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Is a massage good for anxiety?

Anxiety, the most common mental health condition in the country with over 2 million Australians experiencing this every year. Most of us have experienced moments of anxiety from time to time but those with GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder) find themselves feeling anxious for more days than they don’t. According to Lifeline, anxiety is “the excessive, uncontrollable and often irrational anticipation of future threats”. It can be incredibly debilitating and in extreme cases have long term detrimental effects on the ability to work, interact with family and maintain relationships.



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The symptoms of anxiety may include:


  • body tension

  • restlessness,

  • excessive worry or fear,

  • panic attacks,

  • increased heart and breathing rates,

  • catastrophising and avoidance.



Because of the variety of signs and symptoms anxiety can be difficult to treat with many understandably opting for prescribed medication that almost always comes with a list of side effects.


A 2011 study found that regular massage with thermotherapy or relaxing room therapy can be an effective tool in alleviating the symptoms of anxiety.  The 68 trial participants with GAD were at random given 10 treatments during a 12-week period. Researchers discovered that all individuals had improved their anxiety by the end of the 12-week program, as evidenced by changes in their Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HARS). Interestingly, at the 26-week follow-up phase, the researchers also discovered that individuals' HARS ratings remained to decline long after the therapy was over.


As a massage therapist I have seen first hand with my clients just how much regular treatments have supported them with not only their muscular tension but their anxiety symptoms too. Here is just what one client has to say… “Once my partner started having treatments with Linda you see how relaxed and clear his mind was. It’s as if she helped him move things out of his body and his mood and personality became clearer and kinder. Linda helped my partner feel better within himself, and have a clearer mind”


Why does massage help anxiety?

Massage relieves anxiety symptoms by lowering the body's cortisol levels. The stress hormone produced by the body, cortisol, is frequently linked to elevated levels of anxiety, sadness, and stress. More cortisol is released when our bodies are stressed and in pain.

The parasympathetic nervous system can be strengthened and a true balance can be restored by stimulating it with massage therapy. Stronger parasympathetic nervous system function makes it easier for us to feel at ease and tranquil, which lowers our stress and anxiety levels.


Choosing a massage therapist

If you feel that massage may be what you need to support you with the anxiety you experience it is important that you find a massage therapist you feel comfortable with. Trust and safety is foundational to selecting a massage therapist that will provide a judgement free environment to ensure that you can maximise your treatment to its full potential. Its important to understand that a massage therapist is not a counsellor or psychologist and can not provide advice in this manner. A massage therapist's role is to provide your body with the support it needs and provide a calming environment for you to allow inner reflection. However, most qualified massage therapists are very open to their clients using the them as a sounding board to get things "off their chest" so to speak but it is still not their role to provide psychological advice. If you are looking for massage to assist with treating anxiety specifically, it is perfectly acceptable to have this conversation with your potential massage therapist for you to get a sense of if this person will offer that feeling of safety, and trust. Once this is established the treatment there after is much more effective as you are able to more openly surrender to the process of inner stillness and allowing the tension in your body to dissolve.



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