A gentle massage is incredibly relaxing, we all know that. However, you might wonder whether it’s the nice oils, the soothing music or just the chance to lie still and do nothing for the best part of an hour.
It’s all in the chemistry
Massage actually has a direct effect on the levels of your stress hormones, like adrenaline, that cause your fight or flight response. Massage lowers the levels of these neurotransmitters and raises the levels of the happier compounds like dopamine, oxytocin and all the endorphins.
Your nervous system
Your nervous system is your body and mind’s messenger. It tells you what’s going on, what temperature it is out there and whether you’re in imminent danger of being hunted down and eaten (yup, it hasn’t quite caught up yet…). You have the sympathetic and the parasympathetic system.
The parasympathetic system helps you to rest up after either a fight, flight or hunt. Your breathing slows and you can maybe get to work on the medium-sized mammal you just brought down… Digestion, repair and general maintenance is the order of the day here.
Long ago, we probably lived in the moment. We got into a scrap, then five minutes later we’re licking our wounds and have already forgotten most of it. Humans, however, are cursed with memory. Memory doesn’t just mean we remember, it also means we can project and predict future events. Instead, then, of having a few minutes or seconds of fight or flight, we dwell on them and worry about future aggro. Essentially, we have three times the amount of agita than most other critters.
Massage lowers stress hormones
Adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol are something of a necessary evil. They’ll help you to land that wildebeest (or that job) by raising your heart-rate, blood pressure and alertness, but…they raise your heart-rate, blood pressure and alertness. If you’re always running a bit late for work, your sympathetic nervous system might end up believing you’re always in a life-or-death situation and this can exhaust you.
Massage can turn this around
Massage activates the parasympathetic system and reduces the stress hormones. It takes around 15 minutes for this to really start, so always make sure your massage is at least 45 minutes long.
The happy chemicals
Serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins all help you to feel happy, connected, rested and relaxed. They tell you that all’s well in the world – as in most modern societies it is – and that you can chill out and smell the roses. You’re loved and valued, and you love and value others…
Massage can raise your serotonin and dopamine levels by up to 30%, making you feel happy, content and focused. Your endorphins are natural painkillers and mood elevators, so any aches and pains you might feel after a week at the grindstone will dissipate – at least for a few hours. It’s actually the breaking of the stress hormone cycle that matters as it can really be a very vicious one.
Just scheduling a massage for the end of each week gives you a lift; it’s something to look forward to and once you’re home, the good feeling should carry you over until the middle of the next week.
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