Massage Therapy for Mental Wellness
Massage therapy is one of a number of alternative or complementary therapies finding its way into mainstream treatment plans. These days, you can get a massage at the hospital, clinic, airport or—if you’re lucky—your place of employment. Massage feels great, but more importantly, it’s good for your mental health and overall sense of well-being.
The Health Benefits of Massage Therapy
A meta-analysis of 17 clinical studies found a significant reduction in depressive symptoms following engagement in a massage therapy program. According to the authors, all of the studies analyzed found that massage produced significant antidepressant effects.
The Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami has conducted numerous studies concerning massage and mental health. The results include findings that massage therapy effectively reduces symptoms associated with:
- Anorexia nervosa
- Other mental health conditions
Massage therapy is also widely used as a complementary treatment for digestive disorders, headaches, fibromyalgia and myofascial pain syndrome, as well as a wide range of other conditions.
How Massage Therapy Helps
Although researchers don’t know exactly why massage therapy has such marked benefits for depression, anxiety and other mental disorders, it’s believed that it reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body, lowers blood pressure and heart rate and increases serotonin and oxytocin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in stabilizing your mood and promoting sleep, while oxytocin, dubbed the “love hormone,” has anti-anxiety effects and promotes feelings of relaxation, trust and psychological stability. Experts also believe that massage produces feelings of comfort and connection as a result of caring physical contact.
Additionally, stress reduction goes a long way toward improving your overall physical and mental health and well-being. Stress plays a role in many health conditions, including addiction, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, hypertension and heart disease.
One of the great things about massage therapy for reducing anxiety, depression and stress is that it’s a low-risk treatment when performed by a trained and licensed professional. Although some types of massage can cause soreness the following day, the massage itself shouldn’t be uncomfortable or painful in most cases.
Types of Massage Therapy for Improved Mental Health
Various types of massage therapy have different purposes. Deep tissue massage helps relieve chronic tension and some types of pain, while a sports massage helps improve flexibility and prevent injuries. The best types of massage for relaxation and optimum mental health benefits include:
- Swedish massage, which eases tension and improves circulation. Swedish massage utilizes long strokes, kneading, tapping and stretching.
- Shiatsu massage, which focuses on acupressure points to improve the flow of energy through the body. Shiatsu massage utilizes rhythmic pressure on certain parts of the body, primarily with the fingers and thumbs.
- Hot stone massage, which involves placing warm stones on certain parts of the body to transmit heat deep inside to soothe and relax.