not only do you wake up feeling better, but you are less likely to need that morning cup of coffee (or two, or three), and you are less likely to need a jolt of caffeine to get you by in the afternoon.
If you find yourself sitting most of the day, you should make sure to stand up frequently and move around. It is recommended that for every hour you sit, you should stand and move for 10 minutes. Try getting up to get a snack or drink of water, or use the restroom. If you are limited to the amount of time you can be up from your desk, try reaching down and pumping your calves with your hands. The soleus muscle in your calves is also known as the "second heart". It's job is to help pump blood from the legs back up to your heart. Squeezing your calves will help stimulate this muscle and get your circulation back up. You will also notice a decrease in swelling in your legs and feet at the end of the day. Have trouble remembering to get up? Set an alarm for yourself to remind you.
Improved Concentration and Clarity
As you begin to receive regular massage, you may notice an increase in your productivity and creativity. This is because when your body and mind are relaxed, you are better able to focus on individual tasks. You will likely notice an increase in your mental alertness and reaction times as well. You should also be getting better sleep which gives your brain a chance to absorb new information and help you learn better which in turn can help you feel more organized mentally.
As you are better able to organize your thoughts, and relax your mind, you may notice that you are more able to think clearly and make tough decisions. Being able to focus your mind through relaxation and meditation can help you to think through things and see solutions to problems more quickly and easily. When you are able to think more clearly about things, you are less likely to feel anxious and stressed out.
Increasing Mind/Body Awareness and Self-Image
It is very easy to live in our heads. We are all guilty of that at some point. When we are concerned with all of the many stresses in our lives, we often slip into thinking mode, occasionally emerging from our minds long enough to notice that our backs have started to hurt or we have a headache. Regular massage can help bring an awareness to your body and how you feel. You are more likely to be aware of your posture which is a great step toward improving posture and eliminating some of those pesky muscular imbalances that cause chronic pain.
People who receive regular massage also tend to have a healthier self-image. They are more likely to be comfortable and even happy in their own skin. When your body feels good, you are more likely to feel good in your body. Having more energy and less pain is a great way feel good about yourself, and can lead to healthier lifestyle choices. When you aren't in pain you are more likely to be active. Living a less stressful life can also lead to healthier food choices. A more active and healthy lifestyle can make you feel better physically and emotionally.
Satisfying Your Need for Caring, Nurturing Touch
Receiving caring, nurturing human touch is a basic human need. It is one that is often overlooked, especially in our society where touch is often viewed as a negative. It is important to be aware of the difference between positive and negative touch, and to be aware that you should always be in control of how you are touched.
There have been numerous studies which show the benefits of positive touch for infants, especially preemies or sick babies, as well as for the elderly. People who receive regular positive touch tend to thrive more than people who don't, and this is something that most of us have forgotten through the generations. Everyone needs caring human contact.
Massage is a a great way to relax your mind and body, and doing so can be a huge step toward increasing your quality of life in general. In order to best facilitate the great benefits of massage, it is important to find the right therapist. Make sure to find someone who you are comfortable with and whom you feel you can trust. This is just as important as what their massage feels like. When you trust the other person in the room with you, you are more likely to be able to fully relax and reap the benefits of your massage.
Meet the Author
Amanda Tarver, (LMT, CEIM, PES, RMT) is a massage therapist and birth worker in the Chicago area. She is dedicated to using a combination of bodywork and education to help people live a better quality of life.