Can Massages Help With Anxiety and Stress?

Massage Therapy
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Look, I am not at all into all of the “new age” methods of anxiety treatment.
I believe that having a faith in getting better and actually striving for results will do you a whole lot more than the law of attraction or acupuncture ever will.

As such, it should come as no surprise that I was more than a little skeptical when, after my failed acupuncture sessions, was advised to try our massages as a form of therapy.

“Therapeutic massages” the acupuncturist called them. HA!

Still, for the sake of trying it out, I did.
After all, I pride myself on providing personal accounts, and since I didn’t know anyone who ever tried this sort of thing, I had to try it out myself.

That being said, my tui na sessions were a failure, but maybe it was for a lack of faith?
After all, the placebo effect is a mighty one indeed, and it works both ways.

So really, what was I in for?

What is massage therapy?

By definition, massages are the rubbing of tissue, mostly for the sake of relieving tension and pain.

There are many different types of massages and techniques, with many of them being different from one another.

The custom dates back thousands of years, all the way back to ancient China and has appeared throughout many historical documentations and texts.
In many of them, it was described as a form of healing and multiple cultures have viewed it as a practice of healing.

It was first described in an ancient Chinese text called “The Yellow Emperor’s Classic Book of Internal Medicine” all the way back in around 300 BC, although many might disagree with that assessment.

Its incorporation into the west was relatively recent, with many texts, such as the original Chinese work, being translated only during the 20th century.

According to the National Health Interview Survey of 2012, about 6.9% of people in the U.S used massage therapy the past year.

How does massage therapy work?

Massage therapy wasn’t originally a method with great scientific backing to it.
Instead, it relied on speculation and faith, like many other types of ancient medicines and practices.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Sometimes this method got it wrong, and sometimes it didn’t.

Still, nowadays there is a much more obvious and clear cut approach to massage therapy.

Many experts view the reaction to getting a massage as twofold:

  • Mechanical Response – The physical response of the body to the massage
  • Relaxation Response – The response of the nervous system to the massage

According to what I’ve been led to believe, these two responses, when put together, have a variety of positive effects on both the body and the mind.

But what are these responses, really?

Types of massages

The mechanical response

According to data, the mechanical response of the body to massages is all about increasing the blood and lymph circulation as well as stretching/relaxing tissue.

This pretty much breaks into two categories as well:

Circulation

Massages are believed to improve blood and lymph circulation, something which goes a long way when treating anxiety and relieving stress.

Improved circulation can enhance the efficiency of blood flow, removing waste from the blood and increasing the amount of oxygen and nutrients it carries.

This very principle is what stands behind many other, more recognized, forms of stress relief such as breathing exercises and other relaxation techniques.

Stretching tissue

When one thinks about the term “massage” then this is what usually comes to mind.
The process of applying pressure to the tissue and stretching it comes into play here.

Heres the thing, when your muscles contract then they usually hurt.
The entire action of contraction is physically painful, as anyone who ever experienced muscle contraction will be able to tell you.

These contractions are caused when enough tension is generated within your muscles.
To understand the causes of this better here’s something to consider: When your muscles contract, they compress into a smaller area, applying pressure on your nerves.

And we all know how much that can hurt.

Supposedly, but applying pressure and stretching these muscles you can decrease tension around them.
After doing so, you relieve the pressure around the nerves, and by extension, get rid of any pain that you might be experiencing.

Not only that, but this relief allows your nerves to function much better.
This amounts to a greater level of functioning of the muscles.

This is actually very important, there is a very clear-cut relation between lingering pain and anxiety.
Plus, pain is a stressor, and getting rid of any pain that you might be experiencing will help you to relax and feel less stressed.

The relaxation response

The very notion of getting a massage means that you wish to relax.
As such, it is reasonable to assume that this feeling of relaxation is natural.
And it is.

It was Dr. Herbert Benson, the founder of Harvard’s Mind/Body Medical Institute, that first coined the term.
The relaxation response is an automatic response of the body to the effects of a variety of relaxation-based practices such as meditation and massage.

It can be viewed as the opposite of the “fight or flight” response, with that response being the major cause for anxiety.

As such, relaxation is the opposite of stress and anxiety. Makes sense.
As such, the effects of relaxation on the body are also the polar opposite than those of anxiety and stress.

By allowing yourself to relax you make your heartbeat and breathing slower, decrease blood pressure and lower the production rate of stress-related hormones.

This actually works far better than you might think.
Not only do massages prevent the negative effects of anxiety and stress, on the mind, they also regulate mood in general.

You see, serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is thought to be related to anxiety, depression, and happiness.
Lower levels of it are associated with depression and anxiety.
In fact, many antidepressants are made with that idea in mind (SSRI antidepressants).

And as it turns out, studies suggest that massage therapy decreases cortisol (stress hormone) by 31% and increases the levels of serotonin by 28% on average.

As a side note, it is noted that massage therapy can improve the quality of your sleep.
The quality of your sleep has direct relation to your feelings of anxiety and stress, so massages definetly contribute in that sense of the word.

As far as theoretical data goes, massages make a solid case for themselves.

But do they actually work?

Do therapeutic massages for anxiety relief actually work?

The effects of massage therapy on both the body and the mind are reasonably explained and proven through fair studies, but that doesn’t really answer the question.

Do messages help you with anxiety or depression, or do people just “believe” that they do?

A 2016 study gathered 47 participants who suffer from a Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and were left untreated.
They then split them into two different groups and had each of them go through weekly sessions of massage therapy, with each group experiencing a different form of massage therapy.

It was then noted that not all forms of massage therapy are born equal
Swedish massage therapy, the practice of applying force during a massage and affecting deep tissue, is very much helpful in relieving anxiety.

On the other hand, “light touch therapy”, the practice of releasing energies from the body through touch, has shown to be ineffective.

Although there is some solid data to suggest that massaging is a reasonable form of therapy, there are many skeptics among the scientific community.

The field is largely unresearched, and although many experts would swear by the effectiveness of massages, many others would disregard it as a legitimate form of healing altogether.

pressure based massage therapy

Just try them out!

When I tried out Tui na, the firm and strong version, my successes with it proved to be quite limited.
I’ve decided to try out a different variation of massaging at the recommendation of my doctor, but thus far the results are not really where I want them to be.

Yet for every case such as mine, there is at least one another person genuinely gets a great deal of value from massage therapy.
Are they wrong, or am I? Neither of us are.

Some people benefit from massage therapy, and some don’t.
On average, it is shown to be very effective and there is very little resistance to trying it out for yourself.

Massages are accessible for most people, and weekly sessions can go far for your mental health.
The benefits are large and the risks are kept to a minimum, assuming that you are being handled by a professional.

Anywho, here’s a question before you go: Have you ever gotten a massage before?
I’m not talking about a massage from a family member or a friend but an actual massage from a liscensed professional.

Be sure to write your answers in the comment section below!
If you got any questions that you would like to get answered then please feel free to email me!

Email: VladOsipkov41@projectconquest.com

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2 Replies to “Can Massages Help With Anxiety and Stress?”

  1. Marco San Juan says: Reply

    Yes, I have gotten massages before and to me, it does help relieve stress and anxiety. I’m one of those who it is beneficial for.

    These are the kinds of massages I’ve gotten:
    1) Massages from Spas / Hotels: I got these to relieve stress and anxiety and usually try to get one or two whenever I’m on vacation. I enjoy these A LOT but I just find them way too pricey from spas or hotels.

    2) Sports Massages from a Registered Massage Therapist: When my body was in-pain, I went to a massage therapist. This was not for anxiety though, and this massage was painful to some extent. But at the end, my body feel better.

    Oh, do you count scalp massages? I love these!

    I agree with you that massages are good. Of course I wouldn’t do them and I would only go with professionals.

    1. Heya Marco, 

      I am glad to hear that! Massages can certainly help with both the body and the mind, and yes, they should only be performed by professionals.

      After all, the average person knows little about the technique that is used.

      Cheers,
      Vlad

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