© Tracey Crowley Massage Therapist copyright 2012 

Do you find yourself tensing up for any or no reason? Do you have trouble quieting a racing mind? Have you taken on the care of a loved one? Does the idea of keeping up with life exhaust you?

Life comes with times of stress, and stress can lead to muscle tension and anxiety. Massage for Stress Anxiety & Depression can help alleviate short-term and chronic stress as well as situational and clinical anxiety and depression. A strong correlation exists between mental health and chronic pain. Many people find relaxation massage helpful for restoring their mood. Massage can help you find calm, balance, and peace.

Stress affects more than just your mind. Research has found that stress affects every part of your body – when you carry too much tension, it seems natural that it can lead to muscle stiffness and pain. But what you might not realize is that, it’s also linked to headaches, fatigue, stomach problems, and difficulty sleeping. When you enjoy a relaxing massage session with me, you’ll be doing your stressed-out body a favour.

About Stress

Stress is your body’s response to demanding circumstances. Working late hours? You’ll experience stress. Prepping for a big competition? Definitely stressful. Toddler throwing a tantrum? That’s no doubt stressful for both of you. When you’re stressed, your blood pressure goes up, your breathing and heart rate quicken, and you feel jittery and distracted. All this is useful if your stress is a result of the big race you’re running, when you can put that energy to good use. It’s less helpful if your stressor is a friend or family member in need of patience and comfort.

People who regularly put themselves into stressful circumstances on purpose (public speakers, for example) often learn how to channel that stress response for their own benefit, but it takes practice over time. Some people can actually thrive on this and turn out their best work with great results. When stress goes from being an occasional experience to a chronic condition, health problems result. 

About Anxiety

Anxiety, on the other hand, isn’t necessarily a reaction to circumstances. Most often, it’s related to anticipated future or potential stress. As with stress, anxiety isn’t necessarily an immediate health problem, although it’s unpleasant. Feeling a bit anxious about an upcoming exam, the imminent birth of a baby, or the quality of a presentation can give you a push to prepare as best you can. But anxiety becomes unhelpful when it is overwhelming, requiring you to focus all your energy on surviving your immediate feelings rather than addressing their roots. Pacing, nail biting, trembling, and vomiting are signs that anxiety is veering into unhelpful territory. Test anxiety, social anxiety, and decision anxiety are all common forms of anxiety.

Massage is the perfect way to lift your mood. Think about it – during times of high stress, do you ever find yourself feeling anxious or depressed? Do you have trouble relaxing and getting the rest you need? Is it hard to focus or get things done? Maybe you feel overwhelmed, or just unusually irritable. Whatever effect stress has on your mood, a massage is one of the most relaxing and enjoyable ways to let your daily stress simply disappear.

 Relieving stress can make it easier to meet your goals for the year. Did you know that a startling 90% of people don’t end up keeping their resolutions each year? Part of the reason for that is that daily stress makes it hard for people to control their behavior. Stress has been linked to overeating, drug and alcohol abuse, tobacco use and social withdrawal – it’s even a major reason people tend to slack on their exercise plan. Keeping your stress in check is one of the best ways to stay on track to meet your goals.

 Have a chronic illness or injury? Massage therapy may help. Preliminary research has shown that massage therapy can even help patients manage the pain and stress of chronic health issues, including joint pain, sports injuries, soft tissue injuries, digestive disorders, and even hard-to-manage conditions like fibromyalgia. When combined with a treatment program from your regular physician, it can do wonders!

 Massage therapy leads to a healthier heart. Research has shown that regular
massage therapy helps lower blood pressure and heart rate, reducing the strain on your heart and helping you maintain a healthier circulatory system. Whether you’re working to be healthier, or trying to stay in shape, massage is a powerful tool to help you reach your fitness goals.

What kinds of studies have been done on massage for anxiety and stress?

 

Stress:

While stress levels are largely subjective, studies focused on pain, sleep, and other outcomes often find that patients report decreased stress levels as one of the major benefits they receive from massage therapy treatments. In one study on pain in acute care settings, more than half of the patients mentioned relaxation in their survey responses. One described the experience of receiving massage as “very helpful, soothing, comforting, and relaxing,” which is notable considering how stressful being hospitalized is. Improved emotional well-being and sleep were also mentioned by many patients and nurses, both of which are good indicators of stress reduction.

 

 

Anxiety:

Most studies done on massage and anxiety have focused on specific populations. One study found significant improvement in both state (long term) and trait (immediate) anxiety in children with cancer and blood diseases who received Swedish massage. Another measured the physiological responses to stress (blood pressure and pulse) in hospitalized children and found similar results. Cardiac care patients were the focus of another study. Again, massage was shown to be helpful at reducing anxiety. Still, larger and broader studies on the matter still need to be done.

 

Anxiety disorders:

There have been relatively few studies on massage therapy for anxiety disorders specifically, and those that have been done have been small and generally lacking good control groups. One randomized controlled trial found that massage therapy was significantly helpful for people with generalized anxiety disorder, but no more so than thermotherapy (relaxing with hot towels placed in different locations on the body) or being in a special relaxation room with no additional treatment. This study only measured improvement over multiple weeks, and not feelings of anxiety in the short term, before and after treatments. Because this study didn’t have a no-treatment control group, they weren’t able to state whether all three were equally effective or equally ineffective.

 

What does all this mean?

People regularly feel that massage helps reduce their stress and anxiety. There are also other techniques that seem to be helpful to varying degrees, depending on the situation and the person. This is helpful to know, because not everyone enjoys massage. For some, touch itself can be a source of stress and anxiety, so it’s helpful to know that there are other complementary therapies available that also create positive results.

 

Stress and anxiety are closely tied to pain, sleep, and other factors. Reducing pain reduces stress levels. Reducing stress levels can also reduce pain. Improving sleep can impact both pain and stress, and vice versa. Does massage therapy work primarily through either pain or stress reduction, or does it impact both equally? This is an area for further study.

 

Massage therapy is a fairly safe way to manage stress and anxiety. With relatively few drug interactions and a very low chance for injury, massage therapy can be helpful to a wide variety of people dealing with stress and anxiety in different situations. From the smallest infants to athletes to people in hospice, there are few who could not benefit from massage therapy.

 

There is a lot more to learn. While there is a lot of research on massage for pain, massage for anxiety (and especially massage for anxiety disorders) has less research to back it up. It will take time and money before a large body of knowledge has been built up.

 

If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, massage therapy is worth trying. The evidence is still rolling in, but what we have is promising. Are you ready to give it a try?