Q: What are some of the benefits of massage therapy to my mental well-being?
A: Mental health concerns are a growing issue right now in our society and I think that it’s great that you are reaching out for advice. In regards to any health concern, it is always a good idea to reach out to your doctor as a starting point if you feel that your health is at risk or you feel you are in crisis. As a Registered Massage Therapist, it is out of my scope of practice to give a diagnosis but I can offer resources, advice and an open, non-judgemental space to voice your concerns.
There are many benefits of massage therapy to our bodies which include boosting the relaxation response, soothing the nervous system, decreasing muscle tone and promoting sleep which can all help reduce stress: physical, mental and emotional. Bringing the body into relaxation stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) which is in charge of the ‘rest and digest’ portion of your nervous system among other things. When you are in “rest and digest,” your body has time to rest, recover, and heal. This is the part of the PNS that is important in stress reduction and why after a massage, you often feel relaxed and tired. Reducing stress is a big part of what we do in massage therapy because reducing physical stress in the muscles and nervous system has proven benefits to recovery from injury and pain. When it comes to mental stress, there is less evidence of the benefit of relaxation but the studies that have been done so far are promising. There is some evidence that short term temporary break from mental stress can be achieved with massage therapy. Some examples of the impact of mental stress and anxiety on our bodies include tension headaches, teeth clenching and jaw pain, neck and shoulder tension.
Massage therapy would not be a replacement for mental health treatment (like medications, therapy, counselling, etc) but instead as an addition to any treatment you are currently having or assisting a self-care program that could have an advantage to your well-being. Some research has been done into the benefit of taking time for yourself and relaxing the body can help downregulate the stress response in your body. Even if it is temporary, it can help provide some respite from the stress of your day. Taking a break, even if it is simply putting your head down and emptying thoughts out of your head can be beneficial to stress levels. Temporarily getting out of your head and connecting your conscious thought to something physical in your body can be a good break from mental stress or anxiety.
Your massage therapist can also help guide you to some great tools for self-management. Things like a favourite meditation, good mindfulness apps for your phone, strategies for better sleep habits, yoga poses/videos and breathing exercises. They could also offer some good resources to contact for direction or assistance if you need it.
Some good sources for information on mental health support are:
Anxiety Canada www.anxietycanada.com
Health Canada’s mental health section www.canada.ca/en/public-health/topics/mental-health-wellness.html
For more information about the study linking massage therapy to mental stress and anxiety that has been done please visit https://www.uni-konstanz.de/en/university/news-and-media/current-announcements/press-releases/press-releases-in-detail/stressabbau-in-nur-zehn-minuten/ which also has a link to the scientific paper published about it.
At ProActive Rehab we strive to help you, help yourself, achieve your wellness goals. Please check out www.proctiverehab.com or contact us directly (705 788 1480) for information on our wide range of services and/or to book a massage therapy appointment to help you find relaxation and facilitate your recovery.