Stress is your physical, mental, and emotional reaction to challenging events. Known as the fight-or-flight response, this automatic physiological system kicks in whenever you feel threatened. Though your stress response can sometimes create positive outcomes, it typically damages your body and mind when you experience it chronically.
Massage facilitates comfort, healing, and pain relief, and it counteracts the effects of stress. When you feel threatened or anxious, you reflexively tense your muscles. Though this response protects you from pain and injury in crisis situations, it can go too far. For emotional or environmental reasons, you may constantly feel “on guard.” This chronic stress triggers your body to tense up even when you aren’t in danger.
Chronic stress and tension cause a host of problems in your body, including:
- Respiratory issues: To fight an attacker or flee from danger, your stress response speeds up your breathing. Acute stress can cause asthma or panic attacks, which are especially dangerous for people with respiratory ailments like emphysema. If you suffer from any of these conditions, lower your body’s stress hormone levels with regular massage therapy.
- Cardiovascular damage: The high blood pressure, elevated stress hormone levels (cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline), and increased blood cholesterol associated with your fight-or-flight response can lead to hypertension, strokes, and heart attacks. For people with reduced cardiovascular function, massage can return life-giving circulation and function to extremities like hands, legs, and feet.
- Inflammation: Chronic stress causes inflammation in many parts of your body. For example, stress-related inflammation of your coronary arteries can increase your risk of heart attack. Researchers have found that massage decreases inflammation in muscles damaged by exercise and promotes cell metabolism. Fibromyalgia sufferers also benefit greatly from massage therapy.
- Diabetes: Stress causes your liver to raise your body’s glucose levels (giving you the energy to run away from danger). However, some people have trouble reabsorbing this blood sugar and become diabetic. Some diabetics can lower their blood sugar levels without medication with stress reduction techniques such as massage.
- Sexual dysfunction: Chronic stress can lead to infertility, impotence, and decreased arousal in both men and women. Because a relaxing massage can reduce your anxiety about coping with life, your body and mind feel safe to focus on intimacy. Consider a soothing couple’s massage as part of your next romantic getaway.
Modern researchers are finding out more and more about the dangers of stress and how massage can help your body cope. Your massage therapist can help you release stress and anxiety by creating flexibility in your body’s soft tissues: muscles, tendons, connective tissues, ligaments, and skin.
Experts have proven that massage therapy helps people with a wide variety of medical conditions. Massage also improves mental and emotional health by treating many stress-related diseases. Check with your doctor, find a professional massage therapist, and give your body and mind the soothing, therapeutic body work they deserve.