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Combatting the Effects of Stress with Massage

by Laura G., LMP

 

We all know what causes stress and we all know that stress is bad for you. What is less well known is exactly how stress affects your body and how massage reverses the physiological effects of stress.

 

Our bodies have a complex reaction to stress. A “fight or flight” reaction of the sympathetic nervous system gears the body for heavy physical exertion. Blood pressure increases and cholesterol is released into the bloodstream. Breathing becomes rapid and shallow and heart rate increases.  Muscles tense and blood rushes to the extremities to prepare them for action. 

 

If  the “fight or flight” reaction is in fact caused by heavy exertion, then the body naturally returns to the “rest and digest” state, known as the parasympathetic nervous. The parasympathetic system signals the body to lower blood pressure, slow and deepen breathing, slow the heart rate, relax muscles and direct blood into the internal organs to assist metabolic functions.

 

In our modern lifestyle, however, the stress response is also triggered by daily activitites like sitting at the computer for long hours or simply waiting in traffic. These sedentary activities don’t release stress. Stress remains in our bodies causing muscle tightness, high blood pressure, and a sense of fatigue. Over the long-term muscles and blood vessels become less elastic, arteries develop cholesterol placques, digestion becomes sluggish, and sleep doesn’t feel refreshing. We find it difficult to ever fully relax even after exercise.

 

Massage counteracts the effects of stress in our bodies by stimulating the parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) system.

 

Calming strokes send a message to the nervous system that the body is safe. Blood pressure and heart rate return to normal. Breathing slows and deepens. Digestion increases (tummy rumbles are frequent on massage tables). Deep muscle strokes relax constricted muscle fibers and open blood vessels. As a full body treatment returns muscles to a healthy tonus, the chest and abdomen soften and relax and the shoulders lower. The internal organs have more room to operate and receive better blood supply. As the energy held in tense muscles is released, one feels more energetic and exercise is more enjoyable. The deep relaxation achieved with a full body massage allows one to rest comfortably and sleep becomes more rejuvenating. 

 

Massage acts as a natural bio-feedback mechanism. With regular massage, our bodies learn how to return to the “rest and digest” state with more ease. We are less likely to get stuck in the “flight or flight” stress reaction. Hence, we actually learn to deal better with stress on a physiological level. Since our resources aren’t wasted on keeping our muscles tense, and we are able to relax more completely when we rest, we have a renewed sense of energy. 

 

Regular massage is an excellent method for combating the effects of stress and enhancing one’s health. Reducing one’s stress response feels good at the time and feels even better the next day. Not only does massage feel fantastic, it is also fantastic for your health!

 

When it comes to massage, Seattle leads the way among U.S. cities in terms of the popularity of therapeutic massage and the level of knowledge among Seattle residents about the health benefits of massage. Seattle massage schools are also regarded as among the best in the country, graduating massage therapists that are able to skillfully combine both the relaxation and the treatment aspects of massage.

Dreamclinic is proud to be a Seattle-based massage practice:
- Practicing massage in Seattle allows us to attract to our team some of the top graduates from local massage schools.
- Practicing massage in Seattle allows us to offer a valuable emerging wellness service in a city where it is understood and appreciated.
- Lastly, practicing massage in Seattle allows us to promote the highest standards for the massage profession and to continue to contribute to the general education of the population about massage.

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