Stress, anxiety & depression: How massage can help

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October 10th saw the annual World Mental Health Day, something close to my heart both on a personal level and as a massage therapist, a treatment provider.

This blog concentrates on stress, anxiety and depression. These are words we hear almost daily, a turn of phrase often used to describe feeling harassed or busy. Sometimes however, this turns into something more than just a saying and develops into a worrying time for the sufferer.

Data from Mind, the mental health charity, shows 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. The severity can vary, from a short period of stress through to debilitating, life changing disorders but statistics show most of us will experience some sort of mental health issue in our lifetime. Treatment options vary, some may choose medication, others ‘talking therapies’ and many will do nothing, seeing it as a temporary condition that will be overcome with time.

It is well known that certain activities can help treat stress, anxiety and mild depression, diet and exercise being two key ones. One treatment that is often overlooked however, is massage. In the UK massage is all too often viewed as a luxury treat, something to be enjoyed once a year on a spa day, but regular massage offers so much more and can be used to treat a variety of conditions…stress, anxiety and depression being a great example. As a qualified aromatherapist I use aromatherapy blends in all my massages and have a stress relief blend that further increases the benefits by using a range of essential oils that targets the mind.

When stress and anxiety are present we struggle to switch off our mind and the results include fatigue, loss of concentration and apathy. Massage helps as it relaxes both the mind and body, partly as the brain struggles to process clear thought whilst the body is being touched and nerve receptors are especially active. For many, this results in the brain responding to touch (the stronger receptor) rather than thought, so the mind is cleared.

When I created Aroma Restoratives the ethos behind the business was treatment for busy, urban bodies. Having worked in the corporate world for almost 20 years I know first hand the stress that we can encounter in the workplace, and in our personal life. I think it is important for a therapist to understand those pressures, in order to treat the client in the best possible way.

It’s also important to me for another reason, I’ve experienced high levels of stress and anxiety myself and have only recently started to turn a corner with it. I’ve always lived my life at a fast pace and have life experiences fuelled on adrenaline and risk. My motto of thriving under pressure worked for a time but it doesn’t last forever. When I left my successful city job with a good salary, bonus scheme, private healthcare and company car to start my own business I knew it would be tough but I had no idea how tough, and how much it would impact my mental health. Once the initial adrenaline wore off the pressure to succeed and huge financial strains was something that constantly played on my mind. I often felt the rising panic when a bill arrived or how I reacted to a situation. My anxiety affected my energy levels, how I went about tasks and my ability to think objectively. My brain never switched off which effected my sleep, which created a vicious cycle of tiredness and increased anxiety. It didn’t last forever but it was very real for a sustained period of time. Personally, I find giving a massage one of the best treatments for myself, as I am concentrating enough on what I am doing to not think too deeply, but not concentrating enough that the mind can’t wander. If a therapist finds it relaxing, imagine what it can do for the client!

Is massage a miracle cure for mental health problems? Absolutely not. BUT it should be viewed as a treatment, rather than a luxury. Don’t feel guilty about spending money on a treatment that can help relieve symptoms, it benefits everybody in the long run, especially if you can enjoy time with friends and family more equipped to deal with life.

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