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Stress, Health and Massage

Are you stressed? Most of us are, but if you are not finding ways to manage stress, it can begin to affect your health. More and more credence is being given to the effects of stress on overall health. We've known for a long time that stress plays a role in cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure. What we're starting to realize now is that stress has an effect on virtually every bodily function, and chronic stress has a direct effect on our overall health and well-being.

The good old fight or flight reaction that takes place in the body as a response to stress no longer serves a very useful purpose in most cases. Once used by our ancestors to flee predators, the non-physical action that we take following a stressful situation causes the body to continue to produce more cortisol. Chronic stress results in excessive cortisol AND a reduction in the amount of serotonin and dopamine, which are supposed to produce a calming effect on the body when there is a sufficient amount.

This is why most anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications focus on eliminating this deficiency of serotonin and/or dopamine. Unfortunately, these medications also have side effects.

Chronic stress has a HUGE effect on our health. For example, high levels of cortisol may be responsible for excessive abdominal fat, which is correlated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

A study in the International Journal of Neuroscience found that massage therapy was able to reduce cortisol levels by 31% and increase serotonin and dopamine by 28% and 31% respectively.1 This suggests that massage therapy is highly beneficial in relieving stress and reducing the long-term health effects of chronic stress.

Massage therapy may be a healthier approach to reducing stress and anxiety, though it's important that you never discontinue a prescription medication without the consent and guidance from your healthcare practitioner as the results can be deadly.

Instead, speak with your doctor about the possibility of using massage in conjunction with your medication until he or she is ready to wean you from your medication.

  1. Field T, Hernandez-Reif M, Diego M, Schanberg S, Kuhn C. Cortisol decreases and serotonin and dopamine increase following massage therapy. International Journal of Neuroscience 2005;115(10):1397-1413.