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  • Monika Getty

Massage Therapy for Anxiety

Having occasional anxiety is a normal part of life; it's your body's natural response to stress. Giving a speech, going to a job interview, the first day of school can cause most people to feel fearful or nervous. However, if your feelings of anxiety are intense or extreme, are persistent and interfere with your daily life, you may have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorder is one of the most common emotional disorders and can affect anyone of any age. The feelings can be intense and debilitating, difficult to control, are out of proportion to the actual danger faced and may be long lasting. You may avoid places or situations to prevent these feelings, possibly causing you to stop doing things you enjoy. Anxiety disorders can include separation anxiety (fear of being away from home or loved ones), social anxiety (fear of social situations due to self-consciousness or embarrassment, or being negatively judged by others), panic disorders (intense fear that can reach a peak within minutes), specific phobias (major anxiety when you're exposed to a specific situation or object), post traumatic stress disorder (anxiety following a traumatic event), generalized anxiety disorder (persistent and excessive worry about activities or events), illness anxiety disorder (anxiety about your health) and other specific or non-specific anxieties which are distressing and disruptive.

Symptoms of anxiety can include shortness of breath, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, restlessness, sweating, feeling weak or tired, trouble concentrating or sleeping, trembling, experiencing gastrointestinal problems, etc. You should see your doctor or health care professional if your anxiety is hard to control, is interfering in your daily life, if you are feeling depressed or are using drugs or alcohol to cope. Medical treatment isn't necessary for some people; lifestyle changes may be enough to cope with the symptoms. In moderate or more severe cases, treatment may help you overcome your anxiety and live a more normal life.

Massage Therapy is widely used throughout the world to evoke feelings of deep relaxation and reduced anxiety, as well as helping to relieve pain and muscle tension. A study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience showed that Massage Therapy decreases cortisol levels (a stress hormone) and increases the levels of both serotonin and dopamine (neurotransmitters associated with mood stabilization and feeling good). Another study from the University of Sweden showed that hands on massage therapy can reduce anxiety in post-operative patients as well as reducing stress in healthy persons. Part of this study involved scanning the participants' brains with a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine. The massage treatment activated a region called the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex; this part of the brain is linked to sensations of happiness and enjoyment. The study showed that tactile massage decreases anxiety and reduces the stress response by a decreased activation of the sympathetic nervous system (your fight or flight response).

In The Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, a study indicated that Massage Therapy reduced blood pressure (along with associated symptoms of anxiety, hostility, stress and depression). Another study on patients undergoing bone marrow transplantation showed that those that received Massage Therapy had significantly reduced stress, fatigue, anxiety, nausea and distress. Massage Therapy has also been shown to reduce pulse rate, diastolic and systolic blood pressure, anxiety levels, as well as significantly reducing epinephrine and norepinephrine levels (hormones part of your fight or flight stress response). More research show that Massage Therapy can reduce anxiety in children, adults and the elderly, in those with chronic pain, cancer patients, those suffering from various health conditions, increasing neurotransmitters associated with lowering anxiety and decreasing levels of hormones associated with increased anxiety.

Massage Therapy has been used for hundreds of years to help those suffering from anxiety, pain and other conditions. Regular massage can effectively reduce anxiety, improve emotional resilience and enhance feelings of general well-being. While not a cure, consistent massage therapy treatments by a Registered Massage Therapist can help to reduce your anxiety and help you take charge of your mental and physical health.

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