Managing Stress through Massage

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What is stress?

Stress is one of the most common conditions affecting Americans. Stress is loosely defined as a state of mental or physical strain or tension. According to the American Institute of Stress, it’s your body’s response to events or any demand for change. Stress can be manifested in several ways, and therefore people perceive stress and handle stress differently. In spite of this variability, there are some common themes when talking about “bad” stress.

How does stress affect us?

Stress affects individuals in many different ways, but there are several emotional and physical disorders that have been linked to stress. Stress can also disturb the body’s normal functioning. Some examples include: headaches, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, reduced productivity, fatigue, and weight gain. Unresolved stress can contribute to the development of conditions including migraines, anxiety, neck or back pain, immunodeficiency (susceptibility to illness and infection), hypertension, and obesity. Specific to exercise and weight loss, stress can change the digestive process, increase glucose levels, and increase cortisol (stress hormone) levels, all of which can impact your ability to lose weight and gain muscle. Stress related symptoms can become chronic if not addressed.

How can you reduce stress levels?

Massage is one of the many activities that have been shown to help manage stress. For centuries, it’s been used to reduce stress and promote relaxation. Studies show that massage can lower bodily tension by boosting the immune system, lowering blood pressure, lowering cortisol levels, and supporting tissue recovery by encouraging the regeneration of cells that are crucial for muscle energy.

Reactions

Massage feels good to your muscles, and it’s actually beneficial for them. Studies have shown that massage can reduce inflammation, improve blood flow, reduce tissue stiffness, and diminish the sensation of pain. These benefits are largely due to the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. Massage has also been shown to decrease lactic acid in muscles (a common cause of soreness), improve lymphatic and venous circulation, and stimulate healing of connective tissue. During your massage, when you feel the stress and tension melting away and your muscles relax and loosen up (lowering stress and tension), you’re taking advantage of a proven, effective way to compliment your workouts. In addition, that lowered-stress, relaxed state encourages focus, which is a good thing to have for group exercise or personal training.

Research also suggests that, just like exercise, the benefits of massage are cumulative, meaning that the more regularly you get a massage, the better the benefits. This can be thought of as preventative maintenance.

Sum Up

Stress is something that affects us all. Stress can be detrimental to your health, and the adverse effects can significantly impact your athletic performance and the ability to lose weight. However, massage has been shown to be an effective treatment for managing stress by promoting psychological relaxation as well as physiologic effects such as improved blood flow, circulation, and tissue recovery.

 

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