How Massage Can Help Calm the Nervous System and Relieve Anxiety

A chronic state of anxiety isn’t beneficial to anyone, triggering the sympathetic nervous system and causing a fight-or-flight response. Failure to address the issue can reduce your body’s natural balance and create muscle pains, severe headaches and exhaustion. 

Pressures and stressors of everyday life lead many to search for relief, with holistic approaches to stress management often including massage therapy. You might ask, how does massage help reduce anxiety? Gentle strokes and a tranquil environment promote relaxation and well-being, even supporting those with trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Here is a closer look at the relationship between massage and anxiety relief.

How Does Massage Help Reduce Anxiety?

Far and wide, cultures turn to massage because of its mood-boosting benefits. So, what makes this natural treatment effective in decreasing stress and tension? Here are four ways massage helps reduce anxiety.

  1. Reduces Cortisol

Your adrenal glands produce excess cortisol when you’re stressed. Although your body needs cortisol to regulate blood sugar and sleeping patterns, too much could cause weight gain, inflammation, muscle weakness and high blood pressure. 

Massage stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and soothes bodily aches, which slows cortisol release. According to one study on pre-term infants, massage significantly reduces their stress-induced cortisol levels, promotes growth and weight gain, and shortens their stay in the neonatal intensive care unit. 

  1. Promotes Relaxation

Different types of massage aid relaxation by decreasing muscle tension, slowing your heart rate and regulating your breath. It can alleviate anxiety in just about any stressful situation. For instance, you could be one of 15%–20% of people with dental anxiety, even going so far as to skip appointments altogether.

Researchers have explored the effects of massage on people with stress during dentist visits. So far, studies suggest an eye massager is most helpful, providing gentle stimulation and blocking the patient’s view of the procedure. Breathing exercises and audio and visual distractions may further enhance the eye massager’s effectiveness and encourage healing.

  1. Enhances Mindfulness

With every stroke your massage therapist makes, growing awareness of bodily sensations becomes easier. This physiological shift fosters mindfulness and concentration, especially with fewer worries, concerns and distractions flooding your brain.

You can also turn your massage session into a mindfulness practice by drawing your attention to touch, sound, lighting and smells — massage therapists often incorporate soothing essential oils. This is also an excellent time to listen to your body and pay attention to soreness. You can then address those locations with the massage therapist.

  1. Increases Connection

Sometimes, all you need is a back rub from your partner to alleviate stress. Your partner may not have the same skills and techniques as a professional massage therapist, but their touch should comfort you. 

A hug or hand-holding indicates social support in daily life. In massage therapy, physical connection helps reduce anxiety. If you trust your massage therapist, their approach becomes a positive interaction for eliminating fears and creating a sense of safety, which is especially important for those who have endured traumatic experiences or have PTSD.

PTSD and Massage

Sixty percent of men and 50% of women experience trauma one or more times in their lives. Often, chronic traumatic events leave an imprint on muscle memory, leading some people to develop PTSD. 

People with PTSD usually have muscle tension or pain due to experiencing harrowing flashbacks and emotions. Increased blood pressure, headaches and stomach aches are other common symptoms. As recent studies have shown, bodily manipulation is a practical intervention for relieving negative physical and emotional sensations. 

Military members and veterans can especially benefit from integrated massage and psychological care. Nearly 7% of veterans have PTSD, compared to 6% of civilians who also experience it during their lives. The condition is also more prevalent among female veterans than male veterans.

A 2021 study of a 31-year-old combat veteran with PTSD demonstrated the positive effects of massage on an injury. The participant found significant relief after seven 60-minute, full-body massages, including trigger point therapy and myofascial release. 

Seeing a certified trauma massage therapist is crucial if you are seeking treatment for PTSD. An expert professional is trauma-informed and can communicate clearly and adjust their client appropriately based on needs. Their unique understanding of trauma’s effect on the nervous system should empower you and make you feel safe within your body and treatment environment. 

Of course, massage is not a replacement for traditional PTSD and trauma therapies. Instead, it serves as a valuable complement to manage symptoms and improve overall well-being. 

Take Control of Your Anxiety With Self-Massage

You can book a massage appointment to deal with your anxiety and muscle aches, but what about the time between sessions? Keeping up with massage regularly is essential for keeping your stress and fears at bay. Myobuddy’s massage tools make caring for your mind and body at home more accessible than ever. Contact the team for answers if you want to know more about Myobuddy’s products or other resources. 

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