Whether you are filled with pure joy or mixed emotions, the holiday hustle is headed our way. And now, as a new mother, I have more responsibilities than ever. Unfortunately, strategies to implement healthy boundaries for the holidays do not apply with a toddler who, as much as he showers me with affection, doesn’t give one poo-filled diaper about Momma’s stress levels. Thankfully, I’ve found that applying one little scalp massage a day is already starting to save me. Let me explain.
I’m not a type A person. I don’t identify with what most people consider anxiety. The detail-oriented, over-planning, must-control-all typically associated with highly stressed people never described me. Instead, my anxiety manifested physically. As the prolific personality writer Heidi Priebe, who suffers from the same issue, shares:
“Imagine having to learn your own coping mechanisms from scratch because your pitfall isn’t perfectionism or obsessiveness. It’s your body simply throwing in the towel and saying, ‘No more.’ But your mind refusing to agree.”
I thrive on high-pressure, deadline-driven situations. I love the people-filled, busy calendar that comes with the holidays! So, what can I do to stop the physical tension that inevitably comes with the things I’m good at and find joyful?
Aside from exercise, I discovered that massage does wonders—I have written about its benefits before. Unfortunately, I don’t own a secret vault filled with extra cash or readily available massage therapists. So in an effort to curb my Tylenol dependency when my anxiety-induced TMJ flares up, causing all kinds of painful tension, I had to get creative.
This year, in anticipation of the unavoidable anxiety that comes with the holidays, I decided to give myself a scalp massage once a day for a week—a habit that I think I’ll maintain for all the weeks of my life, holidays or not. If you decide to do the same, this is what you may soon discover, too.
01. Relaxation is instant.
When you take a moment to apply pressure with your fingertips around your temple, circling your jawline, moving down through your neck and shoulders, and up through the top of your head—suddenly, your world slows down, and it’s easier to pause and breathe deeply. Like exercise, massage benefits are immediate. Whether my massage was a whopping ten minutes or a mere ten seconds, I felt relief. And science backs this up too, as scalp massages have been shown to reduce stress hormones such as cortisol, reduce blood pressure, and even lower heart rate.
02. It’s the perfect excuse to use your essential oils.
You know that massive collection of essential oils that you bought at your cousin’s friend’s online party a few years back? Or what about the ones you impulsively purchased at Whole Foods after you read an inspiring article about lemon oil being cancer preventative? Well, if you’re like me, they may have been sitting in your bathroom, waiting for the rare bubble bath to happen. Fortunately for you, a scalp massage will not only put these oils to use, but they will also enhance the massage all the more. With the right essential oils, you can combat stress, relieve PMS, ease congestion, and even soothe dry skin. (Pro tip: Dilute these oils with a carrier oil—because man, pure peppermint oil is pa-pa-powerful.)
03. It may even prevent stress-induced hair loss and promote hair growth.
A study published in the Journal of American Medical Association did a randomized trial on the effects of essential oil scalp massages on patients with alopecia areata, which occurs when severe stress causes the immune system to attack hair follicles. Though incurable, it can be treated. In this study, 44 percent of patients who had scalp massages with essential oils—thyme, lavender, rosemary, and cedar—for at least two minutes daily showed substantial improvement versus only 15 percent of patients in the control group who had scalp massages without essential oils. I’m the worst to do hair experiments on, as the thick hair gene is strong in my family to the point where I wish I had less hair. But sequential photographs taken at the beginning, middle, and end of the seven-month study saw significant improvement of hair growth.
04. A scalp massage can be done anywhere, anytime.
Though people swinging by your desk may give you quizzical looks as you’re closing your eyes and moving your fingers across your head, it’s worth mentioning that a scalp massage is the most portable self-care tool out there. All you need is yourself—no equipment necessary (although, again, essential oils are bonus). Try it when you’re running errands and sitting at a red light; in the shower, while you’re washing your hair; watching your favorite show; or listening to your favorite podcast. Treat yourself to one when you’re in bed, either as you’re waking up or as you’re calming yourself down to sleep. All you need to do is remember—a daily alarm reminder can do just that.
05. You immediately boost your energy levels.
A massage therapist once told me that it was a compliment when her clients fell asleep. While this kind of relaxation may be a benefit of lying down in a dark room for a ninety-minute full-body massage, when you’re giving yourself a scalp massage in five-minute stints, you get the opposite effect: an energy boost. Helping that blood circulate in my head in the middle of a long work day increased my alertness while it relaxed me—pretty much the ideal state of existence.
06. You get in touch with your stressors.
What surprised me the most about giving myself a daily scalp massage is that it gave me a better idea of what specific triggers might be physically stressing me out. While the scalp massage always felt good, some days it felt better than others. And on these particularly relieving days, I reflected on what I did differently. Was today busier than yesterday? Was it cleaning day? Was I getting sick? While I would hardly consider myself astute in the specifics of my stressors (yet—I mean, I’ve only been doing this for a week), it was interesting to note how various tension spots changed. As I continue to do this over time, it will be interesting to see how I slowly discover my body’s particular needs and quirks.
So seriously, what do you have to lose? Take a moment to close your eyes, and rub that scalp! Set a timer for thirty seconds, and melt stress away like snow on a warm day.