How massage helps improve anxiety symptoms

Anxiety disorders are fairly common in the UK. According to Mental Health UK at any one time 1 in 10 of us are living with some form of anxiety disorder.  While some people may experience mild symptoms, others experience anxiety symptoms that prevent them from living a normal life.  There are a wide range of mental and physical symptoms that may be experienced, anxiety is different for everyone.

What is anxiety?

According to Anxiety UK:

“Anxiety can make a person imagine that things in their life are worse than they really are, and prevent them from confronting their fears. Often they will think they are going mad, or that some psychological imbalance is at the heart of their woes. What is important is the recognition that anxiety is normal and exists due to a set of bodily functions that have existed in us from our cave-man days.”

What would have been an essential response to a physical danger or threat in our ancestors has become an inappropriate response to everyday problems.  Most situations we experience in modern life don’t require our bodies to go into an “emergency” state because they don’t present a threat to our survival.

Managing anxiety

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Since anxiety is actually a natural response, we need to understand and manage it rather than try to eliminate it.  There are many strategies and treatments for doing this and what is most effective depends on the individual.

As with most health issues, good lifestyle habits help.  This includes:

  • A healthy diet
  • Enough exercise
  • Time spent outdoors
  • Adequate sleep (although it may be difficult for people suffering from anxiety to sleep)

If an anxiety condition is diagnosed, various treatments are available.  There are medications for anxiety, but these lessen the symptoms rather than solving the problem.  Counselling therapies that facilitate understanding and management of anxiety are a more effective long term solution.  Other practices such as relaxation techniques and mindfulness are also helpful.

How massage can help with anxiety

Although complimentary therapies are rarely recommended by the NHS, various therapies can help improve anxiety symptoms.  Massage is known to be soothing and relaxing, but how exactly does it help?

The “relaxation response”

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When we are stressed or anxious, our sympathetic nervous system is activated.  This produces various changes that prepare us to face danger – the so-called “fight or flight” response. The touch, warmth and pressure of massage activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which has the reverse effect and takes the body out of stress mode.

Easing of tension and pain

Anxiety and tension can be a vicious circle.  When we’re anxious, we tense our muscles – especially in the upper back and shoulders.  This causes discomfort and pain, which makes us even more anxious. Manipulation of the muscles in a massage therapy session reduces tension and allows the muscles to relax.

Release of hormones and neurotransmitters that make us feel good

As well as stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, massage also stimulates release of a range of “feel good” chemicals:

Endorphins:  hormones released to reduce stress and pain.  They give feelings of happiness and wellbeing.

Serotonin: also gives feelings of happiness and wellbeing.  In addition, it plays a role in healthy sleep patterns and decreases levels of cortisol. (Cortisol is a hormone that is part of the “fight or flight” response.)

Dopamine: a neurotransmitter that acts on the pleasure and reward centre of the brain

Oxytocin: a hormone and neurotransmitter that relieves stress, anxiety and depression

So massage can help in a number of ways.  However, it’s important that the massage is at the right pressure.  A massage that is too deep may be uncomfortable and cause an anxious person to feel even more anxious.  On the other hand, a massage that is too gentle won’t be as effective in stimulating the chemical responses or releasing muscle tension.

Book a relaxing massage to reduce your anxiety

If you would like to book a massage therapy session to help with your anxiety, then please contact me using any of the details below:

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