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Massage and Anxiety

Massage and anxiety

Anxiety is a term that encompasses several feelings including fear, worry and unease. We all feel anxious at certain times, for example, before an exam, before a job interview, or when a loved one is sick, and these feelings are quite normal. However, a surgeon general’s report on mental health has revealed that 16% of adults between 18 and 54 suffer from various anxiety disorders for at least one year, and is 60% more likely to impact women than men, meaning that anxiety is now effecting our long-term health.

Research has also demonstrated that anxiety disorders affect the cardiovascular, respiratory and digestive systems, interrupt sleep and cause muscle and body pain. People who suffer with General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) are often concerned about their health, money, family or their job. They can experience negative and fearful thoughts, as well as physical symptoms such as muscle tension/aches, fatigue, headaches, twitching, irritability, sweating, nausea, light-headedness, and shortness of breath.

If you are finding it difficult to control your feelings of anxiety, you feel restless, have trouble sleeping, or concentrating, and find it hard to relax at home, then the good news is there are some holistic therapies that can provide relief, including massage therapy.

What causes anxiety?

Some anxiety is normal and essential for our survival. The human body is designed to respond to danger, such as an attack from a wild animal. The body releases chemicals into the blood stream to prepare the body to fight, run or freeze, and this also suppresses our immune system and increases our sugar levels.

However, in modern society, even though we are safer than ever, today’s perceived problems and modern stressful lifestyles keep the stress hormones flooding our systems, leading to headaches, digestive problems, and insomnia.

Pain is also extremely common and can be both the cause and consequence of anxiety

How massage can help you

One way to overcome these symptoms is massage therapy, which can be effective in reducing stress and anxiety. If you tend to carry tension in your shoulders, back and neck, then massage can target these areas, and studies have shown that massage increases your body’s levels of oxytocin and serotonin, which results in lowered stress.

When your body is relaxed, your nervous system responds with a lowered heart rate, and sleep becomes easier as you are no longer wired to run at a moment’s notice. In fact, massage was shown to alleviate pain and anxiety in hospitalised cancer patients.

Massage can help to release impurities from the body by helping to break down built up toxins and waste in the muscles, and often has a very calming effect on anxious patients. It can help to soothe and relax away those aches and pains, but bear in mind that it takes time to work, and the persistent aches and pains will require several sessions, so don’t expect immediate results!

Stress reduction techniques

Let’s consider some of the keys ways in which massage can help to reduce stress and therefore anxiety.

Focus on Breathing

Anxiety relief can be found by sitting and focussing on deep breathing exercises for mindfulness or meditation, but in reality, many people don’t have the time, patience or the peace and quiet required to be successful with this exercise. However, if you have book a massage you can use this time to focus on the breath in a tranquil environment, whilst simultaneously enjoying the benefits of a relaxing massage and the beautiful soft music.

Calming music

Talking of the music, generally, the gentle music played can help the body to relax. It can send messages to the brain to slow the heart rate to around 60 bpm, creating a calmer mind and body.

Calming environment

If you can go to a massage therapist who creates a calm and tranquil atmosphere in their treatment room, you can ensure you get a break from the noise, activity and external stimuli that often create high levels of stress and anxiety. This regular break from the norm can have a significant effect in reducing anxiety levels.

Human Touch

The mind-body connection is a strong and powerful one, and as human beings we all respond to connection of some kind. Anxiety disorders often lead to feelings of isolation, and in this state, you typically receive less contact and human interaction, which makes symptoms worse.

Physical therapies such as massage can therefore be extremely therapeutic. As the skin, the largest organ of the body, is connected to the nervous system, the touch of massage therapy can have a very relaxing and calming effect on the nervous system.


Yes, a massage is a type of meditation that you didn’t even realise you were doing! When you hold tension in areas such as the shoulders, the brain will focus on this area and how it feels as the muscles are worked and the tension is released. Any thoughts of work, home or money worries disappear as the brain cannot focus on both things at the same time, and the feelings created by the massage override any negative thoughts. This is the equivalent of sitting and focusing on the breath or trying to clear the mind in meditation.

Final thoughts

If you are feeling anxious about having a massage, think about trying Reflexology instead. This treatment is carried out on your feet, so there is no need to get undressed. Reflex points on the feet are massaged to bring balance and restore energy to the rest of your body, and the endocrine system is worked to balance out those pesky stress hormones.

Reflexology has been proven to be a highly effective therapy during many clinical trials and has been around for thousands of years, so you are in safe hands.

Once your massage or Reflexology session has finished, make sure you take time to relax, rest and rehydrate to get maximum benefit. You could even try a warm bath, and focus on getting a great night’s sleep.

If you are interested in other holistic therapies that might help your anxiety, then you may want to research Reiki, meditation, yoga and hypnotherapy.

Breath in Relaxation, Breath out Tension

Sharon Cole

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