Help your brain, have a massage!

Over the past few years there has been a growing interest in brain health and research has shown that massage can improve our brain function.

Massage can play a major role when aiming to reduce stress and its damaging effects on the brain. Research has shown that by applying pressure to the muscles, massage has a direct impact on our brain. Our body is a complex balancing act between systems, which are working together to keep us alive and well. Any change threatening this balance can be referred as stress. When it happens our brain will produce different hormones such as cortisol to help us deal with stress. Small increase of cortisol has many positive effects and allows us to maintain our state of balance, however large amounts of this hormone negatively impacts the brain in various ways.

Sus­tained expo­sure to higher than nor­mal lev­els of cor­ti­sol can result in the prun­ing back of the num­ber of brain cell con­nec­tions involved in the for­ma­tion of new mem­o­ries. Furthermore, these con­di­tions can also increase the rate of neu­ronal cell death while decreas­ing the rate of new cell growth. Thus, in order to keep a healthy brain, it is important for us to minimise our level of cortisol.

Massage decreases the level of cortisol in our bodies as well as increasing the level of others neurotransmitters which have many benefits for our brain health. It boosts the production of serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. Healthy, balanced levels of serotonin produce a calm, general sense of well-being. Oxytocin, also called the “hugging hormone,” produces feelings of calm and contentment. Dopamine assists the human body with mood, attention, learning and sleep.

Sleep plays an important part in keeping our brain balanced. Sleep depri­va­tion has been to shown to sen­si­tise the brain regions respon­si­ble for our react­ing to sit­u­a­tions via fight/flight. Dur­ing sleep cor­ti­sol lev­els drop. Peo­ple who do not get enough sleep not only get more expo­sure to cor­ti­sol dur­ing the night, but also have higher rest­ing lev­els of this stress hor­mone dur­ing the day. When having a massage we are increasing our chances to have a good night sleep our brain needs.

Having a massage gives us the opportunity to stay in the present. One way to protect the brain from the damaging effects of high level of cortisol is to min­i­mise its triggers in the first place. Engag­ing one’s senses of hear­ing through music, smell with aromatherapy and touch, roots us in the present. By drop­ping into the moment we are flood­ing our brains with sen­sory infor­ma­tion. Since our con­scious aware­ness is only able to take and process a finite amount of infor­ma­tion at a time, fully engag­ing our senses lim­its the amount of (often stress gen­er­at­ing) men­tal chat­ter our brains are able to enter­tain. Having a massage as well as practicing med­i­ta­tion or other activ­i­ties requir­ing sus­tained focused atten­tion is a good way to ground one­self in the present, thereby reduc­ing our ten­dency to over-react and over-think our way into anxiety creating high level of cortisol.