Emotional Stress, the Body, & Massage
Emotional stress is the silent killer. Just like fibromyalgia and other similar conditions, you can't see it, and unless your partner, friend, co-worker, or parent is "acting crazy" or seems very depressed, you'd never know that they were experiencing emotional stress.
Emotional stress can be triggered by many things including a death in the family, a stressful family life, work, or even events that happened to an individual in his or her past. People experience emotional stress in different ways, and therefore each person's symptoms may be different. Some people will become extremely tired - chronic fatigue - while others will become depressed. Those two usually go hand-in-hand. Still others may experience reoccurring cold sore outbreaks, the flu, colds or other ailments that just won't seem to go away. Psoriasis and eczema have also been shown to worsen or cause a person to have an outbreak when they are under long-term undue emotional stress.
So how does massage therapy come into play? Massage stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system in our body, which is in charge of restoring our body back to its resting state prior to the ignition of the sympathetic nervous system response - fight or flight mode.
When we experience a stressor, such as running from a lion, getting into a fight with your spouse or friend, or a work deadline that just moved up, the sympathetic nervous system kicks in and brings your body into fight or flight mode. You're either going to fight off the lion, or you're going to run. Unfortunately for us and our anatomy, our bodies haven't quite realize the difference between running from a lion and a stressful work deadline, so the sympathetic nervous system kicks in anyway, releasing extra cortisol and adrenaline to help you fight off this proverbial lion.
The sympathetic nervous systems' job is to then help bring you back into a relaxed state prior to seeing that lion. The only problem is, many people don't actually ever truly go back into a relaxed state. We have a tendency to jump from one stressor to the next, load up on more caffeine to help us push through - which in turn pumps more cortisol into our system and eventually leads to adrenal fatigue in which adrenaline is now being secreted instead - and we never really unwind from the initial stressor. This, in turn, leads to stress that cannot be seen - emotional stress.
Swedish massage has been shown to have the greatest effects on the parasympathetic nervous system, which uses long and slow effleurage strokes to help induce the body into a state of relaxation, release built up toxins - no doubt from the extra caffeine and alcohol to help combat the stress - as well as release stored tension throughout the body. This helps the body become relaxed by slowing the heart rate, breathing, and helps to stimulate digestion. Lavender and other stress-combating essential oils will only further relaxation for the body and the mind. Although not as effective, all other modalities of massage such as deep tissue, sports, tui na, and many more, also help to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system.
So, while some people still believe that massage therapy is only a luxury, they are sadly misinformed. Massage not only helps relieve tension deep within the muscles, but also within the mind. And although it's not a substitute for an appointment with your psychologist or counselor, it's still a great alternative therapy that can be used in conjunction with your other talk-therapy and emotional services.
Has massage therapy helped you through a difficult time?