“How often do you get massage?” I asked my friend during a phone call yesterday.
It was a short call. She lives several time zones away and she was on her way to a meeting to discuss/debate her son’s IEP with his teachers. My friend is a busy woman. Among other things, she is a teacher, triathlete, blogger, and mother of two sons, one of whom is 6½ years old and Autistic. He is also an insomniac, a nudist, and a burgeoning lock-pick. Last week, while the rest of the family slept, he broke into the arts and crafts cabinet and painted his entire body, the kitchen, and most of the dog blue.
“Gosh, I can’t remember the last time I had one!” she replied. “And it’s funny because I have two gift certificates for massages that I’ve had forever. I know I should use them, but I guess I’m waiting until I really need them…until things are really tough.” When I said to her, “It sounds like things are really tough right now,” she laughed.
“Oh no, this is just normal!”
As a massage therapist, I hear this kind of thing all the time. In a busy life self-care can feel like yet another appointment, yet another expense, yet another thing you have to do. Also, many of us consider our everyday challenges and stressors “normal” and therefore underserving of attention or reduction. However, just the opposite is true.
The body’s physiological responses to stress are very old. They evolved to deal with our primitive stressors, short-term physical dangers, like, say, an encounter with a tiger. When stressed, the body directs blood and nutrients away from organs in charge of functions like digestion and reproduction and toward those necessary for “fight or flight.” Unfortunately, our modern stressors are not generally something we can escape or vanquish with a short burst of physical activity (Is your kid’s IEP being written by tigers?), so many of us are living long-term in a state of chronic fight or flight which has proven detrimental effects on all the body’s systems.
Massage invokes the relaxation response, by triggering the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system – the body’s natural balance to the sympathetic nervous system (the one that is responsible for “fight or flight”).
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that (like all self-care) it’s not a magic bullet. One massage may be a lovely treat, but it’s effects will be short-lived and if you don’t receive that massage until things are “really tough” it can be the relaxation equivalent of trying to fill the Grand Canyon with a bucket full of sand.
Regular life is challenging and stressful. Regular massage is a great way to balance that out. It may seem inconceivable at first but massage can be part of your everyday life. A really good part!
Think of this: Most of us get our roots touched up every 5-6 weeks like clockwork. We get our teeth cleaned twice a year. We change the oil in the car every 3,000-5,000 miles. We can get nurturing, stress-reducing care the same, scheduled, predictable way. It requires a couple of small, practical steps that I’ll explain in my next post. But it requires one major shift in thinking.
We need to change our perception of massage and relaxation from luxurious pampering to necessary self-care.
Long-term exposure to stress can be deadly. Literally. Just like eating a healthy diet and exercising, relaxation and stress-management – when done regularly – can have profound effects on your overall health. My friend said it best, “I need to stick around. My son is going to need me for a long, long time.”
Don’t wait to care for yourself. There may be no tigers in your yard, but there are a million things that will make today really tough. This moment is challenging enough. You need a massage.
Up Next: Massage and Self-Care Part II, in the mean time if you have any questions or live in the Austin area and would like to make an appointment please contact Kerry at http://www.kerry-jordan.com/