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Massage for Anxiety

Does a Massage for Anxiety Actually Help?

Question:

I’ve had trouble with anxiety for as long as I can remember, and was recently diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. I’ve tried a couple of different anti-anxiety medications that gave me some relief, but I’m not a fan of the side effects. A friend recommended I try massage therapy. I’ll admit I felt vaguely insulted. Sure, a massage is relaxing, but I have a serious medical problem. Can massage therapy really help with anxiety?

Answer:

Anxiety disorders certainly are serious medical problems, and you are not alone. More than 40 million Americans cope with anxiety disorders, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.[1] Massage has long been recommended to promote relaxation and reduce overall levels of anxiety.[2] Researchers have evaluated the effects of massage therapy treatment on anxiety levels in a number of different groups of people with a variety of different illnesses and anxiety triggers.[3]

Research shows that a 60-minute massage may decrease your cortisol by as much as 30 percent. This hormone is produced by your body in response to stress, and can increase your anxiety levels.[4] Massage also increases your body’s production of serotonin by a similar proportion. The calming effects of serotonin can help you more effectively manage your anxiety.[5]

One randomized controlled trial found a significant decrease in levels of anxiety among individuals specifically diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. Those individuals received massage therapy on a weekly basis over the course of 3 months.[6] The study participants were divided into groups, with each group receiving a different type of alternative treatment for anxiety. It’s important to note that at the end of the study, all groups had improved anxiety levels – not just the group that received massage therapy. So while massage therapy can help improve your anxiety levels, there are other alternative therapies, such as thermotherapy, that can be equally effective.[7]

Massage has some advantages over other types of treatment, though. You can order a massage therapist whenever it’s convenient for you, and they can come to your home. This helps you alleviate the stress of traveling to a separate location. You also have the option of rebooking with the same therapist if you find someone you like. This can be especially valuable if you find interacting with strangers increases your anxiety levels. You should also keep in mind that massage therapy won’t cure your anxiety over night, or with a single session. Follow a similar plan to study participants, and schedule weekly massages for several months. During that time (and after), it’s important to maintain any other anti-anxiety treatment or medication you’re currently using, as directed by your doctor. Consider massage therapy a supplement to traditional treatment, not a replacement.

References:

[1] American Massage Therapy Association: “Massage Therapy for Anxiety” https://www.amtamassage.org/approved_position_statements/Massage-Therapy-for-Anxiety.html

[2] Western Journal of Medicine: “Massage therapies” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1071543/

[3] American Massage Therapy Association: “Massage Therapy for Anxiety” https://www.amtamassage.org/approved_position_statements/Massage-Therapy-for-Anxiety.html

[4] Mayo Clinic Health System: “Can massage relieve symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress?” https://mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/can-massage-relieve-symptoms-of-depression-anxiety-and-stress

[5] Id.

[6] Depress Anxiety: “Effectiveness of Therapeutic Massage for Generalized Anxiety Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Trial” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2922919/

[7] Id.

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