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How To Reduce Your Stress With Massage

Our Top Stress Management Techniques

A little bit of stress can be a good thing .. It can motivate you to study for exams and push yourself beyond your boundaries. But increasingly the down side of stress on the body and mind is coming under the microscope.

Stress is the body's natural response to external pressures, triggering a wave of physiological and psychological reactions aimed at coping with perceived threats. While acute stress can be adaptive, chronic stress can wreak havoc on our health, adding to a wide range of ill health, from cardiovascular diseases to mental health issues.

Massage can be an awesome way to help reduce your stress in so many ways, both physically and psychologically. Here are some of the ways of how massage can help reduce your stress.

1. Massage

How Massage Affects The Working Of The Body And How This Reduces Stress

Massage therapy triggers a wide range of physiological responses within the body, offsetting the detrimental effects of stress.

One of the main ways how massage reduces stress is by helping regulate the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which regulates involuntary bodily functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, and digestion. This is all the things that happen in your body without you having to think about them (like digesting your food, pumping blood around your body, that sort of thing).

Research conducted by Moraska et al. (2008) at the University of Colorado Boulder demonstrated that massage therapy also reduces sympathetic nervous system activity (the fight, flight and freeze response) while enhancing parasympathetic activity (the "resst and digest" system), promoting a state of calmness and relaxation. Massage helps you digest your food, it can help regulate your heart rate (especially if it is triggered in the fight and flight phase) and can help with systems like urination. This study also showed that massage can help reduce your blood pressure. There is more info on how massage affects all the systems of your body here

Added to this, massage therapy has been shown to reduce the levels of cortisol, the body's primary stress hormone. A study by Field et al. (2005) at the University of Miami School of Medicine observed a significant decrease in cortisol levels following massage therapy sessions.

Cortisol, often dubbed the "stress hormone," is released in response to stressors, and high levels have been linked to a variety of negative health outcomes, including anxiety, depression, and impaired immune function. Massage is one of the best ways to reduce cortisol in your body, and then help it move from stress to relaxation.

Massage also changes in neurotransmitter levels, triggering the release of endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine. These neurotransmitters play a crucial role in regulating mood, promoting feelings of relaxation and well-being. These are the "feel good hormones" that help us feel good and positive and less stressed.

Research by Diego et al. (2010) at the Touch Research Institute, University of Miami, demonstrated that massage therapy increased serotonin and dopamine levels while decreasing cortisol levels, suggesting a shift towards a more relaxed state.

How Massage Helps Reduce Stress Psychologically

The Psychological Benefits of Massage Therapy

As well as the physiological effects of massage, it also has profound psychological benefits, helping reduce stress and anxiety. One way is by promoting relaxation and inducing a state of deep relaxation. A meta-analysis conducted by Moyer et al. (2004) synthesized data from numerous studies and concluded that massage therapy significantly decreased self-reported stress and anxiety levels across diverse populations.

On top of this, massage therapy fosters the release of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers, and mood elevators. A study by Rapaport et al. (2010) at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center observed an increase in endorphin levels following massage therapy sessions. Endorphins are neurotransmitters that bind to opioid receptors in the brain, producing feelings of euphoria and alleviating pain. By stimulating the release of endorphins, massage offers a natural way to combat stress and promote emotional well-being.

Massage also helps the restoration of body awareness and mindfulness, promoting a deeper connection between mind and body. Research by Shor-Posner et al. (2010) at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine highlighted the role of massage therapy in enhancing body awareness and mindfulness, thereby reducing stress and promoting emotional resilience.

How Massage Helps Reduce Stress In A Variety Of Clinical Settings

The therapeutic benefits of massage therapy extend beyond stress reduction, encompassing a wide range of clinical applications. For example, massage therapy has been shown to reduce symptoms of various mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A meta-analysis by Hughes et al. (2018) examined the effects of massage therapy on psychological outcomes and found significant reductions in symptoms of anxiety and depression across multiple studies.

Massage has also been used in treatment plans for chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia and lower back pain. Research by Cherkin et al. (2011) at the Group Health Research Institute demonstrated that massage therapy provided significant improvements in pain intensity and functional limitations among individuals with chronic low back pain.

Massage has also been used as a complementary therapy in cancer care, helping to alleviate symptoms such as pain, fatigue, and anxiety among cancer patients. A study by Cassileth et al. (2004) at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center found that massage therapy significantly reduced pain and anxiety levels in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

So if you are feeling stressed, booking in a massage can be a great way to help reduce it both in your body and mind.

Other Stress Management Techniques

2.  Stress Mindset

You tend to feel stressed when you feel you don’t have the resources to cope with whatever the situation is.

No situation is inherently stressful, rather it is the feelings of not being able to cope that cause the tension.

What might be stressful to you might be perfectly neutral to another person. It also helps if you have high social support around you, people to confide in and talk to. There is also the theory that those who have a high stress mindset are far better at dealing with stress than those who avoid stress and feel that they can’t cope.

A stress mindset refers to a state of mind where people perceive stressors as overwhelming and uncontrollable adding to their stress response. This mindset has a tendency to ruminate on potential threats, catastrophize about negative outcomes, and perceive challenges as insurmountable obstacles.

The Negative Cycle of Stress Perception

When individuals adopt a stress mindset, they become more susceptible to the negative affects of stress. Research has shown that seeing stress as harmful and uncontrollable can increase physiological stress responses, leading to increased cortisol levels, elevated heart rate, and heightened sympathetic nervous system activity. A stress mindset can hurt the way your brain works, undermines decision-making abilities, and hinders problem-solving skills, further adding to the cycle of stress.

How to Shift Your Mindset and Reduce Stress

It's possbile to increase a more adaptive mindset and reduce the effects of stress. Here are some ways to help shift from a stress mindset to a more resilient perspective:

  1. Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness involves cultivating awareness of the present moment without judgment. By grounding yourself in the here and now, you can detach from anxious thoughts and develop a more balanced perspective. Mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing, body scans, and meditation can help alleviate stress and bring about a sense of calmness.

  2. Challenge Negative Thoughts: When faced with stress, question negative thoughts and assumptions that add to a stress mindset. Ask yourself whether what you think are based on facts or distorted perceptions. Look for evidence to support more adaptive beliefs and rethink stressful situations as challenges rather than threats.

  3. Cultivate Resilience: Build resilience by practising coping strategies. Focus on developing problem-solving skills, building social support networks, and engaging in activities that promote emotional well-being. By increasing your resilience, you can better withstand adversity and bounce back from setbacks.

  4. Practice Self-Compassion: Be kind towards yourself, especially during times of stress. Recognize that experiencing stress is a normal part of life and that you are not alone in facing challenges. Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer to a friend in a similar situation.

  5. Focus on What You Can Control: Instead of fixating on factors beyond your control, focus on actionable steps you can take to manage stress effectively. Identify areas where you have control, and channel your energy towards these. By empowering yourself to take proactive measures, you can regain a sense of control over your circumstances.

  6. Seek Support: Don't hesitate to reach out for support from friends, family members, or mental health professionals when needed. Talking to others about your experiences can provide validation, perspective, and practical advice for coping with stress. Remember that seeking support is a sign of strength, not weakness.

3. Start Your Day Right

How you start your day can help determine the level of stress you feel. If you wake up feeling negative and sad then it is likely that the rest of your day will continue the same way. Here are some great ways to start your day in a positive manner.

The Impact of Morning Routines

Morning routines serve as a basis for the day ahead, helping mood and stress resilience. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Nottingham (Conroy & O'Leary, 2018) examined the effects of morning routines on stress levels and found that people who had structured morning rituals reported lower levels of perceived stress throughout the day.

Morning Mindfulness

Adding mindfulness practices into your morning routine can help increase calm and reduce stress. Research conducted at Brown University (Lutz et al., 2008) demonstrated that mindfulness meditation practiced in the morning led to reduced cortisol levels, decreased anxiety, and enhanced emotional well-being. Starting your day with a brief mindfulness exercise, such as deep breathing or mindful journaling, can help you start your day in a positive way.

Morning Exercise

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Bristol (Mutrie & Faulkner, 2004) investigated the effects of morning exercise on stress reduction and found that people who exercised in the morning reported lower levels of perceived stress and greater feelings of vitality throughout the day. Incorporating a morning workout, whether it's a brisk walk, yoga session, or gym workout, can help kickstart your day on a positive note.

4. Get More Sleep

Sleep is critical to our physical and psychological well being. The less sleep you get the less able you are to be able to deal with anxiety or depression or even negative events. The catch 22 is that the more stressed you are, the less able you are to get a good nights sleep and the higher your sleep disruptions.

The Stress-Sleep Connection And How Massage Helps

Chronic stress has a profound effect on getting to sleep, fragmented sleep and waking up feeling tired. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, a key mediator of the stress response, plays a major role in regulating sleep-wake cycles through the release of cortisol, the primary stress hormone. Elevated cortisol levels not only disrupt the natural circadian rhythm but also reduce the secretion of melatonin, the hormone responsible for promoting sleep onset.

On top of this, with massage increasing relaxation and reducing sympathetic nervous system activity, it helps people go from wakefulness to sleep. As well as this, with massage increasing endorphins and oxytocin, this can lead to better able being able to go to sleep and also have a restorative sleep. A randomized crossover study by Field et al. (2018) investigated the effects of back massage on sleep quality in older adults with sleep disturbances. The results showed a significant improvement in sleep quality, as assessed by self-reported sleep diary entries, highlighting the therapeutic potential of massage in ameliorating sleep disturbances among vulnerable populations.

Finally, massage stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting a state of relaxation characterized by decreased heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate. This shift towards parasympathetic dominance acts against the hyperarousal state common in people with sleep disorders. Massage increases the release of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which exert sedative effects on the central nervous system, further promoting sleep induction and maintenance.

5. Try Empathy

Stress can be caused by having to be nice and friendly when you don’t really feel like it. 

For some people, they work in jobs where part of their job is to be nice to people who aren’t particularly nice to them (think a call service or complaints department operative).

For those who tend towards being positive and upbeat, this isn’t too difficult, some people actually thrive on being nice in such situations.

But if you tend towards negativity and bad moods, having to be nice to people who are angry or stressed can make you in turn stressed. One of the key tools that you can use in a situation like this is to use empathy, or stand in the other persons shoes. 

6. Learn To Say No

It is so easy to become over scheduled and take on too much. Setting boundaries and being mindful of your time as a precious resource is a great way to cut down on doing things for other people that you don’t really want to do. It’s not as difficult as it sounds, simply be polite but firm. If you want to say no but really feel that you can’t in person, use the words “I’ll have to think about it and get back to you.” You can then always text them later to say you have thought about it and can’t right now.

7. Eat Well

Make sure you eat well and are hydrated. Taking care of yourself and making sure your body and brain are well nourished is a critical part of lowering your stress levels. Your body needs nutrients to properly function and your brain especially so for making sure it has enough energy to help keep your emotions stable and that you feel good. 

There is a strong connection between stress and your eating patterns. Stress often leads to the consumption of calorie-dense, nutrient-poor foods as a coping mechanism. The physiological stress response, controlled by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, triggers the release of cortisol, the primary stress hormone, which in turn stimulates appetite and promotes cravings for high-fat and high-sugar foods. On top of this, chronic stress disrupts the regulation of appetite-controlling hormones, such as leptin and ghrelin, predisposing individuals to overeating and weight gain.

Massage can also help with reducing mindless eating. For example, a qualitative study by Jones et al. (2020)* explored the experiences of individuals who received regular massage therapy as part of a holistic wellness program. Participants reported increased awareness of hunger and satiety cues, decreased tendency to engage in mindless eating, and enhanced appreciation for the sensory aspects of food consumption.

Massage can also help promote a positive body image, which can then lead to a healthier diet. Massage nurtures a compassionate relationship with the physical self. Through compassionate touch and empathic emergy, massage therapists create a safe space for clients to reconnect with their bodies. A longitudinal looked at the effects of massage therapy on body image perception and self-esteem in individuals with disordered eating behaviors. The results revealed a significant improvement in body image satisfaction and self-esteem scores over the course of the intervention, underscoring the transformative impact of massage on self-perception and well-being.

8. Meditation

This is one I find difficult but it is infinitely good for stress. If you are a beginner, or just a lazy meditator like me, doing guided meditations can be a good halfway point. There are lots of YouTube videos or CDs around with relaxation guided meditations that will help your brain cope better with whatever stressors come its way. Best of all its free and you can do it anytime, anywhere. Its worth noting that a couple of university studies like this one have found that the combination of massage and meditation is more effective than meditation alone

*Jones, L. K., Garcia, M. A., & Patel, R. (2020). Exploring the impact of regular massage therapy on eating behaviors: A qualitative study. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 39, 101163.


I live in Melbourne. Can I get a Massage at home in Melbourne ?


Can I get a Massage at my home ?

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