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Fight or Flight ~ Remedial Massage

Vanessa Hough, DipRM

Purple Sister Massage

I remember a period of time, about four very long months, several years ago when I thought life had delivered me the biggest slug to the gut. I swore my life was flipped upside down, inside out and stomped all over by a two-ton elephant. I had been married for 5 years and had a 2 year old daughter. I had been given news that would shake my family to its core. A choice was before me. I could cut and run or stay and battle it out. Fight or flight, that’s the psychological jargon for it. I chose the latter.

When you are faced with life altering decisions, your stress levels can go through the roof. Mine did. It affected all of my functions, appetite, sleep, mood, memory and social interactions. I lost weight from not eating, was lucky to see a couple of hours of quality sleep each night, irritable and would cry at anything; without phone reminders I forgot so many things, including picking up my child from preschool on more than one occasion. My long drive home from work was not a good time for me. I had thoughts of giving up, on everything. I also became distraught and didn’t want to talk to anyone for fear of hearing “what’s wrong?” All of these changes were completely outside of my normal personality. I needed help. I needed help fast.

I went to a medical centre and got a referral to a counsellor. It was the best decision for me. My counsellor helped me in so many ways. However, one really surprised me. See, I am a Remedial Massage Therapist. What was one of the techniques she prescribed to help me get my mind and body healthy? Massage Therapy! When your whirling around in a fog of uncertainty, fear and depression, sometimes it’s hard to see help in front of you. I was so afraid of needing to tell my colleagues what was wrong, that it kept me from seeing how they could help. My colleagues didn’t need to know the private details, but they would need to know my symptoms and know that my emotional and mental health was impacting significantly on my physical. So, my counsellor advised me to reach out to a Massage therapist I felt I could trust, and ask them to give me a massage once a week for the next six weeks.

It wasn’t the only thing that I did to help me back on my path, but it was certainly part of a collaborative effort between all my treatment providers and I. Too often, we see people treated solely from a medical perspective with medications prescribed. While that is one aspect for consideration, it is essential that the whole of us is cared for – determining whether treatment options such as psychotherapy and massage are needed. Further, taking a look at lifestyle factors including exercise, diet, psychosocial and environmental factors require attention to support a recovery to wellbeing. For me, hearing that something I believe in, had invested a career in and enjoyed providing to others could be part of my own recovery toolkit, was a logical way forward. My massage treatments were usually an hour long. The music was calming, the room was warm and the environment comforting. My massage therapist let me dictate how much talking there was during the session and what the topics were. Most of time, there wasn’t any talking during the treatment. It was a time dedicated to my well-being. The goal was simply for me to leave feeling better than when I walked in. Now, there are chemical changes in the body that occur during a massage treatment. These changes, including a reduction in the stress hormone cortisol and a rise in dopamine and serotonin which help us feel good. Our metabolism changes which can help us see a return a healthy appetite. Our sleep patterns can begin to return to normal. These are all very good signs that our body and mind are healing.

I am so glad my counsellor reminded me that human touch is a powerful healing tool. Mental health practitioners, when and where appropriate, should always consider the benefits of referring for remedial massage in the treatment plan of their patients.

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