What is STRESS and how can Massage Therapy help?

What is STRESS and how can Massage Therapy help?

At one time or another, we all get ‘stressed’, but why? Our human body detects change in mental and physical health via change in the balance of homeostasis (an incredible system regulating temperature, pH, nutrients and more), and triggers our sympathetic nervous system in a ‘flight/fright/freeze’ response (1), and subsequent hormone modifications. For example heart rate increases, blood pressure elevates and energy supplies are boosted with the release of adrenalin. The primary stress hormone cortisol then increases blood-glucose and its’ receptivity for quick energy and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues. Cortisol also suppresses non-essential parasympathetic (rest/digest) processes such as digestion, reproduction and growth (2).

This advantageous natural process is exceedingly helpful if you are facing a life or death situation, historically such as being hunted by a large predator, requiring every ounce of energy available in your system to survive. However in more modern times, ‘life or death’ exposure is less prevalent, though our system can still activate facing the like of malfunctioning technology, personal troubles, and grid-lock traffic!

Our sympathetic ‘fight/flight/freeze’ response also communicates with centres of our brain which control mood, motivation and fear; long-term activation of the stress-response system can disrupt almost all body processes. Stress can create many symptoms experienced in body, mood and behaviour (2) including heart disease, headaches, stomach upset, anxiety/depression and muscle tension/pain amongst others.

Prevention of stress is ideal, although not always possible. There are several ways to manage ongoing stress including an active lifestyle, healthy diet, creative expression, meditation, and my personal favourite, massage therapy!

Data suggests that even a single session of Swedish Massage Therapy produces measurable biologic effects (3). Swedish massage therapy causes a decrease in vasopressin (which plays a role in regulating blood pressure and water retention) and a lesser decrease in cortisol levels (4). Studies show also that massage increases feel-good hormone oxytocin (5). Incorporating massage therapy into wellness and healthcare plans facilitates stress reduction and promotes personal health.

Massage Therapy