Improved mood and quality of life, stress relief, and healing from trauma are just a few of the many benefits of massage therapy.
Massage can provide stress relief for just about anyone, from preterm babies to the elderly. Yet the benefits of massage go beyond stress relief. Moderate-pressure massage for as little as 15 minutes may offer relief from depression, anger, and anxiety.
“It’s never fun to let stress bring you to your breaking point! Just as we take our cars in for regular tune-ups, we too need maintenance,” says massage therapist Kristen Sykora, LMT, owner of Harmony Healthcare Associates and Hands Down Physical Arts, Inc. in Wantagh, NY. “Massage therapy decreases the amount of stress in the body by [relaxing] muscles, flushing out the waste products from the muscles, and increasing the ‘feel-good’ hormones.”
Massage Therapy and Stress Relief: Emotional Health Benefits
If you’ve been in the hands of a good massage therapist, you already know how your body responds with stress relief. But the physiological response goes deeper than blissful relaxation.
“Massage therapy can improve a person’s emotional health by reducing stress and stress hormones; by increasing serotonin and thereby reducing depression and pain; and by enhancing immune function and thereby reducing bacterial and viral illnesses,” explains Tiffany Field, PhD, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine in Miami, Fla.
Field’s research team has shown that massage relieves stress for preterm infants in the neonatal intensive care unit. Three 15-minute full-body massages each day for five days lead to a significant reduction in stress-related behaviors in this vulnerable population. Massage has also been shown to help preterm babies gain weight faster.
Research has also shown that:
- Six 30-minute massages over a two-week period can ease pain and improve mood among people with advanced cancer.
- Massage can help reduce depression in both children and pregnant women. As little as 15 minutes of massage on a regular basis may be beneficial to mood.
- Massage therapy is helpful for trauma victims. “Aside from physical pain, victims of trauma, past or present, will often hold memories of such events in their muscle tissues. By receiving massage from a trained professional, one can get back in touch with their body and be able to access the held emotions,” says Sykora.
Massage is not just a way to gain stress relief — you can reduce many of the other unpleasant emotions in your life as well. “Many studies show that massage therapy reduces negative mood states like depression, anxiety, and anger and their associated stress hormones,” says Field.
Massage Therapy and Stress Relief: Finding a Massage Therapist
Most massage therapists can provide the kind of massage you will need to help with depression, anger, anxiety, and stress relief. “Moderate pressure is the key factor for massage therapy to be effective. Any type of massage therapist who uses moderate pressure should be able to help with mood management,” says Field.
You can find a licensed massage therapist near you at the American Massage Therapy Association Web site.
“We often go through our day without any recognition of how our bodies are responding to the stress we experience,” says Sykora, who advises regular massage sessions as well as a meditation practice for optimal stress management. “Massage treatments give us a time-out in order for us to access the deeper layers of our well-being, allowing the therapist to unwind the holding patterns in our tissues.”
So don’t be afraid to indulge in a massage every now and then — it’s good for your emotional well-being and your physical health.