Massage and your Nervous System – It’s all a matter of balance

We are living in some of the busiest times in today’s world. Advances in technology and the use of smart phones mean we can get more done in less time. We are more engaged everyday as a result, with many of us spending more time on our phones than we’d like to admit.  Couple this with our everyday expectations of work, family, social commitments, finances – and being in the midst of a pandemic with the looming threat of lockdowns and isolation from friends and family – it’s no wonder many of us are feeling more overwhelmed, stressed and anxious than ever before. Our everyday lives and the way we live impacts our nervous system, which receives and processes this information and translates to all the thoughts, feelings and sensations we feel.

There are two main parts of the nervous system, known as the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is activated when we are at rest, helping to bring the body into a state of calm. When your blood pressure drops, your muscles relax and you generally feel calm – that’s your parasympathetic nervous system switched on! The sympathetic nervous system is what brings our “fight or flight” response, and feelings of a racing heart, muscle tension and heavy breathing. Many of us can relate to these feelings when we are focused on our daily activities, when we are stressed and even exercising.
It’s important to have a balance of both systems. However, considering our busy and constantly engaged lifestyles today, the balance is more often tipped in the direction of the sympathetic nervous system. More and more research linking chronic disease to an overactive nervous system in favour of the sympathetic nervous system triggered by factors including constant stress.

Regular massage is a great way to bring calm to our bodies and “rebalance” our scales to support our parasympathetic nervous system. We can all appreciate the pleasant feelings associated with massage. Our blood pressure slows, our muscles relax, and all those feel-good hormones are racing through our body to help alleviate pain and bring about sensations of calm and happiness.
Our nervous system is constantly learning and adapting to our environment and our own inner sense of being. The more we engage in activities which switch either of these modes on, the more our nervous system will learn to adapt to either a sense of calm or “fight or flight”.
Regular massage treatments act as a great way for our nervous system to remember this state and therefore be able to more easily re-enter a state of calm. It’s easy to then see how setting time aside in our busy lives to fit in a massage treatment can be so beneficial in the management of many conditions including chronic pain, insomnia, anxiety and depression.

References:
https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response

https://www.diffen.com/difference/Parasympathetic_nervous_system_vs_Sympathetic_nervous_system

https://www.massagetherapyreference.com/effects-of-massage-therapy/