Massage for Stress Relief – It’s a Real Thing

Earlier this year, I realized that I needed a change in my life.

Portland, Oregon Waterfront

Portland has been getting busier and busier, and I was starting to realize that this busy-ness, the daily stress, was starting to have a cumulative effect on my body. In essence, I was shorting out. My nervous system couldn’t calm down and I’d developed an eye twitch. In my daily practices of yoga and meditation, I couldn’t let go all of the way. I knew that something had to change.

You may think that the life of a massage therapist has to be stress free, right? We spend long hours in dark rooms with relaxing music facilitating an environment that promotes stress relief, pain reduction and a possibility of letting go. But my life, like any Portlander’s life, is filled with complications, challenges, stress and the realities of living in a burgeoning city. I realized that I needed a change in my life. I realized that stress was starting to creep into my life, and into my body, in a way that was unexpected and that felt potentially harmful in the long term. What I needed was some serious stress management.

The more I learn about the negative effects of stress on the body, the more solid I get in why I chose massage therapy as a profession.

I talk to my clients all of the time about the effects of stress on their bodies, and I was starting to feel those effects in my own body in a real, and serious way. Heart disease, asthma, obesity, diabetes, headaches, depression, anxiety, gut problems – stress is a major contributor to all of these common health problems. Common health problems that we can, hopefully, prevent by managing our stress!

Massage for relaxation and stress reduction is often less valued than deep tissue or therapeutic massage. I often have clients who tell me that they don’t feel like they’ve had a massage if they don’t feel like you’ve “worked it out”. Sure, I’m all for getting into those points of pain and tension that we all feel, but I’m going to do it in a relaxing context. I’m going to facilitate and promote a sense of letting the body sink in and let go.

How does massage relieve stress?

Massage induces a relaxation state that slows your heart rate and breathing rate, your blood pressure goes down and your muscles relax. Massage also releases oxytocin into the body. Oxytocin is a hormone that is produced by the hypothalamus and is, interestingly, a stress hormone that is pumped into your body as part of the stress response. It motivates you to seek support in times of stress. Oxytocin is a natural anti-inflammatory and helps blood vessels stay relaxed during stress. It is enhanced by social contact and is known as the “cuddle hormone”. When you choose to connect with others when under stress, you become more resilient to stress. Oxytocin release lowers anxiety, facilitates healing, enhances digestion and increases trust.

Massage is one of the best ways to get oxytocin release into the body.

High Resolution -103Seeking out massage for stress reduction is a safe way to connect with another person. Massage therapy is one of the few ways that we are allowed safe, non-agenda touch from another human. Even light touch has been shown to be helpful in releasing oxytocin.

Massage (even relaxation massage!) is not a luxury but rather a natural and enjoyable way to get some much needed stress relief in this world that seems to be moving very fast.

The massage therapists at Watershed Wellness are committed to providing therapeutic massages in a relaxing context. We love to work out the aches and pains, but we also realize that we provide a much needed reprieve and repair from the stressful things in life. We love what we do, and it comes through in our work. In fact, we get a similar oxytocin release by giving massages!

If you want to know more about how we can help, please reach out to us at info@nullwatershedwellnesspdx.com and we’re happy to answer any questions you may have. If you are ready to schedule, you may do so online here.

P.S. There’s a great TED talk that changes perspective on stress that we found to be helpful for this article.

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Written by Amanda Barp


Regardless of whether I’m giving a relaxation massage or a more therapeutic focused massage, I emphasize a non-judgmental, safe environment for all of my clients. I enjoy sharing the knowledge of the body that I have learned in my training and hope that you will find your body and the way it works as fascinating as I do.