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Getting a massage is one of the best forms of self care that leaves one fully relaxed and rejuvenated. Have you ever wondered….Can Massage Therapy affect one’s mood? 

We believe that during a massage, similar to going to a restorative yoga session, is allowing us to be completely relaxed…giving us permission to “leg go of our day…let go of all things that don’t serve us in a positive and relaxing way”. Because of this, we believe that massage therapy has a profound effect on how ones nervous system responds.

There are so many studies that report, massage can actually help in lowering what are called stress hormones. Stress hormones are the hormones cause that “fight or flight” response and can actually increase the neurotransmitters such as dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin… those things that help us to “feel great”.

Putting it quite simply, Massage therapy is an incredible way of adding self care to your routine.  

Our Nervous System

Describing the nervous system can be difficult because it is so very complex. Simply put, our brains are like a computer that controls all of the functions of our body and the nervous system is the network that allows every different part of the body to talk or communicate with each other.  Our nervous system reacts to things that go on both inside and outside of our bodies and it uses some very advanced electrical and chemicals ways to send out and receive messages. Our nervous system is made of two components, the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). Our central nervous system is made up of the brain and spinal cord and the peripheral nervous system consists of all of the nerves that are outside of the brain and spinal cord.  

Peripheral nervous system

There are two types of nerves in the peripheral nervous system. They are the motor nerves and the sensory nerves. Motor nerves are what send messages to the brain allowing our muscles to respond with movement while sensory nerves are what send messages to the brain. The messages get sent to our brain from the skin, the eyes, the tongue, the nose and the ears in the form of senses. 

The peripheral nervous system the nerves work either automatically (Autonomic nervous system) or are controlled by us (somatic nervous system).   The autonomic nervous system regulates the body’s response to danger, and it has two divisions: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic.

The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) becomes active if we are under stress or perceived threat. It is the nervous systems way of helping us to react to a threat. We’ve all experienced fear where our heart starts beating faster, our muscles tighten up, we breathe faster and there may be the feeling of an increase in blood pressure… this is simply what is often called the “fight or flight” response.

The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) does the exact opposite of the sympathetic nervous system in that it “kicks in” after the threat has passed and helps to return bodily functions back to normal. Basically, this is a time often referred to as the “rest and digest” response.  

The entire nervous system is so complex but also very interesting. Although we have responses that warn us of a threat and responses helping our bodies to relax after a threat has passed, there is still a problem. The problem is that our brains have advanced so that we are not only able to anticipate threats but we remember threats from the past which can create ongoing feelings of stress and anxiety that we sometimes have difficulty letting go of.  Also, our sympathetic nervous system is no longer activated when we are exposed to what might be life threatening – it is now being triggered by things that aren’t necessarily life threatening such as our work, things going on with our families, an argument with a friend and as a result so many of us get stuck in the “fight or flight” response making our anxiety and stress chronic.

So many of us experience this and its tough to control a nervous system, our natural survival response which has simply been kicked into overdrive.

Self-care and its effect on Stress hormones

Now lets take a look at the chemicals in our bodies that can cause us to feel anxious and stressed and how maintaining our health and wellness through self care can actually help to lower those stress hormones (adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol) 

Epinephrine (Adrenaline) and Norepinephrine

Epinephrine commonly called adrenaline and Norepinephrine are chemically similar but their structures are slightly different in that Epinephrine’s (adrenaline) structure contains a hydrogen atom. Norepinephrine’s (noradrenaline) structure is built by the methyl group. The difference in structure makes how they work in the body different.

Epinephrine’s (adrenaline) reportedly constricts the very small blood vessels in their networks but widens the blood vessels of the liver and skeletal muscles. It also provides the muscles with nutrients and creates fuel for a short bursts of energy. Norepinephrine’s (noradrenaline) constricts most blood vessels.

When feeling threatened by something, both epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine will respond by activating the flight-or-fight response. Both of the neurotransmitter/hormones will cause your heart rate to increase along with your blood pressure and flow of blood into your muscles.

The effects that these two neurotransmitters have on your system can be very good in threatening conditions; however, when our brains have gotten used to interpreting non-threatening situations such as arguments with loved ones, writing exams and work stress as threatening situations resulting in us being in a constant “fight or flight” mode.

How can Self-Care in the form of Massage help this?

Self-care in general and more specially in the form of massage can reportedly assist in activation of our parasympathetic state which in turn helps to lower levels of epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine. It takes a little more time for the parasympathetic response to kick in because the first system to respond to touch is the sympathetic system and then after a short period of time, our body begins to relax so to truly benefit from massage and to relax we advise our clients to plan on at least a 60 minute relaxation treatment session

Cortisol

Most of us have heard of Cortisol which is commonly referred to the “stress hormone” and this is because it is a hormone that is typically released during stressful moments. Cortisol however, is more than just a “stress hormone”. It also controls blood sugar levels, regulates our metabolism, helps to reduce inflammation in our bodies and helps us with the formation of memories. Cortisol at normal levels can, very effectively, help us deal with short term stress; however, when the stress levels are prolonged or chronic this means that Cortisol levels will be too high for long periods of time and this can have a negative effect resulting in increased weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease and decreased libido.  

How can Self-Care in the form of Massage help this?

When we say “stress kills”, it is most certainly true. Stress affects hormones in our bodies which can lead to serious health issues. This is why self care is critical as part of our health care goal of reducing chronic stress in our lives.

Implementation of regular self-care is a powerful way to help with stress reduction, minimize inflammation, and reduce the risk for illness and chronic disease.

The best approach to keeping cortisol levels at bay is mastering stress management through regular self-care including massage therapy.

Neurotransmitters (Neurochemicals) of Happiness

Now that we have a better understanding of how self-care and in particular, massage can bring stress hormones down – let’s take a look at how massage can help in bringing our “brain chemicals” up.

Serotonin or the “happy chemical” is a neurotransmitter or chemical that nerve cells produce. It is the chemical that helps to regulate mood, appetite, sleep, memory, sexual desire and digestion and is made from an essential amino aside we have all heard of, tryptophan. Serotonin is produced in the brain and in the enteric nervous system which is located in our Gastrointestinal tract.  

Dopamine or “the reward/pleasure molecule” is connected to the “reward” areas of the brain. It is responsible for reward driven behaviours and pleasure seeking. It is reported that every

Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that gives you the amazing feeling when you fall in love, the feeling of accomplishment when you do something well but it is also the chemical activated when people do certain drugs and this is why increased dopamine due to drug use, leads to addiction.  Low dopamine levels are said to result in low motivation, low energy and the inability to concentrate. 

How can Self-Care in the form of Massage help this?

What are the feelings you have after a really great massage? You’ll typically feel completely relaxed and renewed and your mood may even be better. This means that serotonin and dopamine are doing their job.  Serotonin can help you maintain a balanced mood and an increase dopamine will help with concentration and productivity.

Endorphins – our natural pain and stress fighters

Endorphins are neurotransmitters are a natural pain reliever and mood booster – in other words, a natural narcotic. In fact the chemical structure and function of endorphins produced in our brains are said to be very similar to the opiate class of drives to help relieve pain and improve mood.

The word endorphin is made up of two words – endogenous,” which means “having an internal cause or origin,” and “morphine,” which is an opioid pain reliever from opium”. In other words, our endorphins are like our own natural narcotic.

Endorphins are typically released in response to pain or stress, but they can also be release with exercise, in response to laughing, eating chocolate (I encourage dark chocolate lol) and finally, with massage.  

How can Self-Care in the form of Massage help this?

In a deep tissue massage, you will often feel some discomfort but it is typically a discomfort that is mixed with relief which we believe may be your endorphins at work.

Always remember that when getting a deep tissue massage, listen to your body. Our massage therapists will always “check in” with you to ensure that the pressure being applied is the level that is best for you.

Oxytocin

Oxytocin is called the “cuddle hormone,” or the “love hormone” because it is said to be released when people bond socially through touch. It is helpful in creating trust and good relationships.  There are so many ways in which ou can get your daily oxytocin boost. Try the following on a regular basis:

  • Cuddle Up. It doesn’t necessarily have to be romantic so think about how you feel when you cuddle with your partner, child or pet.
  • Give Hugs on a regular basis Hug hello. Try saying hello to friends and family with a quick hug. This maximizes oxytocin release for everyone. 
  • Cuddle up with a pet. Touch doesn’t have to between two people. It can be spending time petting, grooming or cuddling up with your pet. 
  • Book a regular massage. Booking a regular massage with a therapist that you trust will always leave you relaxed and feeling great.  
  • Attend a Yoga class. Many of the yoga classes I’ve been too have instructors who will do adjustments during the class. Not only will you get fit but you will get a a dose of human touch. 
  • Holding hands.  Holding hands is a wonderful way to give and receive touch. You will find that the simple gesture will always leave you feeling good.  
  • Give and Get a facial. Another way of giving and receiving touch that will leave your skin beautiful and give your oxytocin levels a boost.  

How can Self-Care in the form of Massage help this?

Massage is an ultimate form of touch therapy and reportedly causing increases in oxytocin. A massage is one of the most simple and effective ways to give and receive the healing power of touch.

So when you are feeling stressed…overwhelmed, try booking a relaxation massage. The effects on your body will be amazing and we believe WILL help to relieve the stress response in your body causing a boost in your mood.

 

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