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How Massage Affects Your Mental Health

Massage and your mind 

Massage is a powerful wellness tool in promoting relaxation and relieving tension. But does getting a massage actually affect your mental health? Research that measures the neural activity during and after a massage shows that massage isn’t just skin deep. Our brains are actually very active during massage! 

Take a closer look at mental health during massage

So what’s happening inside your head during your session? The most noticeable impact of massage on your mental health is your hormone levels. In several massage studies, researchers have recorded increased serotonin and dopamine levels, and lowered cortisol levels after a session. These hormones are directly linked to feelings of happiness and stress, respectively. This may be one reason that massage is often used to treat mental health conditions like depression and anxiety disorders. Even a single Swedish massage can positively affect brain function and hormone levels during and after a single session! 

Measuring brain activity during massage revealed more interesting findings. In the frontal lobe, the right side is more active when we’re sad, and the left side more active when we’re happy. When comparing frontal lobe activity during massage, researchers discovered increased activity on the left, and decreased activity on the right. In short, science says getting a massage can make you happier. 

Does technique matter?

Some people swear by a massage in the morning to get their day going, while others need one to fall asleep at night. One gets energy from massage, and the same activity puts another to sleep. Can both of them be right? As it turns out, the type of massage you receive can change its effect. A slower, longer massage with rhythmic strokes, like a Swedish massage, reduces epinephrine levels and creates a soothing, calming effect. That intense relaxation is perfect for facilitating deep sleep! 

On the other hand, certain massage techniques, like a deep tissue or sports massage, can give you an energy boost. These massage modalities get deeper into the muscle to encourage lymphatic drainage and stimulate blood flow. That extra oxygen to the muscles and released stagnation can actually produce a lighter, more energetic feeling. 

Even more surprising: a longer massage doesn’t always mean more impact. Researchers tested patients’ stress levels before and after a scalp massage, and varied the length of the massage. The findings revealed that while the all the massages lowered stress levels, the session length didn’t produce a greater effect. Both the 15-minute and 25-minute massage has similar stress-reducing effects. Next time you’re feeling burned out, try a quick 15-minute massage. A short chair massage at work is great for improving focus for the rest of the work day, too. 

The healing touch

Therapists often talk about their healing touch. It may surprise you that it’s not just a marketing tactic. In one study, researchers found that using human touch during a massage stimulates different parts of the brain compared to a massage tool. When the massage therapists used their hands, patients’ brains released more serotonin and dopamine in the system. When using a wooden block to apply the same techniques, there was still a brain response, but it was not as impactful. Even if you don’t have time for a professional massage, just getting a quick shoulder massage from a friend can improve your mood!

Massage as a mental health choice

Getting a massage used to be viewed as a luxury indulgence, but the science is clear. Massage has real benefits that improves overall mental health. Based on all the research above, it’s no wonder people include massage as part of a regular wellness routine. To celebrate National Wellness Month, we challenge you to try an at-home Soothe massage and see if you notice a change in your mental state and feelings after the session. Book now and let us know how it goes!