It’s common knowledge that getting a massage is a relaxing experience. But have you thought about how massages affect your overall well-being? Massages can affect you physically, mentally, and even emotionally in ways, you may never have realized. In today’s busy, stressful world, getting massages is more than just a luxury; sometimes it becomes a necessity to improve a person’s health and well-being. Let’s look at some of the benefits of massages and their positive effects.
Mental Health Benefits of Massages
While you may not think of getting massages as something to improve one’s mental health, you have to remember that there is a direct correlation between physical and mental: what goes on in mind affects the body and vice versa. Have you ever had a day when you’ve been under a lot of stress—deadlines at work, financial pressure, accomplishing a goal, or whatever the case may be? Have you noticed any physical symptoms, i.e., a headache, muscle knots or tension, clenched teeth? The chances are that you may not have even made the connection between the two. And yet, stress is very obviously the culprit whether you realize it or not. Now, on the other hand, think of how you feel after having a massage. You’re not just relaxed because that doesn’t even begin to cover it. You’re calm, rejuvenated—and suddenly the worries of the previous day seem like small potatoes. Don’t you wish you could feel that way all the time? So what is it about massages that affect what is happening in your mind?
- Decreases stress
- Boosts serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine
- Lowers cortisol
- Improves depression, anxiety, irritability
- Lowers blood pressure
Stress in a person’s body stimulates the natural fight-or-flight instinct that all humans have engrained in our nature. It’s the instinct that tells you to run when a train is coming toward you or to flee when a lion is chasing you. However, the majority of the population doesn’t experience such direct attacks in today’s world; stressors are much more subtle and ongoing. When our bodies are under stress, we produce higher amounts of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands and helps us to manage our stress levels in addition to regulating metabolism and helping the body process sugar efficiently for energy. When we experience prolonged stress, our cortisol levels stay high, which can lead to conditions such as depression and anxiety. Fortunately, massages help with all of these issues, first by releasing stress and tension in the muscles. By loosening tight muscles, the body and mind already feel healthier and happier; also, massages not only lower cortisol but raise levels of the “good” chemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin, that improve mood and boost happiness. These in effect will reduce depression, anxiety, and the like—especially with regular massages, which studies have shown can reduce cortisol production by up to 50%. Any reduction in stress hormones is beneficial, but if you can reduce it by half, that’s a pretty big drop!
Why A Massage Can Affect Your Physical Health
While massages are powerful for improving mental health, one cannot discount the physical benefits of regular massages. Although massage has often been viewed as a luxury in the past, studies have shown and proven that the health benefits of massage go far beyond simple relaxation and pampering. Massages can be beneficial for physical problems from digestive issues to fibromyalgia to injuries and scar tissue. For someone with chronic pain, massages are helpful in reducing stress and cortisol production caused by the incessant pain. Massages can even improve breathing and reduce symptoms of certain diseases; they have also been shown to reduce high blood pressure, partially because of stress reduction and partly due to the dilation of blood vessels and increased blood flow. Massage boosts the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of the body that’s the direct opposite of the fight-or-flight mechanism, and it’s impossible for the body to be relaxed and stressed at the same time. And because the effects of massage are temporary, getting regular massages is the most beneficial for consistent stress reduction or pain management.
Different types of massage work for different issues, so your massages can be customized to your particular physical problem. For example, if you have had a sports injury, you would want a specialized sports massage to help heal the injury and prevent further damage to the area. If you have general stress, you could get a Swedish massage, which is gentler and designed to relax by loosening muscles all over. If you have muscle knots and tension, especially in a certain area, you may want a deep tissue massage or trigger-point therapy to help break up the knots and increase flexibility. There is even a specific prenatal massage for expectant mothers, designed to target the typical problem areas due to pregnancy. Of course, there are many other kinds of massages, but the takeaway is that massages can be highly beneficial to physical health, beginning with stress reduction as the first step.
How Massages Support Your Well-being
While physical and mental/emotional benefits of massage fall under the category of overall well-being, there is much more to improving a person’s well-being than just those elements. What comes to mind when you think of well-being? Generally, well-being encompasses every aspect of a person’s life; Webster says that it is “the state of being happy, healthy, or prosperous.” Well-being means feeling good and having a positive outlook, being healthy, relaxed, and well-rested. If someone does something for your well-being, it means that they have your best interests in mind and want to help and encourage you to flourish and live the best life you can. While each person’s needs for well-being differ, there are some basics that need to be met for every human’s well-being to prosper. Health is one of those needs, and while there are varying degrees, massages can improve a person’s health no matter the condition. Massage has been proven to reduce pain and symptoms of many diseases, helping to manage daily living when suffering from illness or injury. Several chronic conditions can be better managed with massage due to increased blood flow and relaxation; massage has even been proven to boost the immune system.
Regardless of a person’s age or stage of life, everyone can benefit from a more positive outlook and well-being. In today’s hectic world, it is unlikely for most anyone to say they’re not stressed when asked. While no one can make the stressful situation magically disappear, there are purposeful ways of dealing with stressors that can improve a person’s outlook and help to manage it, and massage is the most beneficial. Massages are revitalizing and rejuvenating, even when just experienced for a few minutes; even a 10-minute massage can undo days’ worth of stress. When a person feels more relaxed, he or she can deal with everyday life much more easily, thus having a better outlook and managing issues with confidence. Besides, improved digestion, circulation, flexibility, energy, and mental attitude are all benefits of massages and all contribute to a person’s well-being. The numerous ways that massage can boost physical, mental, and emotional health help to balance the effects of the busy lives we lead.
While there is no cure-all or instant fix for the stressors and problems we face from day to day, we must do what it takes to take care of ourselves and promote our health, because we are ultimately in charge of ourselves. Good health starts with eating right, exercising, and getting enough sleep—the basics. And while we tend to neglect ourselves at times, we must remember that we cannot do anything we need to do without our health; taking care of yourself is not indulgent but a necessity. When you begin to see improvements in your energy levels, abilities, and mental outlook, it encourages you to want to do more and be all that you can be. Making massages a regular part of your health routine can help you in ways that may not have occurred to you—but the fact is, you won’t know the difference until you try it. Whether you’re dealing with chronic pain or tension or simply want to improve your circulation, massage is one aspect that will help you reach your goals. Besides, who has ever had a massage and regretted it? “I hate feeling relaxed,” said no one ever. The benefits of massage are well worth it—so what are you waiting for?