Can Massages Actually Reduce Stress?
Swedish, hot stone, aromatherapy, deep tissue, shiatsu— the list of massage types is more than 100 strong! And while most good rub downs feel delightful, is getting a massage really worth the cash? It may well be— studies suggest massage therapy can be beneficial not only in reducing physical pain, but also for improving mood and fighting stress.
Massage away the pain - The need to know
Massage therapy is any treatment where a therapist (or masseuse) manipulates the body’s muscles and soft tissues to relieve pain or decrease stress. But all massage is not created equal! Strategies range from deep tissue (often called Swedish) massage to reflexology, where the therapist applies pressure to a specific point on the body in order to relieve pain.
And the list of ailments massage can be used to treat is just as long as the list of massage types. One recent study found that massage therapy can reduce pain, promote muscle relaxation, and improve both mood and sleep quality. Another study found that after subjects were massaged, the levels of cortisol (a hormone contributing to stress) in their saliva decreased . One study also found massage therapy’s pleasurable qualities can lead to recipients reporting a better body image, especially for women.
Worth it’s weight - your action plan
Although massage therapy may be more expensive than a walk in the park or a bar of dark chocolate (don’t worry, everyone eats the whole thing sometimes), it’s possible the psychological benefits of massage therapy may far outweigh its heftier price tag.
But while the majority of massage side effects are stress-relieving and positive, there are a few concerns to consider before diving into deep tissue. Not just anyone can give a true therapeutic massage, so make sure to seek the services of a trained massage therapist. And while it’s normal to feel a little sore the day after many types of massage, it should never be painful or uncomfortable, so communication with the therapist is key.
Day 38: Eat rice one kernel at a time
After getting lost in the unnerving bedlam that is college graduation, I awoke months later in Osaka, Japan, working for the country’s board of education.
I was an employee of the JET Programme and found myself eating lunch each day in Japanese public school cafeterias, striking up conversations with adorable children who referred to me as Mooshu-sensei (Matthew teacher).
At lunch, the students curiously poked at my snowy skin, asking if I knew any American movie stars personally.
“Nicoise Kajee? No, Nicoise Kajee friendo?” they’d ask while I slopped up my food.
During one of our afternoon conversations about what life is like back in the US, I was informed by a student that I ate the rice provided by the cafeteria entirely too fast. The student looked upset and ran to alert another teacher.
A 40-something woman walked to our table and informed me in broken English that the student felt I needed to savor the rice.
I reassured the uniformed child I would slow and he sat back down, monitoring my hashi (chopsticks).
Unbeknownst to me at the time, he was right - for several reasons.
In a 2010 experiment, researchers found that participants who ate ice cream over the course of 30 minutes released more hormones that made them feel full than when they ate the dessert in just 5 minutes.
The scientists discovered two gut hormones, peptide YY and glucagon-like peptide-1, which signal feelings of being satisfied while consuming a dish slowly.
And these active peptides translate into a reduced caloric diet.
Research has since suggested that slowed eating can even help to reduce stress as well as help individuals lose weight.
For day 38 of The Time Hack, with winter bearing down and prompting unnecessary amounts of junk food consumption, I thought it might once again be a good time to savor my rice.
But one question still remains: why are Japanese children obsessed with Nicolas Cage?
Ways to Reduce Stress
Have you ever had a week where you stepped on the scale to see a weight gain even after being faithful to your healthy diet and work outs? Sometimes it’s hard to know the exact cause but if you’ve been having a stressful week it could be due to that. Stress all by itself can cause weight gain in people whether on a weight loss program or not.
Too much ongoing stress can be detrimental to your well-being and can lead to heart disease, depression, mood disorders, high anxiety, high blood pressure, and other diseases and health disorders. In today’s world, many people don’t fully decompress from one stressful event to another. As a result, many people experience ongoing stress that never seems to stop. The stress hormones don’t have the chance to return to resting and can stay elevated day after day, month after month, or even over several years. This can lead to weight gain, especially around the waist. Cortisol is one of the stress hormones responsible for weight gain and keeping its levels low can prevent this. The good news is that you can lower cortisol levels without dramatically changing your life.
What NOT to do
Many of us consider lounging on the couch as a way to rest and relax, but a study was done that showed that sofa time is not a particularly good de-stressor. A group of people had their cortisol levels tested before hanging out on the sofa to relax. After an hour, their cortisol levels hadn’t changed. Later, they had that same group do an hour of yoga and the retest showed a significant reduction in cortisol levels!
Here’s a list of activities that are effective for reducing cortisol levels. Some may not suit your interests, but you’ll find some that you can use regularly.
Take a Warm Bath. Warm water soothes your skin, which is the largest organ on your body. A warm-to-hot bath before dinner or bed may be all you need to feel renewed. You can achieve this in the hot tub, bathtub, shower, or even a swimming pool. It doesn’t have to be long, even 5-10 minutes may be all you need. You can make it more soothing by adding bath salts or fragrant oils.
Get Sunshine! Our eyes need at least 15 minutes of sunshine or bright light every day for our hormones to function optimally and keep our moods uplifted. The best way to receive this is by spending at least 15 minutes outdoors. You can achieve this by doing something as simple as eating your lunch outside or taking a short walk.
Stretch Your Body. When your stress increases, your muscles tighten and contract. Stretching releases the tension from your muscles. This is one of the reasons why yoga and other forms of stretching are so effective in reducing cortisol levels. Stretch any time you need a refreshing break and remember to be gentle, hold postures until you feel your muscles release, take your time, and be patient! Before you know it, you’ll not only feel more relaxed but you’ll have more flexibility too!
Cross Crawls. This marching-style movement is very helpful for stress and mental fatigue. March in place by lifting each knee high. When you do, touch the opposite hand or elbow to the knee. That’s all you need to do for a minute or two! The body-crossing motion of your hands and arms helps balance the right and left hemispheres of your brain while the light aerobic factor revs up your metabolism and endorphins.
Pamper yourself! If you’ve ever needed an excuse to treat yourself, this is a good reason to. Massages, facials, manicures, and pedicures all reduce stress levels. If you can’t afford to pay for these spa treatments, do them yourself or with a friend or spouse at home!
Brush Your Hair. It seems too simple to be true, but brushing your hair is both relaxing and good for you and helps get your stress hormones back in balance. The best hairbrush to use is an inexpensive one that has plain plastic bristles that are rough on the tips and can stimulate your scalp.
Take Part in Arts, Crafts, and Hobbies. An activity that shifts you out of work mode and into a world of creativity, rhythm, or beauty will help you tackle everyday stress. The list of possibilities are endless, but here are some ideas: Handicrafts such as knitting, sewing, or quilting; visual arts like sketching, painting, photography, and scrap-booking; writing letters, poems, journal or blog entries; puzzles such as crossword and jigsaw puzzles or Sudoku; games like scrabble and monopoly; gardening, woodworking, home repair, reading, playing a musical instrument, and for some people cleaning, ironing, or house painting are stress soothers as well. Many enjoyable activities can reduce cortisol levels, but don’t get out of control with your hobby! Do them as leisure activities without deadlines and urgency so that they don’t add to your stress.
Meditation and Prayer. Many people have had huge success with relieving stress by a process known as “stilling the mind.” Research studies show that individuals who meditate regularly, meaning once or twice a day, experience better sleep, lowered blood pressure, and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. The basic technique for mediation is to sit still for 20 minutes twice a day, preferably morning and late afternoon. The meditator focuses on a mantra, which is a series of simply syllables, and repeats the mantra aloud or silently while breathing in and out. Contemplative prayer offers the same benefits.
Take the time daily to decompress and relax using any one of the stress soothers or develop fun interests that will help you manage stress. In return, this will help improve weight loss, school and/or job performance, and will give you the chance to enjoy your family and friends more.