Why massage matters for caretakers
Massage therapy is proven to be helpful to those recovering from many health conditions as well as integral for palliative care. One of the most important parts of recovery is a support system and caretakers. It’s so important to remember caretakers also need support and stress relief in order to be effective and healthy. This is so important because it's easy to get burned out as a caretaker if you aren't caring for yourself. It’s a demanding job to care for others, especially when part of those daily tasks may include handling another person's body and moving it.
Massage can help individual caretakers take a break for themselves. Sometimes having an hour dedicated to being somewhere specific can be a good way to make yourself take a break and just do nothing at that time. Getting a massage can be a way to intentionally set time aside to be present for yourself, and slow down.
This helps caretakers recover from the physical strain of handling another person's body and needs day to day. Just like athletes, any physical strain that is repetitive will build up stress and tension. Massage can help you manage that stress and help prevent injuries from overuse or repetitive strain.
Massage can help reduce cortisol (stress hormone) and help regulate an overactive nervous system, calming the body and mind through positive neurological feedback. Positive touch can be helpful in reducing cortisol in the body by reminding it that it is not in danger. Caring for someone you love while they are in distress can trigger that danger and anxiety loop in the brain which can wreak havoc on your body over extended periods of time. This reaction over extended periods of time can cause you to struggle with sleep, struggle with emotional regulation, and can cause other issues like stomach ulcers or other distress induced conditions. While massage isn’t magic, it can reset that feedback loop and get your brain to reduce the amount of stress and tension, helping your body remember it’s safe and doesn’t need the cortisol to escape tigers.
Massage can help with the mental and emotional strain and fatigue of caring for a person in distress. Heightened or dysregulated emotions can be fatiguing the same way cortisol can make you exhausted and cause other physical problems. With many caretakers, the experience of caring for someone can be difficult, as these individuals are very empathetic towards patients. While they may not be experiencing the pain directly, they understand and feel for their patient or family member. It can also just simply be hard to see family members struggle with their health and worry about them. Massage is known to reduce depression and anxiety in individuals who come in regularly to receive massage. It stimulates the production of serotonin, the happy chemical in the brain, helping to reduce mental strain. Even 30 minute sessions can have huge benefits for your mental health.
Burn out is common if you are exhausted and trying to care for others, but it doesn’t have to be inevitable. Taking time to do some self-care can make the difference between keeping yourself going and burning out or getting injured. Self-care can be anything from stretching, self-massage, getting a massage, going to the gym regularly, getting enough sleep, eating well, or even a bubble bath to soothe your body. Anything you do to help yourself stay healthy will make a huge difference in the long run. I am biased towards getting regular massage as part of self care and make it a priority to do it myself.