25 Aug 2011 Massage and stress
Stress can kill. It originally evolved from the fight or flight response, which activates our sympathetic nervous system and the release of stress hormones, e.g. cortisol. Heartbeat and breathing rate increase and our muscles get ready for action, while other systems, like digestion or reproduction, are put on hold until the imminent danger passes. This is a life saving mechanism. However, many of today’s ‘threats’ are different from a lion chasing a zebra in the bush. Yet, we still react in the same way. Thoughts keep us fight or flight-ready even after the trigger has passed. Stress can destroy our mind and our body.
Luckily, we have the relaxation response to counteract it, when the parasympathetic nervous system is activated. Massage is an effective way to move us from a sympathetic to a parasympathetic state and relax, providing a soothing touch for our bodies and minds to let go of internalised stress. Regular massage is a long-term investment in your health and well-being. Prevention is better, less costly and more pleasant than cure.
The BBC Explorations series Dealing with Stress illustrates some of the effects of stress. Scientist and author Robert Sapolsky has studied baboons, who appear to be good models for human stress behaviour. Sapolsky found that baboons who are more socially involved and are groomed more often are healthier, with greater chances for survival. Could we regard massage as an equivalent soothing touch for humans?
Soothing touch, whether it be applied to a ruffled cat, a crying infant, or a frightened child, has a universally recognized power to ameliorate the signs of distress. How can it be that we overlook its usefulness on the jangled adult as well? What is it that leads us to assume that the stressed child merely needs ‘comforting’, while the stressed adult needs ‘medicine’? – from Job’s Body: A Handbook for Bodywork, by Deane Juhan.
‘Jangled’ Adults: Touch and the Stress Response System, by Ruth Werner is an article originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, February/March 2006. It talks about the stress response system, the effect of stress and the power of touch.
A more scientific example of an interesting study about the stress-alleviating effects of massage therapy is: Cortisol decreases and serotonin and dopamine increase following massage therapy.