“In the UK we live in a society where touch is usually reserved for only those closest to us and even then, it may not be a common part of our lives.”
In a society where touch tends to be rarer than an empty seat on a rush hour train, we miss out on experiencing the benefits it can have, especially when received in the intentional and meaningful way that a massage provides.
We all know that it feels good to have a hug from someone close to you, or to receive a pat on the back for a job well done.
What you might not know is that there are physiological reasons behind why touch makes us feel good, and which explain why – far from being a luxury of a ‘nice-to-have’ – Massage therapy can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression.
The science of touch
When we receive touch a signal is sent to our brain, which then triggers the release of oxytocin – commonly known as the love drug – as well as the two other happy hormones, Serotonin and Dopamine.
The intentional, informed ‘touch’ of Massage Therapy goes even further. Along with boosting the happy hormones, it has been proven to lower the hormone cortisol – a key component in our stress response. And while this is essential for quick reactions in emergencies when present long-term, even in lower quantities, it’s harmful for the overall health of the body.
So whilst Massage still tends to be thought of either as a luxury activity to pamper yourself or as something sport-specific, it’s now starting to be seen as a valuable element in health care, because it has been shown not only to decrease pain and tightness in muscles, but also to help relieve symptoms of anxiety, stress, and sleeping disorders.
With a greater understanding of Massage’s ability to improve both physical and wellbeing, it’s perhaps no surprise that it is increasingly being used in cancer units and palliative care departments.
Where there are fewer physical symptoms to treat –sore muscles, twinges and niggles etc – much of the emotional benefit we receive from a massage is due to the positive effects of touch itself.
In 2013, a study was conducted that measured the effects of massage in regards to occupational stress experienced by Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurses.
One group participated in 25-minute massages, twice a week for four weeks, while the second group received no massage at all. The results showed a significant decrease in occupational stress scores for the first group, compared to the group that received no massage – showing the benefits regular massage can have in combating the everyday stresses that affect so many of us.
How much massage you need to feel the benefits
Outside injury recovery, it’s generally said that an hour massage every 4-6 weeks is adequate for physical maintenance and general wellbeing, but if you can fit in treatments more regularly, there’s no reason not to.
Afterall, unlike exercise, there’s no limit to how much massage you can receive.
Finding the right therapist for you
In terms of how to find a suitable therapist, I would recommend doing some research.
First, find out their qualifications or experience, but also be sure to read their bios or any ‘About Me’ pages, which will give you a better idea of where their interests and passions lie within their chosen field. (For instance, someone who works solely with sports teams may not initially seem like someone who works with the mental side of massage but reading where their interests lies may indicate otherwise.)
Bringing more connection into our lives
In the UK, we live in a society where touch is usually reserved for only those closest to us and even then, it may not be a common part of our lives.
As Mental Health Awareness Week brings ways to decrease anxiety and increase well-being into the spotlight once more, perhaps its time we stopped considering Massage an indulgence, but another equally useful therapeutic tool in our self-care repertoire.