Although massage therapists are often tasked with helping their clients recover from various illnesses and injuries, the reality is that sometimes it is therapists themselves who face declining physical health.
Common Physical Health Risks for MTs
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some of the most common physical injuries suffered by massage therapists are repetitive motion issues and fatigue related to being on their feet all day.
An article published in the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork further explains that the musculoskeletal disorders reported most often by individuals working in this field include those associated with the “finger or thumb, shoulder, wrist, neck, arm or elbow and back.”
The article goes on to say that as many as four out of five bodywork professionals quit working after just two years, because their hands can’t take the repeated stress or their bodies lack the physical stamina needed for this line of work.
If this statistic scares you, your next question is likely what you can do to avoid becoming part of it.
The most obvious answer would be to take care of yourself physically by eating a diet rich in nutritious foods and getting some regular exercise.
And while this is still important, one doctor shares that an extremely effective way to improve your physical health is to work on improving your emotional health.
What does this mean?
The Connection Between Your Emotions and Physical Health
“Strong emotions such as fear, anger, frustration and sadness— especially when they are repressed—create physiological stress,” says Chris Gilbert, MD, PhD, and author of The Listening Cure: Healing Secrets of an Unconventional Doctor. “Repressing emotions creates fear and uncertainty about the future. Such uncertainty sustains constant anxiety, which cause chronic secretion of harmful stress hormones.”
In other words, by experiencing emotions that you try to ignore you’re creating a stress response in your body. Furthermore, this type of physiological stress causes your body to release various fight-flight-freeze hormones that can negatively impact your physical health.
For instance, when your body releases stress-induced cortisol as a result of too much stress, it weakens your immune system. This makes you “more susceptible to infections [and] less likely to fight against cancer,” says Gilbert, adding that it also increases your risk of developing an autoimmune inflammatory disease.
Adrenaline is another hormone your body releases when going through elevated periods of stress.
“[It will] give [you a] faster heart rate, higher blood pressure, and, in the long run, will harm the heart and the blood vessels,” says Gilbert.
Add these types of responses together and the damage your feelings can do to you can really pile up. But how can you tell whether your emotional health is actually hurting your physical health?
Signs Your Emotional Health May be Impacting Your Physical Health
“Muscle tension and spasms, especially in the neck and back, substance abuse, chain smoking, depression and irritability, fatigue, weight gain and frequent infections,” are all potential signs of poor emotional health, says Gilbert.
That makes it important to not only pay attention to how you feel or to notice any changes in your body, but also to realize whether you’re engaging in any behaviors as an attempt to reduce your levels of stress.
This is where the substance abuse and chain smoking frequently come into play—not that many massage therapists smoke at all—as the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that “stress is one of the most powerful triggers for relapse in addicted individuals, even after long periods of abstinence.”
In fact, several studies have found that stress increases cocaine cravings for people who were once addicted to the drug, and not smoking was more difficult for those who experienced higher levels of stress.
Thus, even if you’re able to abstain from a behavior that is potentially harmful, if you notice that your cravings for that behavior have increased lately, that is a good sign that your emotional health may be putting your physical health at risk. It also means that taking action now can benefit you on both mental and physical levels.
How to Start Improving Your Emotional Health
As far as what types of actions provide the most benefits, “Dr. Lieberman’s studies at UCLA show that verbalizing emotions decreases their intensity,” says Gilbert.
In other words, the key to reducing the negative impact that your emotions can have on your health involves finding ways to get your feelings out. How do you do this?
“Everybody is different and people have their own preferred way of releasing emotions,” says Gilbert. “Some will like vigorous sports with cathartic release from hitting a tennis or golf ball or boxing. Others will prefer jogging, walking or swimming.”
If physical activity isn’t as enjoyable or as emotionally releasing for you, Gilbert shares that other effective options include writing in a journal, drawing, painting, singing, playing a musical instrument, dancing or participating in some other form of creative expression.
Meditation and mindful breathing are other options as well.
When you feel it’s time to retain or restore your health, connect with yourself and listen to what’s going on.
“Our bodies know what’s wrong, why it’s wrong, and what to do to heal,” says Gilbert.
About the Author
Christina DeBusk is a freelance writer dedicated to providing readers relevant, research-backed content related to health and wellness, personal development, safety, and small business ownership.
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