Fear and anxiety are part of life.
You may feel anxious before you take a test or walk down a dark street. This kind of anxiety is useful – it can make you more alert or careful.
It usually ends soon after you are out of the situation that caused it. But for many of us the anxiety does not go away, and gets worse over time. Causing chest pains or nightmares or may even make us afraid to leave the home. This leads to anxiety disorders such as obsessive-compulsive behaviour, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Managing Anxiety and Depression
The healthiest and most effective people are not those who avoid anxious situations but those who manage and respond successfully to it. Therapeutic massage is a remarkable tool for helping to manage both anxiety and depression. A deeply relaxing massage can give you both a welcome break to reset your mind and help you to feel better, mentally and physically. Over time regular massage can help you develop a healthy and productive response to life’s many situations.
When you react to an anxious situation, your body really has just one response: fight or flee. It activates/triggers the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol, tensing muscles ready for action, increasing heart rate and blood pressure and putting digestion and other maintenance functions on hold.
Unfortunately, fighting or running is rarely a useful response to modern difficulties, such as moving home, relationship upheavals or job changes. In addition, todays anxieties are often ambiguous and ongoing, for example money worries or interpersonal conflicts. This means your mind does not receive a clear signal that it is safe to lower your hormone levels, relax and recuperate even when events have past.
Worry and physical tension can also interfere with good sleep patterns, leaving you exhausted with little energy or mental focus to cope with these situations. Levels of hormones can become so high little is needed to trigger a reaction, not only actual events, but to anticipated events and memories.
What the Research Shows
A review of more than a dozen massage studies conducted in the US, concluded that massage therapy relieves anxiety and depression by affecting the body’s biochemistry.
In a series of studies including about 500 men, women, and children with depression or stress problems, researchers measured the stress hormone cortisol in participants before and immediately after massage and found that the therapy lowered levels by up to 53%. Cortisol can drive up blood pressure and blood sugar levels and suppress the immune system.
Massage also increased serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters that help reduce depression.
These studies show that massage triggers the relaxation response, taking your body off alert and setting in motion the biological processes needed to restore your resources and reverse the physical responses of “fight or flee”. With a calming touch, massage sends your nervous system the signal that it is okay to take a break, allowing your mind and body to relax and unwind.
Massage can teach you to relax and increase your ability to cope with a calmer state of mind in the face of anxiety and depression. Along with a renewed sense of optimism which can last for days after your treatment.
Just knowing there is something you can do to take care of yourself can help you to feel less at the mercy of external events.