Do Massages Help With Anxiety?

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues, affecting over 40 million adults in the United States alone. Symptoms of anxiety can range from feelings of uneasiness and worry to full-blown panic attacks. While there are many pharmaceutical options for treating anxiety, more and more people are looking towards complementary and alternative approaches as well. One such approach is massage therapy. But can getting a massage really help ease feelings of anxiety?

Research suggests the answer is yes. Studies have found massage therapy can decrease symptoms associated with anxiety, including muscle tension, elevated heart rate, and high blood pressure. One study found patients who received 30-minute massages twice a week for 5 weeks had less depression and anxiety symptoms than those who received relaxation therapy without massage. The massage recipients also had lower levels of stress hormones like cortisol.

There are a few reasons why massage may help alleviate anxiety:

  • Physical relaxation. Massage promotes overall physical relaxation, which counters the tense physical feeling that often accompanies anxiety. The pressure from massage movements causes muscles to release built-up tension. As the body relaxes, the mind follows.
  • Lowered stress hormones. Cortisol and other stress hormones are often high when we feel anxious. Massage therapy has been shown to decrease these stress hormones, bringing the body back to a calmer state.
  • Increased serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood. Massage is thought to promote serotonin release, which can reduce depressive feelings associated with anxiety.
  • Improved sleep. Massage promotes better sleep, which is important because those with anxiety often have trouble falling and staying asleep. Adequate sleep helps the body manage stress better.
  • Mindfulness. A massage requires focusing on the present moment—noticing how the body feels and letting go of distracting thoughts. This mindfulness practice can train the brain to stay calm.

While massage may help relieve anxiety symptoms temporarily, it is not a cure-all treatment. Anxiety has complex roots and massage should be used as a supplemental support, not a replacement for other therapy and lifestyle changes that can promote long-term well-being. As with starting any new treatment, chat with your doctor before beginning massage therapy.

But on the whole, massage does appear to offer anxiety-reducing benefits for many people. The research results are encouraging, the risks are very low, and the treatment is accessible and drug-free. Getting regular massages could be a valuable addition to an overall anxiety management plan. Of course, individual experiences can vary, so the best way to know if massage helps your anxiety is to try it out for yourself.