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Massage and Stress Reduction as Preventatitve Care

When I feel like rewarding myself, I have a number of go-to indulgences: organic dark chocolate and an espresso, a pedicure with nail art, a superfluous movie night (no substance, please), a leisurely afternoon in the hammock with a book. But one thing you don’t see on my “Indulgences List” is massage. That’s because, in my opinion, massage is not a treat or an indulgence, but actually an essential component of any preventative health routine.

 

Generally, there are three reasons that folks get massage. The first is to treat themselves – i.e. to indulge. The second is to address areas of pain or injury. Massage has been shown to contribute to muscular healing and shorten the recovery phase of healing. Finally, people also get massage for stress reduction. Massage reduces aggression, lowers stress, and improves performance. Receiving regular massage or bodywork has been shown to decrease anxiety and improve depression.

 

This last reason – stress -- is the one I want to focus on. Why? Because stress is a big deal! We have yet to settle on a definition of stress, but still, we all recognize what happens in our bodies when we experience it. Have you heard of the sympathetic response, aka “fight or flight?” On a biochemical level, “fight or flight” means that the body releases the hormones epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol as the warning shot to our cells to get on guard. These chemicals increase our metabolism, raise our heart rate, tense our muscles, slow the flow of blood going to our organs and limbs, and inhibit our digestive and immune systems. In other words, the fight or flight response prepares us to put up our dukes or get the h-e-double-hockey-sticks outta here!

 

Now, this system served our ancestors very well back when they were living on the savannah with lions, tigers, and bears, oh my!, but as our species evolved into the home-dwelling, car-driving, modern-convenience society we now find ourselves living in, it is far less necessary. For example, we don’t really need to go through the same physiological experience our ancestors did while escaping a herd of elephants when we’re sitting in our cars in traffic or faced with a deadline at work. Yet that’s exactly what happens when we experience stress and it takes a toll on our bodies. I mean, think about it, what was the life expectancy of our ancestors?! We can bounce back from a few stressful experiences here and there, but we need to take a preventative stance to combat the onslaught of stressors we experience every day.

 

It’s really no wonder, then, that 60-85% of all doctor’s visits are for stress-related symptoms. Stress contributes to allergies, gastroesophogeal reflux disease (GERD or acid reflux), weight gain, heart disease, headaches and migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, and a host of other unpleasant illnesses that are now common in adults and are starting to manifest in our young people. The scientist and writer René Dubos really nails it: “what happens in the mind of man is always reflected in the diseases of his body.”

 

The flip side of the sympathetic response (“fight or flight”) is the parasympathetic response, aka “rest and digest.” This is the response that allows us to digest our food, make babies, recover from injury, and sleep. We are meant to live in this relaxed, productive system not the other - not in stress.

 

So what’s a gal to do to deal with stress?

 

First things first, find ways to reduce the outside sources of stress in your life. That may mean making a career change, getting better friends, or embracing the mantra “let it go.”

 

Second, eat an abundance of fruits and vegetables, which are full of antioxidants that combat the chemical assault of stress (free radicals).

 

Third, incorporate stress-reducing activities into your everyday life. Even twenty minutes of daily meditation, yoga, tai chi or journaling will make a marked impact. I think of that daily 20 minutes as self-care and of the monthly massage as maintenance.

 

Finally, get bodywork! Scheduling time for you and only you is very powerful medicine. Massage therapists are among a select few health care practitioners who dedicate 60 – 90 minutes to nurture and care for their clients. When was the last time you got that same attention from your doctor? I recommend that my clients receive a 60-minute massage every 3-4 weeks.

 

Reducing the amount of stress in your life is not an indulgence – it’s preventative care. Limiting the impact stress has on your life, through bodywork and other stress-reducing activities, can help you avoid chronic illness and age with grace.

 

Photo by Emma Freeman Photography.

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Jesse Haas is Co-Founder of Chakra Khan, where she is a Massage Therapist and Health Coach. Her approach to working with clients integrates whole body health and conscious eating. To learn more about her practice or to schedule a free consultation, visit www.jessehaas.com or email her at jesse@jessehaas.com. Her last article for SGT was: Bones, Calcium, Controversy.

Comments

Is this paid content?

Almost all of our writers get paid a small fee for their hard work researching and writing articles, but this is not an advertisement if that is what you mean. Jesse is our wellness and health contributor, not a massage therapist looking to promote herself. She helps us to consider the importance of healing in living a simple, good and tasty lifestyle.

Thanks for the reminder about massage as an actual tool for prevention. I was just thinking how much it helps me as we move into the winter to "claar" things up. I feel like it helps with blood flow, sinuses and helps keep things from getting "stuck" in a season when we tend to slow down and move less. I definitely feel like it strengthens my immune system probably because of all of this stimulation and movement.

can i say something?

Dear Anonymous,

This is a forum for discussion so please, by all means, voice yourself!

And to be perfectly clear, this blog was meant to inform not promote. I believe very strongly in the work that I do and have seen massage and bodywork help countless people recover from injury, manage pain, reduce stress, improve digestion and immunity, etc. Simple Good and Tasty gave me a great opportunity to share this experience and encourage readers to consider massage and bodywork for what it is and what it traditionally has been - preventative care. Health and wellness is of great interest to me personally and professionally and I am thrilled to share this with SGT's readers.

I understand the temptation to read this blog as promotion because "Massage Therapist" follows my name in my bio. Instead, I encourage you to read this as coming from an expert in the field. From a professional who has worked with hundreds of clients and believes in the power of the work they and their colleagues do.

Best,

Jesse

Hmmm ... I guess we know why you're "Anonymous".

I agree with your article fundamentally that stress reduction is a key factor in bodily health in both the short and long terms.  As a medical professional I completely agree that our sympathetic stimulus is on overdrive in todays fast-paced, complicated society, and I think you put a fine point on that issue.  I would point out that in your last article you argued that our bodies have had plenty of time to evolve and adapt to a high dairy intake society, would you not agree that our bodies have dealt with the same adaptation to stress levels and stimuli?  Personally I would tend to believe that it takes far more than a few thousand years (indeed, much more than tha) of evolution to change our physiology, and here I would agree that this is a disadvantage to us who have changed our lifestyles so dramatically over just the last several hundred years.

As you pointed out, I have also seen a dramatic improvement to stress levels through diet, meditation, and stretching or yoga.  It's fascinating that we are all so individual, however.  My wife could seemingly benefit by a professional massage every day due to the irregular curvature of her spine and her tendency to carry her stress in her shoulders and upper back.  Whereas I have seen a few massage therapists over the last decade and they've all commented on how they're unable to find where my stress spots are.  I'm not really sure what that means, but I've never really felt much benefit from a professional massage, nor am I often able to afford the cost of one.  It's too bad that insurance companies seem to ignore the benefits of preventative medicine and include payments for regular massage, I'm sure a lot of people would benefit from that.

Now, if Anonymous would actually just say something...

Great suggestions on how to reduce stress and anxiety. I've been experiencing back pains lately and it could be due to the workload that I have lately. A good massage helps a lot in reducing stress and I think I need one soon.

 

Stress is just one of the many conditions that can make us feel so down. Although there are many ways of treating this condition it can be especially harmful when we also lack antioxidants in our body.

 

Stress is one of the major problems that we can’t even work. All of us needs relaxation of both body and mind where circulation is improved and you have a lighter feeling after it.

 

I absolutely agree! I had wrinkles on my face and due to my business workload I had no rest in my life. So much stress. But when I started going for Spa and massage everything changed. My life is just awesome. I would definitely refer this as a solution for others.

You're right, so many people think massage is a reward or a nice thing but really it can help with many health problems as well as just keep you healthy.

what about Aspergers Symptoms ?

HI Jesse,

Due to the many massage techniques offered to me, I am now overwhelmed. Which type would you recommend for a 40-year old father who wants to get a massage? Is thai-massage ok?

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This could be the stress reduction then and I am sure everything would be that perfect.

I am fortunate in that my wife is a qualified massage therapist. However the type of massage that suits an individual best is based on many factors. I personally enjoy a full body massage for stress relief but then any sort of pain causes stress so a topical massage to relieve pain will work for others.

Nice tips. Do not know about meditation and yoga (have not tried yet) but massage is a great stress reliever. 

Great article. I could not agree more. Massage is SUCH a great way to relieve stress. My biggest gripe is that most insurance companies will not pay for massage services as it is not a "recognized"medical procedure. The only way that I can get regular massages is from my boyfriend and unfortuantely its just not the same as a trained massesues although I love him for it. Natural stress remedies can help a lot too. I take an herbal remedy called Nuphorin from time to time and it seems to help quite a bit. Great article!

I have attended a massage therapy in an ayurvedha hospital in India. I was so stressed and very much tensed about my business. My friends refer me there. I cannot explain in words that the relief I got when I attended the therapy. Now I am a new man waiting for a new life.

Great post and information. Thanks for share

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