Therapeutic Massage for depression

Depression is considered a mental illness but the experience of depression has an undeniable physicality to it. When we are depressed we may feel sluggish, heavy, stiff. It is widely known that exercise is beneficial, but often the last thing a depressed person feels like doing is moving. The body is already exhausted as the stress response is in overdrive.

Massage provides many of the same benefits that movement does, increasing the circulation of blood and lymph, and releasing many of the same mood-improving hormones as physical exercise, including serotonin and dopamine. These are the same systems targeted by modern antidepressants. Massage has additional power through the effects of physical touch. It is not fully understood how human touch has such a positive effect, but there is no question about it.

Massage can help change a person’s experience of their body, their physical experience to sensations from unpleasant heaviness to more enjoyable sensation of freedom and lightness. It can restore feelings that are subtler and more difficult to articulate, like the feeling of really being in one’s body, and of having ownership over one’s body.

Below are some of the ways massage can help relieve depression:

Similar to the benefits for sufferers of chronic conditions, one of the main ways massage helps a person suffering from depression is by temporarily interrupting the symptoms. For the duration of the treatment, we may experience positive sensations. This can function as a a temporary reprieve, and also a reminder for the body and mind that it is capable of different kinds of experience. Over time, this can become a kind of re-education of body and mind. We remember what it feels like to feel good, and the more time we spend in these more enjoyable states of being, the easier they become to access as we strengthen the neural pathways for accessing them.

When we experience massage, our bodies release hormones such as serotonin and dopamine into the bloodstream which improve our mood. These hormones are some of the same systems targeted by antidepressants.

You don’t need to go into detail when discussion depression with your massage therapist, but it is helpful to let them know if depression is your reason for seeking massage therapy.

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