For centuries many cultures have recognized the symptoms of negative emotions upon the body and have had their own ways of releasing these emotions from the tissue.
But the thought of emotions being stored in the body isn’t an ancient concept. We still acknowledge this concept today. The simplest example of this is when we say “I carry my stress in my back”. A more complicated example is broken heart syndrome.
It is believed that the emotions processed in the mind are then reflected in the body through energy and can get trapped in the muscles. This is why we can continue to feel our stress in our back when the stressful situation has passed.
Sympathetic Nervous System
Stress activates the body’s sympathetic nervous system, which signals the body to be on alert. One signal is to increase the production of the hormone cortisol. Hormones are chemicals that tell the body what to do and when to do it. Cortisol regulates the body’s response to stress.
Cortisol is released during “fight-or-flight” events to help the body regulate a quick release of glucose for energy while controlling how the body will use fats, proteins and carbohydrates for energy.
Once the body is signaled that it is no longer in danger, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated and cortisol levels will return to a balanced state. Situations that fall into the chronic stress category make it hard for the body to return back to homeostasis.
Chronic stress can lead to an imbalance of cortisol levels. Ongoing high levels of cortisol can lead to muscle and bone weakness, high blood pressure, as well as, weight gain.
Stress sends blood to the muscles, causing them to tense up, so they will be ready to respond to threats. For those experiencing chronic stress, this may result in chronic tension headaches and neck or back pain as a result of the prolonged muscle tension.
Parasympathetic Nervous System
The parasympathetic nervous system is a network of nerves that relaxes your body after periods of stress or danger. When the parasympathetic nervous system is activated it slows our heart and breathing rates, lowers blood pressure and signals to the body that it is safe to rest and digest.
Moderate pressure applied during a massage session can activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Once activated it can signal the release of the “feel good” hormone oxytocin and endorphins, dopamine and serotonin, and reduce cortisol levels, returning the body back to a balanced state.
When stress or trauma isn’t processed or resolved on its own, it may linger far past the actual event. Lingering in our unconscious, affecting how we carry ourselves, translating into poor posture and body mechanics, and resulting in body aches.
So how do these body aches become associated with trapped emotions?
Touch in a particular area of the body may create sensations of a memory because the brain associates this area with that particular memory.
Easing the tension in this area, allowing it to relax and “release” may in turn bring up unexpected or unprocessed emotions.
The emotions can be released in various ways ranging from laughter to tears.
A massage therapist isn’t a psychotherapist and knowing what type of emotions are being trapped is not our goal. Our goal is to assist the body in returning to homeostasis.
Massage can help combat the physical symptoms of chronic stress by encouraging the muscles to relax. Emotional release is a natural process. In order to maintain balance our bodies may need to release emotional build up at inopportune times like during a relaxation massage. But rest assured your massage therapist is well trained and able to give you the space you need to process.