Psychology Behind the Spa

You know how the saying goes, “a mani-pedi a day, keeps the doctor away!”  Well, not really, but in this case it’s sort of true. There is evidence that supports a trip to the spa can yield exceptional benefits for both mind and body.  Positive psychologists, among other theorists, believe in the importance of taking a trip to the spa.  They view a visit to the spa not as useless vanity, but as an investment in one’s wellbeing and self-care. Not only will you walk away with your nails sparkling, you may feel as though your soul is, too.

You know how it is, you’re sitting in the salon chair and have a full hour, for you!  You sit back, melt deeply into the chair and are able to simply bask in the complete serene and tranquil spa room with the sound of a small fountain is faintly running in the background.  Perhaps you find yourself having a comfortable conversation, talking about what is bothering you, what your last week has been like and what you’re looking forward to doing.  For some, that may have just described a weekly therapy session with a psychologist. For others, it is an outing to their manicurist or hair stylist. We all succumb to the constant stress in our lives and too much of it is not healthy.  Finding the proper way to combat stress by practicing stress reduction techniques is critical to your overall well-being.

The benefits of seeking a manicure or splurging on that spa treatment begin with intention. The ‘power of intention’ is one of the most well researched methods of all: the placebo effect.  The importance of this healing effect show that a majority of diseases can be improved simply by the power of the mind believing in the treatment.  Spas improve well-being in numerous ways, and one of them is by engaging you in a ritual that is performed for your own good (McCarty, 2009).

Positive psychologist Christopher Peterson said it best, “Other people matter” (Peterson, 2008).  Getting your manicure or pedicure or spa treatment allows you the opportunity to be cared for by another person. The presence of another person around you has calming effects and makes you feel nurtured and supported.  Studies have analyzed the importance of others or the “effect of person,” as a part of the experiment. Being in the presence of an unfriendly dog can heighten your sympathetic nervous system, yet, other effects were observed when you were in the presence of another person and the dog. One’s heart rate slows, and returns to normal much sooner. In fact, not only is the presence of others healing, but the benefits are enhanced when touch is involved.

A recent study conducted by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles collected findings of healthy adults that were assigned to receive three types of massages: deep tissue, Swedish, and light touch. After only one session of a massage, participants in the study exhibited significant decreases in the level of the stress hormone cortisol and increases in white blood cells that are a part of the immune system. This study revealed that receiving a massage activates the body on an internal level to respond to and correct the physiological imbalance caused by our stressful lives (Roan, 2010).  Further biological benefits from massages included an increase in circulation, lower blood pressure, and reduction in stress related to pain.

How many hours a week or a day do you spend disconnected from the demands of your life? One of the most powerful benefits of visiting a spa may come from simply practicing mindfulness, something you engage in and may not even realize you have. While at the spa, you are able to enjoy the present experiences, and reflect on whatever is on your mind in that moment.  You can become fully present and in tune with your thoughts, finding inspiration, or insight into problems that have been lingering. Spas allow us to reflect and become attuned to our spiritual side.

There are massages for nearly every symptom, from depression to anxiety to insomnia to chronic pain. The International Journal of Neuroscience studied a group of individuals suffering from tragic injuries and depression.  The participants who received forty-minute sessions of massages twice a week for five weeks not only increased range of motion, and also became less depressed. The spa does indeed make an impact on our mind, body, and soul.

Resources

Adults Demonstrate Modified Immune Response After Receiving Massage, Cedars-Sinai Researchers Show (2010). Retrieved from: https://www.cedars-sinai.edu/AboutUs/News/News-Releases2010/Adults-Demonstrate-Modified-Immune-Response-After-Receiving-Massage-Cedars-Sinai-Researchers-Show.aspx.

Benefits of Massage Therapy. (2016). Retrieved from: http://www.massageenvy.com/benefits of-massage-therapy/massage-for-depression.aspx

McCarthy, J. (2009). Psychological Benefits of Visiting a Spa. Retrieved from:       http://completewellbeing.com/article/touch-therapy/

Peterson, C. (2008). Other People Matter: Two Examples. Retrieved from:   https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-good-life/200806/other-people-matter-two-examples

Roan, S. (2008). A single massage can boost the immune system. Los Angles Times. Retrieved from: http://articles.latimes.com/2010/sep/09/news/la-heb-massage-20100909

Zhivotovskaya, E. (2012). The Psychology of Spas and Wellbeing. Retrieved from: http://positivepsychologynews.com/news/emiliya-zhivotovskaya/2012072523416

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