In today’s society, anxiety seems almost a normal way of life. In fact, over 40 million adult Americans suffer from anxiety disorders, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). However, only 37 percent of them receive treatment. Ironically, treatment is not widely sought scarce for anxiety, despite the fact that anxiety can interfere with everyday life. In its more severe forms, anxiety can be debilitating, resulting in the inability to function.
Anxiety, coupled with depression, can render people more vulnerable to illness. It not only can affect social functioning, but can increase other risks as well. Anxiety has been shown to be an underlying reason for job instability, and in the most severe cases, this disorder can even directly or indirectly be a cause of death.
Although anyone can develop anxiety, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) there are a few identified risk factors, including a history of anxiety or depression. Commonly, life events or stress can be a trigger.
Some people will experience mental symptoms of anxiety, and some will have physical symptoms. However, most people will have a combination of the two. Some signs of anxiety include:
- Excessive worry
- Poor concentration
There are a wide variety of types of anxiety. These include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Panic disorder
- Social anxiety disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
The Role of Massage Therapy in Treating Anxiety
The American Massage Therapy Association promotes massage for reducing anxiety as well as depression. Unlike other treatments for anxiety, such as medications, massage therapy has been found to be safe and has few if any risks and potential side effects when used appropriately and administered by trained massage professionals.
When other therapies for anxiety disorders are indicated, massage may be useful in conjunction with these measures. Common treatments include medication and psychotherapy, typically cognitive behavioral therapy.
Past research conducted by the University of Miami School of Medicine’s Touch Research Institute on the use of massage to manage mental health conditions showed an improvement in mood and behavior among hospitalized depressed adolescents. A number of more recent studies have documented the positive impact of massage therapy on both anxiety and depression.
The Touch Research Institute has also concluded that massage therapy serves to relieve both anxiety and depression by acting on the body’s biochemistry. A series of studies were conducted with approximately 500 men, women and children suffering from stress and depression. Researchers measured cortisol levels both before and immediately following massage. Cortisol is a stress hormone that, when overstimulated, can have negative effects on health, from elevated blood pressure and blood sugar levels to a variety of other conditions. The researchers found that massage therapy lowered cortisol levels by up to 53 percent. In addition, massage increased the “feel-good” neurotransmitters, serotonin and dopamine, which are hormones that help reduce anxiety and depression.
Significantly, an important study published in 2016 in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry specifically found that massage successfully treats symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). GAD is a common disorder that affects an estimated seven million Americans and can result in many costly treatments.
Potential Benefits of Massage Therapy for Anxiety
Potential benefits of massage therapy for anxiety include alleviating typical symptoms. This results in:
- Reducing muscle tension
- Reducing muscle pain
- Reducing stress
- Improving sleep disturbances and insomnia
- Improving relaxation
- Improving emotional well-being
- Improving concentration
Research has also shown there are many patient groups who gain benefits from massage. Specific findings relevant to anxiety include but are not limited to patients suffering from:
- Psychiatric disorders–Massage has been utilized for patients with a variety of psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder
- Chronic pain–Massage has shown to be helpful for chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia and arthritis
- Cancer–Massage therapy received during chemotherapy can significantly reduce anxiety and acute fatigue
- GAD–Physical symptoms associated with GAD include those directly addressed by massage, such as muscle aches/tension; massage also promotes relaxation and stress reduction
- Pre- and post-surgery anxiety–Massage relieves the stress associated with surgery and is also believed to bolster and stimulate the immune system, thus helping the healing process
At Spinal Rehabilitation and Wellness Center, we are your massage therapy experts. This includes customizing treatment for a wide variety of goals, including relieving anxiety. For more information on treatment or to schedule an appointment, contact us today.