The Beyond Blue organisation states that, “in Australia, it's estimated that 45 per cent of people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. In any one year, around 1 million Australian adults have depression, and over 2 million have anxiety.” The latest ABS National Health Survey also indicated that one in five Australians reported a mental or behavioural condition in 2017–18. That’s a lot of Australians struggling with their mental health.
As awareness for mental health increases, the stigma has fallen away about seeking help from GPs and health professionals. Awareness is also increasing about the benefits of exercise, nutrition, mindfulness and self-care. But what a lot of people don’t realise is how much a massage can do to help their mental health.
How can massage help alleviate depression and anxiety? A study in the Psychological Bulletin showed significant findings that massage therapy reduced trait anxiety and depression. Below are some of the ways that massage can help.
Calm down your nervous system
Massage has been proven to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol in your body and regulate your body’s “fight or flight” response. This leads to a calming of the nervous system and can relieve feelings of anxiety or being on edge. Massage also regulates your body, lowering your blood pressure and heart rate and reducing feelings of stress.
Release tension in your body
Emotions and stress are stored in the body as tightness, tension and restriction. When we have unexpressed emotions such as anger, frustration or sadness, they can hold in the body. Notice how your shoulders and neck get tight after a stressful day at work, or how anger can make your jaw clench and give you a headache. Massage can help you to release these pent-up emotions by easing the tension in your muscles and body. This allows your body to move more freely and your mind to feel more at ease.
Improve your mood
Massage increases levels of the “feel-good” hormones dopamine and serotonin and also releases endorphins, resulting in a feeling of calm and increased positive thoughts and feelings. According to research, massage therapy is able to reduce negative mind states like anxiety, depression and anger as well as the stress hormones associated with them. The nurturing experience of massage elevates your positive mind state and provides a sense of comfort and wellbeing.
Increase mindfulness
Massage allows you to slow down and bring yourself back to the present moment. It helps to calm your thoughts and move your awareness back into the sensations of your body. Being mindful and focused on your body and the present moment allows worries and concerns to lessen or dissolve. Massage encourages a stronger mind-body connection which allows you to be more in tune with your body and to more easily notice its signals for rest, sleep, food and nourishment.
Improve your sleep
Massage promotes better sleep by releasing tension and stress from your body and helping to regulate your hormones. Having a more restful sleep at night allows your body and mind to recharge and rejuvenate. As you sleep, your body is able to repair itself and to ensure healthy brain function and physical health. It also allows your mind to process and integrate any challenging experiences you have had during the day.
Prioritise you
Massage is a way of prioritising your needs as important and letting yourself have the self-care that you need. Many of us spend a lot of our time attending to the needs of others or focused on our obligations. Even 15 minutes a day to focus on you and your own wellbeing can have powerful positive effects.
Incorporating massage therapy into your daily and weekly routine is an effective and valuable tool for improving your mental health and the quality of your life.
[If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health, further information and help can be found at https://www.beyondblue.org.au]