Depression and anxiety are unhappy companions for too many of us. Whilst it is a positive step forward that mental health is something that can be spoken about more honestly and openly, it also reveals just how many people are struggling with this aspect of life. Stress and depression impacts our lives emotionally and physically, putting our bodies and our relationships under strain.
The good news is that there are things that can help, and whilst for many this means talking therapy, studies show that touch therapies can also have an important part to play.
How? Many of us spend to much time in “fight or flight” mode, our bodies sympathetic nervous system. In response to stress the hormone cortisol is produced, which drives up blood pressure and blood sugar levels and suppresses the immune system. All great for when you need to run away from danger or fight off a real physical threat, but not great when you are sat at your desk or laying awake in the middle of the night. Massage significantly reduces cortisol levels, helping the body turn off this alarm mode and move to “rest and restore” (the parasympathetic nervous system), allowing our heart rate to reduce and those churning digestive muscles to relax.
- A review of more than a dozen massage studies conducted by the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine concluded that massage therapy relieves depression and anxiety by affecting the body’s biochemistry. A series of studies looking at approx. 500 individuals (men, women and children) with depression or stress problems showered that cortisol levels were lowered by up to 53% after a massage treatment.
- The International Journal of Neuroscience studied a group of people with spinal cord injuries who were also suffering from depression. Split into two groups, half the patients received two 40-minute massages per week, whilst the other half received two 40 minute sessions of motion exercises. Whilst both groups improved their physical abilities over the period, the people who received the massage therapy also became less depressed.
- Researchers at the University of Miami followed 37 breast cancer patients who either received massage therapy or practiced progressive muscle relaxation for five weeks. Women in the massage group reported feeling less depressed and angry, and they had more energy.
As well as reducing cortisol levels massage can increase the levels of both serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters that can help reduce depression and stabilize mood. This twin effect relaxes your body and mind and boosts your ability to fight off pain and anxiety.
For many individuals the hour they spend receiving the massage may be the only opportunity in their hectic life to be relax, away from demands and distractions, and give themselves permission to take time out to refocus and feel restored. The nurturing touch that is central to the massage can also help provide the positive physical human contact that is so common in childhood but often declines as we get older. This combination can help individuals “turn off” overworked minds and tune in to their body and what it is trying to tell them.
Hopefully as we move forward in our understanding of mental health issues, we can also recognise the role of touch therapies in helping us all manage our mental and emotional health.
Feeling stressed, anxious, depressed? Book now for a therapeutic massage treatment. All treatments are individually tailored to your needs. Nervous clients welcome – trust us to look after you.