I am not above admitting I bribe, and even pay, my kids to play with my hair. We all know it feels wonderful. It’s relaxing and can immediately put us in a Zen-like state, and I find I want nothing more than to end my day with someone running a brush through my hair or braiding my locks.
It has become a nightly tradition in my house, and I began to notice I was not only enjoying the feeling of it, having my hair played with was lifting my spirits if I was feeling down, stressed or just in a funk.
Many would agree it’s a wonderful sensation, but why does having your hair played with or getting your head massaged feel as good as it does? And can it really elevate our mood?
SheKnows spoke with Dr. Sara Williams, a clinical psychologist and professional consultant for the Between Us Clinic. Williams confirmed it does in fact reduce stress since humans are social beings and are wired to feel “pleasure through physical intimacy with one another by touch,” she says.
And it’s not just any touch that will do. It must be loving, human touch — which is why a massage chair doesn’t feel as good as a getting a massage by a person. “The sensory neural network behind our experience of physical contact can tell the difference,” she says.
When someone is touching you in a loving way, it releases the bonding hormone known as oxytocin. Human contact causes the body to react by reducing cortisol levels, which “can lower blood pressure and reduce heart rate, all of which reduce stress and have beneficial impacts on our overall well-being and mood,” says Williams.
And the healing benefits don’t end there, Williams adds. “Some studies suggest that regular touch, such as having someone play with our hair, can even strengthen our immune system.” I can think of no better way to ward off sickness than a nice head rub.
Touching of the hair, head and scalp are especially intoxicating as there are “Specialized sensory neurons located at the base the hair follicles,” says Williams.
She goes on to explain these neurons detect tiny movements, and once stimulated, “the neuron transmits a sensory message to the brain.” This is what causes feel-good chemicals to be released.
Shannon Lajoie, a licensed massage therapist who has been practicing for 17 years, adds that we really don’t realize how much our work frontalis muscle does during our waking hours.
“Head massage has this transformative effect because it feels so good that it puts our awareness in our body and out of our head, which is amazing considering the massage is taking place on the head,” she says. “There’s more nerve endings and definitely more trigger points and a very high concentration of acupuncture points in our heads too.”
It’s easy to forget how much our heads actually do for us throughout the day. Facial expressions, teeth grinding, talking and chewing all create tension in our head and neck area whether we are aware of it or not. It feels soothing for the tension to be released and for this muscle tissue to get some love.
And unlike other forms of massage, you don’t need to hire someone licensed and trained to reap the benefits. In some cases, you don’t need to look any further than the person sitting next to you on the couch.