Why You Shouldn't Feel Guilty About Getting a Massage

There's nothing I love more than when a client comes in for a relaxation massage.

They aren't here because their back is aching, or their shoulders are knotted up, or they've overdone it yet again at the gym. They're here because they just want to freaking relax--and they recognize that that's every bit as important and legitimate as coming in for help dealing with a physical complaint.

But I also know that for some people, it is really, really hard to recognize that mental stress is just as pressing as physical ailments. Some of us may even feel guilty about setting aside sixty minutes for ourselves.

I struggle with self-care even as a massage therapist. I have a low-stress, highly rewarding job that accommodates my limitations. But just a couple months ago, I started having chronic migraines that made it almost impossible to get through a day. After too many weeks of ignoring the symptoms, I went to my acupuncturist (shout out to the amazing Johanna Utter!). 

During our intake, she asked what my self-care regimen was like. 

“That’s the thing,” I told her. “I’m doing everything right. I’m waking up at 4:30 and heading to FIT House for my morning spin class six or seven days a week. Then I rush to the Shambhala Center for an hour of seated meditation, but I have to leave ten minutes early to make it back to FIT House for yin yoga. My days are normally really busy, but I try to do more meditation at night, plus some stretching and a walk.”

As I described my average day, I started to realize the problem: in my quest to take care of myself, I was actually neglecting the very thing I needed the most—rest. Sure, I was exercising and meditating and practicing yoga, but I was also getting six hours of sleep a night max and having trouble avoiding the candy aisle at Nugget. 

It took me a few weeks to accept that I needed to make some changes. As I began to simplify my life, my migraines disappeared. Now that I’m getting enough rest and working on taking time for myself without feeling guilty, I’m able to see just how depleted I was when I was trying to do it all. My nervous system was in a constant state of fight-or-flight as I raced from activity to activity. 

I know the reality is that not all of us can afford to make these kinds of changes. Some of us have demanding jobs, or busy caretaking roles, or stressful school schedules. That’s why massage can be an amazing addition to your self-care routine. It requires nothing more than you showing up, silencing your cellphone, and laying down for an hour. 

But if you’re like me and still need to be convinced that self-care actually has to be a priority, here are some reminders about the proven benefits of massage, courtesy of the American Massage Therapy Association:

1.    Massage relieves stress and anxiety, and lowers blood pressure 

Massage therapy relaxes your nervous system, shifting you from “fight-or-flight” to “rest and digest.” Massage has been shown to ease symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as comorbid symptoms such as insomnia, high blood pressure, and chronic pain. No matter the style of massage, human touch can be incredibly relaxing and helpful for coping with feelings of depression, isolation, and hopelessness. Even incredibly gentle forms of massage have been shown to improve quality of life in hospice care. 

2.    Massage reduces muscle tension and can help chronic back and neck pain

When I’m giving a massage, I like to imagine my hands as rolling pins smoothing out the knots and adhesions in my client’s muscles. It helps remind me that I’m trying to decongest the soft tissue, allowing for greater range of motion, decreased tension, and less pain. We ask a lot of our bodies, and the reality is that sitting too much causes just as many issues as over-exercising. It’s impossible not to put strain on our bodies. We can be mindful about our daily activities, but we can also get regular massages to work out some of the negative patterns, and keep our bodies working properly. 

3.    Massage enhances exercise performance, increases range of motion, and improves balance in older adults

If you just can’t get behind the idea that relaxation is necessary, remember that massage will actually help your athletic performance too. Massage therapy is critical to helping athletes maintain an ideal range of motion, perform at their best (mentally and physically), and recover as quickly as possible. Even those of us who aren’t athletes benefit from improved balance and increased range of motion.  

Massage therapy isn’t just feel-good fluff. It’s actually essential to our mental and physical wellbeing. If you still don’t believe me, I’ll let this quote from Warren Buffet persuade you. If a guy who’s worth 90 billion dollars can make time for self-care, so can you. 

“Let's say that when I turned sixteen, a genie had appeared to me. And that genie said, 'Warren, I'm going to give you the car of your choice. It'll be here tomorrow morning with a big bow tied on it. Brand-new. And it's all yours.'

Having heard all the genie stories, I would say, 'What's the catch?' And the genie would answer, 'There's only one catch. This is the last car you're ever going to ge tin your life. So it's got to last a lifetime.'

If that had happened, I would have picked out that car. But, can you imagine, knowing it had to last a lifetime, what I would do with it?I would read the manual about five times. I would always keep it garaged. If there was the least little dent or scratch, I'd have it fixed right away because I wouldn't want it rusting. I would baby that car, because it would have to last a lifetime.

That's exactly the position you are in concerning your mind and body. You only get one mind and one body. And it's got to last a lifetime. Now, it's very easy to let them ride for many years. But if you don't take care of that mind and that body, they'll be a wreck forty years later, just life the car would be.It's what you do right now, today, that determines how your mind and body will operate ten, twenty, and thirty years from now.”

― Warren Buffett

Caitlin Eichorn