Anxiety is becoming more and more common place. In 2012, according to Statistics Canada, approximately 2.8 million, or 10.1% of Canadians aged 15 or older reported having symptoms consistent with 6 mental or substance abuse disorders. Though we may not individually identify as having a mental illness, diagnosis can be elusive and symptoms vary a great deal. The stigma associated with these illnesses often leads to us hiding our condition, no matter how “slight.” However the truth remains that we all experience stress to a certain degree. In our fast paced culture of media, computers, internet streaming and text messaging, it is harder than ever to un-plug and relax. Caught in a hamster wheel of information and ideas.
There are many options for dealing with a wound up mind and body, massage therapy is one of them. MT stimulates the endocrine system to release endorphins creating a cascade of “feel good” hormones. Anxiety can be divided into two general classes: state anxiety and trait anxiety. State anxiety is a temporary reaction to a stressful situation. Trait anxiety is an ongoing, chronic state of anxiety. There are many specific anxiety disorders, such as panic attack disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety disorder, etc. Massage therapy has been shown to have at least mild benefit for both state and trait anxiety, and even a single session of massage may help to alleviate the symptoms of state anxiety. However, a series of massage sessions has been found to offer the most benefit and seems to be particularly helpful for trait anxiety disorders.
“Researchers at the University of Miami followed 37 breast cancer patients who received massage therapy or practiced progressive muscle relaxation for five weeks. Women in the massage group reported feeling less depressed and angry, and they had more energy. In a University of South Florida study of high blood pressure patients, those who got 10-minute massages three times a week for three weeks lowered their higher number by 11 points.
“A review of more than a dozen massage studies conducted by the Touch Research Institute of the University of Miami School of Medicine concludes that massage therapy relieves depression and anxiety by affecting the body’s biochemistry. In a series of studies including about 500 men, women and children with depression or stress problems, researchers measured the stress hormone cortisol in participants before and immediately after massage and found that the therapy lowered levels by up to 53%. (Cortisol can drive up blood pressure and blood sugar levels and suppress the immune system.) Massage also increased serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters that help reduce depression.
Massage therapy manually flushes toxins, such as lactic acid, out of your muscles and tissues so that they can be properly eliminated, freeing your body’s movement and giving a greater sense of ease. Often sore, nagging muscles lead to a disassociation from the pain we experience and therefore a subdued awareness of ourselves. Taking the time to release the stress of a long week or day, rebuilds our relationship to our physical body, thus allowing the possibility of knowing our personal limits of physical or mental endurance.
Beyond that, massage therapy can greatly increase our self awareness and understanding of the sensations we experience physically. This allows us to be more pro-active in self care and can also serve as a relief, for example; to know that that pain in our arm is not an impending heart attack but simply a shortened muscle going into spasm.
Massage therapy can also benefit our sleep habits. Waking up on the wrong side of the bed is never an ideal way to start the day, and often we spend days or longer trying to catch up. “Studies show that 40-60% of people experiencing insomnia show signs of depression.”
Massage has long been known to enhance relaxation and improve sleep patterns. While massage alone is an effective method for relaxation, studies suggest that massage with essential oils (called aromatherapy), particularly lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), may result in improved sleep quality, more stable mood, increased mental capacity, and reduced anxiety. Clinical studies have found participants who received massage with lavender felt less anxious and more positive than participants who received massage alone.
Breaking the cycle with a relaxing massage would allow you to get back to your life with renewed energy. It is a safe place to let go of the stress you have been carrying around. More studies are proving all the time that massage therapy is an effective, adjunctive treatment for relieving symptoms of anxiety and depression, no matter how “mild”. Even if it’s only the hour you spend on a massage table, you deserve to dis-connect from the bustling world outside of yourself and go inward, to a place of calm.