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The benefits of a stress relief massage

The benefits of a stress relief massage

About this post

Can massage really make you less stressed? In this detailed guide we look at the science behind it.

Posted by

Emily from Urban


  • Massage
  • Mental health
  • Wellbeing


Stress can be sneaky, showing up in your body in all sorts of unexpected ways. A recent study shows that 74% of UK adults have felt so overwhelmed with stress that they’ve been unable to cope. But we’re on a mission to ease the burden.

Things like massage, meditation, therapy and other wellbeing habits have been proven to lower feelings of stress (more on this later). Let’s find out how a stress relief massage in particular can introduce the calm you need in your life.

Woman lying on a massage table on top a white towel having a de-stress massage

Stress is a natural, human response to life’s challenges

From work deadlines to arguments with family, feeling stressed is something we all deal with. You might notice yourself worrying about something which can lead to stress, or if something doesn’t go the way you planned, anxious thoughts appear.

And although we all deal with it differently, ignoring the signs never leads to a good outcome. Noticing what triggers your feelings of stress and addressing it quickly  – instead of letting a combination of events pile up – is a way to take back control of stressful situations.

How stress affects the body

They say the body ‘speaks’ the mind, and a stressful week can affect you physically in a few different ways. It can put your body into a state of alert and bring about a range of noticeable symptoms. Here are the most common tell-tale signs to watch out for.

Common signs of stress:

  • Muscle tension and stiffness

  • Headaches or migraines

  • Problems with digestion

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure

  • Feeling irritable

  • Mood swings

When something makes you feel stressed, you might notice yourself getting snappier with loved ones or cancelling social plans. Understanding these behaviours and how you respond is a way to notice when things are getting too much for you, so you can act on it quickly.

People store stress differently

Not only does stress affect people differently, but we have different tolerances too.

For example, some people might find it the easiest thing in the world to stand up in front of their colleagues and do a speech. But for others, public speaking could be the worst thing imaginable – causing overwhelming feelings of stress.

That doesn’t mean they should avoid public speaking their whole life, instead they can learn ways to manage their stress levels to help them overcome the feeling and conquer their fear.

The stress bucket analogy

Visualise your stress tolerance as a ‘stress bucket’. With every stressful event, no matter how small, water is poured into your bucket. Every time it fills up, you feel more stressed until it eventually overflows and causes you to burnout.

The aim is to find a way to stop stress overflowing from your bucket, like creating taps you can turn on when you need a release. These taps can be anything that makes you feel less stressed, from proven methods like exercise, meditation or massage, to cooking your favourite dinner or unwinding with yoga.

Massage is scientifically proven to reduce the stress hormone cortisol by 31%

A number of studies have hailed massage therapy for its positive effects on stress. In this Australian study, they found a 31% decrease of the stress hormone (cortisol) in participants going through stressful life situations.

De-stress massage therapy works by stimulating your parasympathetic nervous system, the part of you that switches off your body’s fight or flight response. This brings your cortisol levels down and boosts endorphins like serotonin and dopamine, so you feel happier.

Less cortisol means less stress

Cortisol is the body’s stress hormone – it’s sort of like your internal alarm system. When things go wrong, boy does it bleep. It controls your mood and your ‘fight-or-flight’ reaction, so when your cortisol levels are high, alarms will be ringing.

When things get really bad, cortisol can impact other body functions like your immune system, reproductive system and digestion. That’s why high cortisol levels can lead to things like weight gain, tiredness and acne.

When you’re stressed it doesn’t just affect your mind, but can affect all parts of your body, which is why you feel so ‘meh’. But now you know massage therapy can decrease cortisol levels, you might want to give it a try – it might be your go-to treatment to help you through stressful situations.

Massage therapy increases your happy hormones by 28%

The same study also found that massage increased levels of serotonin and dopamine by 28%. Known as your happy hormones, these chemicals send signals around your body that release feelings of pleasure. When your dopamine and serotonin levels spike, you’re likely to feel more positive and at ease.

So with a 31% decrease in stress and 28% increase in positivity post-massage, it’s clear how much of a difference you might feel.

Woman lying face down on a massage table having a relaxing massage

The 3 best massages for stress relief

At Urban, there are a few different massage choices for people dealing with stress and anxiety – we recommend de-stress, relaxing and sleep. See how each type of massage for stress can make a difference.

1. De-stress massage therapy switches off your body’s fight or flight response

With an Urban de-stress massage, you can battle high cortisol levels and allow your mind to clear.

This type of stress relief massage starts with guided breathing

To set the tone, your pro can guide you through a short breathing exercise to relax your mind and body. You’ll focus on your breathing to stimulate the parasympathetic system, decrease your heart rate and lower your blood pressure.

Enjoy a full-body treatment using slow motions and essential oils for stress relief

Starting with the front of your legs, this massage will tackle tension from your feet to your face and scalp – that way, every part of your body is relaxed.

2. A sleep massage for when your mind won’t shut off

Does stress affect your sleeping pattern? If you can’t get your brain to shhh after a long day or when you have lots going on, a sleep massage can help quiet that inner voice for a restful night.

Slow, flowing strokes put your muscles at ease

Your pro will use light pressure and slow movement to help ease tension in your muscles and calm your nervous system. This helps your body unwind and feel ready for rest.

Carefully-selected essential oils are chosen to help you sleep

They’ll choose a blend of essential oils that are formulated to promote sleep so you get the most out of your treatment.

3. Relaxing massage for when you’re not quite stressed, but feel yourself getting there

This option is ideal for when you need a bit of me-time, and a bath isn’t quite cutting it. This recipe for relaxation includes a combination of light pressure, soothing strokes with the option of a face and/or head massage – just let your pro know what helps you relax the best.

Slow, sweeping massage strokes invite the body to deeply relax

This will put your body into a state of relaxation, lowering your stress response and helping you feel at ease.

Set the tone with relaxing music and a candle

To really help set the mood, put on some music that helps you unwind as well as your favourite candle and dim the lights.

Book a stress relieving massage before things get too much

Let’s go back to our bucket analogy. If you feel your bucket getting heavier, it’s important to address it sooner rather than later. Getting into the habit of a regular stress relieving massage is a relaxing way to keep those water levels low.

Planning the best time to have this massage can also play a part in lowering stress levels. Is there a specific day of the week that’s usually extra stressful? Book an after work massage for that day. 

Or you might find it more beneficial to start your week with a massage to kick things off calmly, so a Sunday evening or Monday morning could be the way to go. But sticking to these helpful habits, as well as meditation and exercise, is a great way to manage your stress bucket. 

Ready to give it a try? Book a stress relief massage and choose from our de-stress, relaxing and sleep massage options.

Download the Urban app

For an even better booking experience, download the Urban app and book massage, physio, facials from your phone, to your home.

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