Isn’t it awesome when the things we like to indulge in any way turn out to be good for us? If you’re a wine connoisseur, perhaps you’ve read there are health benefits to drinking red wine in moderation. If you’re a chocolate lover, you may have been delighted to hear that dark chocolate is rich in disease-fighting antioxidants.
While there don’t appear to be any studies as yet telling us that binge-watching Netflix is the key to a long and healthy life, there is at least one other guilty pleasure we can add to the “I’m so happy to hear this is good for me” list. That guilty pleasure is therapeutic massage.
In fact, knowing there are real mental health benefits might actually help us drop the “guilty” in front of pleasure and just embrace therapeutic massage for what it is: an effective tool for our physical and emotional well-being.
Here are 5 mental health benefits of a therapeutic massage:
1. Therapeutic massage can reduce stress and improve relaxation skills.
We can file this one under, “Well, no kidding,” (or any other sarcastic response of your choosing). Naturally, a therapeutic massage is relaxing because it feels good, but there is actual science behind this benefit. During a professional massage, the provider uses different pressure points, movements, and techniques that effectively slow down your body’s nervous system.
Performed by a licensed massage therapist, therapeutic massage helps to lower your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, improve oxygen consumption, and reduce the level of stress hormones in your body. This can have a lasting impact on your stress level and your ability to relax which continues even after the massage.
2. Therapeutic massage often helps improve sleep patterns.
When your body is able to relax more efficiently, your overall sleep improves. Because massage therapy is credited with reducing some symptoms of chronic health conditions and pain (chronic and otherwise), you will physically be more comfortable, which is likely to allow for better rest. Once again, the science behind it supports this benefit. Improved relaxation and lower levels of stress lead to a good night’s sleep.
3. Therapeutic massage may reduce anxiety and PTSD.
On-going anxiety and anxiety disorders impact our health in negative ways. One of the effects of chronic anxiety is an increase in what’s often referred to as the stress hormone, cortisol. To be fair, cortisol does do many good things for our bodies, but when it’s released in abundance or for a prolonged period of time, as it often is with anxiety, it’s not so good.
Massage therapy lowers cortisol levels while also increasing serotonin (that “feel good” hormone we know and love).
In addition to being linked to improving symptoms of anxiety, therapeutic massage has been shown to have a positive impact on a closely related mental health issue, PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder can result when someone has experienced a single traumatic event or ongoing trauma, as in childhood abuse. It is widely understood that there is a significant connection between our emotional experience and our physiological experience, which essentially means trauma is stored in the body.
Symptoms of both anxiety and PTSD suggest the body has remained stuck in a fight or flight type of response, which is our hard-wired biological response to danger. When our body remains stuck in that emergency state necessary for survival long after the actual emergency, it becomes detrimental.
Massage therapy may actively release some of the trauma within the body by lowering stress hormones, allowing the body to relax, reducing physical tension within the muscles and soft tissue, and releasing endorphins.
4. Therapeutic massage can reduce depression.
Professional massage therapists use a variety of techniques that increase blood flow and improve circulation. In turn, this activates the autonomic nervous system which then triggers the release of endorphins, otherwise known as our “happy hormones.” When your brain and body have access to higher levels of these positive hormones, serotonin and dopamine, you will likely genuinely feel happier and less depressed.
Symptoms of depression often include a sense of isolation and a lack of social engagement. Massage therapy may also help clients with depression by increasing physical touch (within a safe and therapeutically appropriate environment), fulfilling the need for human contact, and allowing for positive feelings of nurturance.
5. Therapeutic massage may reduce chronic pain.
People who have a chronic health condition or chronic pain experience higher levels of stress, which in turn tends to exacerbate their symptoms. The reverse is also true.
Engaging in regular therapeutic massage helps reduce that stress and can allow the body (and muscles) to relax, which in turn reduces symptoms of chronic pain.
If you feel more relaxed, you will sleep better, if you’re sleeping better, your body has more energy to fight off illness and allow for rest.
Furthermore, when your body is in pain, muscles often become tighter, which contributes to that pain and may impede mobility. Manipulating those muscles and soft tissue releases that tension which has a positive impact on your body. Of course, the release of positive hormones and the reduction of cortisol that occurs during therapeutic massage can have an impact on chronic pain.
What was once considered an indulgence is now recognized as a legitimate part of maintaining physical and emotional health. Therapeutic massage is an empowering way to allow your body to rest and restore.
The mental health benefits are clear. So the next time you’re feeling guilty for getting that massage, remind yourself that you are quite literally engaging in scientifically supported self-care, and save the guilt for your next 12-hour Netflix night. Or better yet, ditch the guilt altogether and do what makes you happy. Whatever the case, be sure to put therapeutic massage on that “things that make me happy and are also really really good for me so I must make that appointment ASAP” list. And enjoy.
Fortunately for Simi Valley residents, we have a local massage studio that truly cares about the benefits of massage and aspires to offer the most comfortable and enjoyable experience for you. At Elements Massage in Simi Valley, you'll experience a relaxing and welcoming ambiance and a team who focuses on providing the right massage for you.
Dr. Novak is a licensed psychologist and group practice owner of Simi Psychological Group. Simi Psychological Group is a Simi Valley therapy practice offering an array of therapy services including Child therapy, Teen therapy, Anxiety treatment, Depression Therapy, Marriage Counseling, Trauma Therapy and Group Therapy. Their mission is to reach the true root of your struggles so you can create real lasting change in you and your family’s lives. They know you have full control to live the life you want and deserve, which will then ripple into our community and the world. Contact SImi Psychological Group today for more information (805) 842-1994.