We tend to think of massage as an exercise in pampering, but it has multiple benefits that affect our body on a physiological level.
Benefits of massage for mental health
- Can help reduce anxiety and perceived stress
- Can help improve sleep
- Can reduce cortisol and balances hormones
- Can detoxify the body by promoting blood and lymph circulation
- Can help release negative energy and trauma trapped in cellular memory
- Can help to lift mood and symptoms of depression
- Can help the patient to feel pampered and cared for, and encourage self care
Holt, S. and Macdonald, I. (2011). Depression: Natural Remedies That Really Work. Auckland, NZ: Press, p. 94., Lake, J. (2009). Integrative Mental Health Care. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., p. 173.
How massage therapy helps
Studies show that massage therapy reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, lowers our heart rate and blood pressure and increases levels of neurotransmitters, serotonin and dopamine and oxytocin. Oxytocin promotes relaxation and trust, while serotonin plays a role in promoting sleep, happiness and stabilising your mood. The combination of stress-alleviating effects (decreased cortisol) and activating effects (increased serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin) has beneficial effects for our mental health.
Types of massage
There are many different types of massage, each with slightly different benefits. Experiment with different types of massage to see which one works best for you. Holt, S. and Macdonald, I. (2011). Depression: Natural Remedies That Really Work. Auckland, NZ: Press, pp. 86-88.,179
The therapist uses long smooth strokes, kneading, deep circular movements, vibration and tapping on superficial layers of muscle using massage lotion or oil.
Massage therapy with one or more scented plant oils called ‘essential oils’ to address specific needs, as the oils have different qualities and can be used to help relaxation, to energise, reduce stress, aid sleep, etc.
The therapist places heated, smooth stones on certain places on the body to warm and loosen tight muscles and balance energy centres.
It targets the deeper layers of muscle and connective tissue. The massage therapist uses slower strokes or friction techniques across the grain of the muscle.
A form of Japanese bodywork that uses localised finger pressure in a rhythmic sequence on acupuncture meridians. Shiatsu can be very effective at releasing and rebalancing blocked energy.
Thai massage aligns the energies of the body using gentle pressure on specific points.
Pregnancy massage is used to reduce stress, decrease swelling, relieve aches and pains, and reduce anxiety and depression. The massage is customised to a woman’s individual needs.
It applies pressure to the feet (or sometimes the hands or ears) to promote relaxation or healing in other parts of the body. Certain areas on the soles of your feet correspond to organs in the body, and a good reflexology treatment can be incredibly balancing and healing
A combination of techniques is used and the strokes are generally faster than for Swedish massage. Facilitated stretching is a common technique that helps to loosen muscles and increase flexibility.
30-minute back massages are a popular choice of massage and can be very helpful for back pain.