By: Angela Cortright
You don’t need a medical journal to know that stress can be a killer. When under stress, you feel the tightness in your chest, you have sleepless nights and anxiety, and those stresses are really bad for your body.
Stress is linked to many diseases, including heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, type-2 diabetes and certain cancers. Stress at work, at home, and in relationships can have a cumulative effect that can be deadly. Chronic stress disrupts virtually every system in your body, and long term-stress can rewire your brain, making you more susceptible to anxiety and depression, creating a vicious cycle that is hard to break. These days, it’s hard to avoid stress. Read the headlines, drive in traffic, keep all the balls in the air, and you can be instantly stressed out.
So, how can you de-stress and combat the side effects of stress? The answer is balanced relaxation. Some suggestions include: take a walk, exercise, write in a journal, enjoy a hobby, take a bath, breathe deeply, practice positive and peaceful affirmations, get a massage. Massage is one of the most effective stress relievers and healing therapies around.
Massage relieves stress: Organizations such as the prestigious Mayo Clinic and the Touch Institute have been studying the effect of massage on people under stress and the results are encouraging. The Touch Institute in Florida and the University of Miami recently conducted a study of adults who suffered from high anxiety. Results showed that those who received massage had significantly lower stress levels than those who did not. The studies looked at levels of the stress hormone cortisol in participants before and right after massage — finding that the therapy lowered cortisol levels by 47%. Massage also increased serotonin by 36% to 60%, and dopamine by 26% to 59%. Serotonin and dopamine are neurotransmitters that promote improved mood. 1
Massage lowers blood pressure: Stress and High Blood Pressure often go hand in hand – a deadly combination! Sufferers of high blood pressure were given treatments of massage or self-administered relaxation exercises. Results showed that while both groups had lower anxiety levels (STAI) and lower levels of depression (CES-D), only the massage therapy group showed decreases in sitting diastolic and systolic blood pressure; decreases in salivary and urinary cortisol stress-hormone levels; and lower scores for depression, anxiety and hostility. 2
Massage cures anxiety: In one massage therapy study, decreases in levels of anxiety were compared between a group of adults who received chair massage and another group who were simply asked to sit in the massage chair for 15 minutes. The study revealed that only those who received the chair massage had lower levels of anxiety and an increase in mental alertness following the massage. 3
Another study showed that massage therapy decreased the anxiety, depression and stress hormone levels of children who survived Hurricane Andrew. 4
Massage and cancer: Massage and especially aromatherapy massage has proven benefits to improve the healing and comfort of cancer patients. In one study, a group of hospice patients that received aromatherapy massage showed marked decrease in pain and depression than their counterparts who did not.5 Likewise, in a study of women with breast cancer “In summary, the self-reports of reduced stress, anxiety, anger/hostility, and improved mood, and the corroborating findings of increased dopamine and serotonin levels and increased NK cell number (the primary outcome measure) and lymphocytes suggest that massage therapy has positive applications for breast cancer survivors.” 6 Another study out of the University of Miami, published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research in 2004, showed similar findings in a study involving 34 breast-cancer patients who were randomly assigned to receive massage or to a control group. Those who had 30-minute massages three times a week were 46% less depressed, 25% less anxious and 50% less angry than those in the control group. In a study published in a 2004 issue of the Journal of Pain & Symptom Management, researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center surveyed 1,290 cancer patients before and after receiving massage. They asked patients to rate their levels of pain, anxiety, nausea, depression and fatigue, and found that reported symptoms were reduced by half after treatment and that they stayed low for a couple of days afterward.
Increase the Benefits with Frequent Massage:
Occasional massage is good, but too often too little too late. Getting regular massage can make a marked improvement in your health and vitality. Budgeting time and money for bodywork at consistent intervals is truly an investment in your health. And remember: just because massage feels like a pampering treat doesn’t mean it is any less therapeutic. Consider massage appointments a necessary piece of your health and wellness plan, and work with your practitioner to establish a treatment schedule that best meets your needs.
1 – International journal of Neuroscience, October 2005, Field et.al, University of Miami/Touch Institute.
2 – Touch Research Institute. Originally reported in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, January 2000, Vol. 4, No. 1.
3 – Field et al, 1996
4 – Field et al, 1996
5 -Chang SY. Department of Nursing, Keimyung University, Jung-gu, Daegu, Korea. firstname.lastname@example.org
6- Originally published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research. Source: The Touch Research Institutes, Department of Pediatrics, Hematology/Oncology Clinics, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and Department of Medicine at the University of Miami School of Medicine. Authors: Maria Hernandez-Reif, Ph.D., Gail Ironson, M.D., Tiffany Field, Ph.D., Judith Hurley, M.D., Galia Katz, Miguel Diego, Sharlene Weiss, Ph.D., Mary Ann Fletcher, Ph.D., Saul Schanberg, M.D., Ph.D., and Cynthia Kuhn, Ph.D.