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The Benefits of Massage for Stress

By Judy Bruen ; Updated July 18, 2017

Stress occurs when a situation, event or thought becomes threatening, worrisome or anxiety-provoking. A small dose of stress is normal, healthy and helps people achieve goals and meet deadlines. According to the National Institute of Health, chronic stress causes anxiety, depression and heart disease. Massage is an effective form of stress reduction and management--it provides physical and psychological benefits that counter the symptoms of stress.

Triggers the Body's Relaxation Response

The emergency stress response, or the "flight-or-fight" response, is the body's physical reaction to stress. Stress elevates the heart rate, increases muscular tension, breathing rate and feelings of anxiety. Dr. Herbert Benson, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, has researched how to elicit the body's relaxation response, the opposite physical reaction of the emergency stress response. Massage promotes the relaxation response--heart rate decelerates, breathing rate slows and muscles relax.

Lowers Blood Pressure

According to the American Heart Association, research does not directly link high blood pressure with stress. However, AHA states that many behaviors that accompany stress elevate blood pressure: poor eating habits, inactivity, smoking, a high-sodium diet and high alcohol intake. A 2005 study conducted by the University of South Florida found that participants who received 10 massages over the course of three weeks experienced drops in blood pressure. Participants who did not get massages did not see changes in blood pressure. According to a Sept. 4, 2008, Newsweek article titled "Five Surprising Benefits of Massage," massage activates pressure points linked to the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve regulates blood pressure--stimulation helps lower and maintain a healthy blood pressure level.

Reduces Muscular Tension

According to Help Guide, a mental health nonprofit, Shiatsu massage and Swedish massage promote overall relaxation and encourage muscular relaxation. Headaches, jaw pain, shoulder and neck tension are common symptoms of stress. Massage breaks up lactic acid and other points of discomfort that are symptomatic of stress.

Provides Immediate Relief

While getting a massage provides immediate relief, self-massage techniques also alleviate stress symptoms. Massaging yourself relaxes your muscles and your mind. For example, close your eyes and place your fingers under your eyebrows. Applying slight pressure for five to 10 seconds helps reduce headaches and facial pain. Relieve shoulder pain by rubbing in circular motions on your shoulder blades. Relieve jaw pain by pressing your thumbs behind your ears. Applying pressure in slow, circular motions helps loosen up tight muscles that occur because of clenching or grinding the teeth--two behaviors associated with stress.

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