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Winter Blues

Seasonal depression affects many of us. If you have found yourself experiencing the winter blues, try the following tips to help overcome depression and restore joy to your life.

  • Get a massage, and take a hot bath afterwards, to increase blood flow to muscles and allow you to relax.
  • Turn on some background music which can offer a relaxing way to take your mind off your worries.
  • Unwind with a relaxing walk to help you reduce stress.
  • Treat yourself to a nap. Too little sleep causes slowed metabolism and increased appetite, risking over-eating, unhealthy food choices, and inactivity.
  • Keep finances in check. Studies show that financial stress is one of the main reasons adults worry.
  • Go Zen. Take up restorative yoga, tai chi, or meditation. These mind-body strategies incorporate improving posture, relaxing, and stretching to improve balance and coordination while simultaneously decreasing stress.
  • Release inner tension. Never underestimate the power of a good sex life and reconnecting with your significant other.
  • Take time to laugh. Comedy is good for the soul. Whether it comes from rented movies, downloaded comedy sketches, or going to improv or karaoke, a good laugh goes a long way.
  • Go hiking, bicycling, or skating by yourself, or with your family, to breathe good air and re-balance your life priorities.

All these activities increase your energy, and the more energy you have, the less likely you’ll be overwhelmed by depression that sometimes comes with the winter season.

So says Dr. Moshe Lewis, Chief of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at California Pacific Medical Center, St. Luke’s Campus in San Francisco.

Massage benefits for relationships

Oxytocin—the hormone-like chemical produced in the brain when we feel safe, connected, and receive caring touch—regulates the arousal level of our nervous system, and it produces a sense of safety and openness in our relationships.

Whenever we feel stressed, volatile, or are escalating into an argument, the stress hormones that are coursing through our body have revved up our nervous system out of our window of tolerance. And whenever we shut down and withdraw, disconnecting and isolating for safety, our nervous system has become too constricted, and we are unable to engage and repair relationships.

At these times, therapeutic massage is especially valuable since oxytocin is one of the most effective tools we have for regulating the physiological arousal or dampening down of our nervous system. Because oxytocin is also the neurochemical basis for the felt sense of safety and trust, it is the hormone of relational repair. It instantly antidotes the fight-flight-freeze response to any perceived threat or danger. Stress hormone levels are reduced, blood pressure is lowered, and we become less emotionally reactive.

This emotional calming can facilitate greater flexibility and openness, and restore a sense of connection that enables more collaboration and creativity. And when we feel safe and relaxed, we are able to be more generous and loving to everyone around us.

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caring touch creates well-being

Oxytocin is a naturally occurring chemical produced in the brain when we feel safe, nurtured, and receive caring touch. It acts like a hormone in our bodies to regulate the arousal level of our nervous system. It is also the hormone of attachment, the ‘neural cement’ of all loving bonds.

Because babies are unable to regulate their own nervous system, loving touch and closeness are critical for them to feel safe, calm, and not overwhelmed. The oxytocin that is released during close contact generates a satisfying relaxation and a blissful sense of safety, contentment, and belonging for the infant. It produces the wonderful feeling that ‘all is well.’ And it profoundly shapes their ability to love and trust others. The oxytocin response is key to maintaining healthy relationships throughout life.

For adults, caring touch and closeness provide the same calming of the nervous system and sense of well-being. We need caring touch, warmth, presence, and connection to cause oxytocin to cascade through our bloodstream, to help our nervous system be in the state we naturally like—calm, relaxed, alert, engaged. And to help us feel open and trusting in our close relationships.

That’s why we feel so good after a massage, and why regular massage is so beneficial to our health, sense of well-being, and our relationships, too!

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massage for tuning in to your bodyMindful attention to your body is a powerful self-care step. When you learn to detect the quieter distress messages your body sends, you can notice more quickly that you are out of balance and need to pay attention to self-care. To detect your body’s warnings requires increasing your sensitivity to the nuances of its messages, sensing smaller symptoms before they become full-blown. Though the body changes may seem relatively minor, they indicate early difficulty. If you answer ‘yes’ to any of the questions below, it’s worthwhile to take a general inventory of your stress level and self-care practices.

Warning Signs Your Body Sends

  • Are you chronically tired?
  • Have you experienced unexplainable symptoms?
  • Is your mind racing, your breathing fast and shallow?
  • Are you feeling off-center, numb, detached, irritable?

Massage gives you a time-out to tune in to your body.

Massage therapists have seen time and again how increasing body awareness facilitates prevention of illness. Getting a massage is a helpful time-out to slow you down, so you can better hear your body’s messages, restore balance, and stay well.

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touch healsReceiving touch is a primary way to reduce stress and calm the nervous system.

There is a growing body of research that shows a link between many forms of touch—from massage to hand-holding—and improved health. A study from the University of North Carolina found that sitting in close contact with a partner for just 10 minutes lowered blood pressure. Other research has found that physical contact can trigger a boost in serotonin, a natural antidepressant.

Biological changes after a single massage

In response to massage, specific physiological and chemical changes cascade throughout the body, with profound effects, says Mark Rapport, MD, director of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He reports that they’re finding biological changes associated with a single massage session. ‘That’s saying something,’ he says.

Easy ways to get more touch

Tiffany Field, PhD, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, recommends getting a ‘regular dose’ of touch. Here are some easy ways to incorporate more touch into your life:

  • Get regular massage. It’s a form of preventive care and can be a powerful ally in your healthcare regimen.
  • Find a hands-on form of exercise such as ballroom dancing. Or do yoga, which stimulates pressure receptors so is a form of self-massage.
  • Hug someone awarely (the longer the better). You stimulate their pressure receptors as well as your own.
  • Sit close to your partner more often, and hold hands.
  • Give your children short backrubs when you put them to bed. They will fall asleep more relaxed, and you get the benefit of touch, too!

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