“Is Massage Good for Your Mental Health?” This question is a common one. To provide an answer, let me share my story.
My first encounter with massage came when I was feeling anxious and stressed while in the midst of college exams. Massage therapists were in the student union offering free 10-minute chair massages and being curious, I said, “Sure, I’ll try a massage!” That day was the first time I experienced professional, compassionate touch. Those ten minutes helped me feel my body and breathe more deeply, which in turn released my mind from the ever-present worries about making the grade.
Over twenty years later, I’m still that person who gets anxious about making the grade, only now, the grade has to do with meeting work deadlines, showing up for family commitments, and being a contributor to my community. During these times, when my mind and body are wound tight with all of the items on my to-do list, one of my go-to’s for unwinding is still massage therapy. I make time for it because I know that when I choose to take the time to receive a massage, I feel better and my life flows with more ease.
As humans, it’s so easy to get caught up in our heads. Silently or aloud, we exclaim, “I need to power through! I need to do more! I have to prove that I can!” Yet, examining these statements from an outside perspective, I wonder how long the mind and body can accept being pushed without consequences becoming apparent.
Humans need breaks, too. Inherently, we know this. Consciously, we aren’t always so good at choosing them.
Massage therapy provides a break. A respite from the outside world for just a little while. The experience of caring hands providing compassionate touch is valuable. It sets up an opportunity to breathe, receive, release, and recharge while feeling one’s own body through the hands of another person.
What does the research say about massage and mental health?
While receiving massage for mental health may not be the motivating factor for most people to seek out massage, the research suggests that massage therapy is helpful for anxiety, depression, insomnia, and many other mental health concerns.
One study showed that just 15 minutes of massage, twice a week, increased both relaxation and alertness in the recipients. In another study, Intensive Care Unit nurses received massage therapy twice a week for 25 minutes each time for one month. They reported lower measures of occupational stress immediately after and even two weeks after their massages were complete.
Physiologically, massage reduces the stress hormone cortisol and enhances mood by increasing dopamine and serotonin. It also contributes to reducing blood pressure, a common risk factor for the development of heart disease.
In what ways massage can be provided in a work environment?
There are three primary ways that massage is offered in a work environment.
- Chair massage: With this style of massage, the client rests in a specially designed massage chair while the massage therapist uses their hands to connect with and soothe the inflamed nerves and muscles.
- Desk Massage: In this style of massage, the massage therapist has a special face rest that a client can lean into while the massage therapist provides massage right at the client’s desk
- Virtual Massage: Virtual meeting technology is what makes this style of massage possible. With virtual massage, a client books a session time with a massage therapist and the massage therapist guides the client through how to massage themselves. While receiving virtual massages might seem counter-intuitive, sometimes (as in the case of the recent pandemic), it is the best way to experience massage. When I, as a Licensed Massage Therapist, have guided clients through massaging their own sore necks, shoulders, and arms using zoom technology, their relaxed shiny eyes, and appreciation have let me know that results were good and relief was present.
What are three misconceptions about massage?
To be able to say yes to receiving massage (and the mental benefits associated with massage), some people might experience barriers due to common misconceptions. Three common misconceptions about massage are as follows.
- All massages are the same. No, all massages are not the same. The truth is that every massage is different because each human giving and each human receiving a massage is different. It is up to the client to communicate their needs and preferences to the massage therapist as much as necessary to feel comfortable. Additionally, every massage therapist has their own unique skills and specialties that they bring to a massage session.
- A person must be experiencing physical pain in order to get a massage. A person does not need to be in physical pain to receive a massage. A person can choose to receive a massage simply because it feels good. Remember, massage reduces stress hormones and increases feel-good hormones. When people feel good, they tend to be physically and mentally happier, as well as more resilient when amid stress.
- Massage has to hurt in order to be effective. Massage does not have to hurt in order to be effective. Gentle, non-painful touch can be very good at releasing aches and pains. Some massage therapists make their whole career out of providing gentle therapeutic massage.
How does massage fit into a productive workday?
Massage provides an intentional break from the routine of the day. If an employee is struggling with overwhelm, physical pain, anxiety, or any number of other issues, a massage has many benefits, like connection, relief, and an opportunity to rest and reset.
A typical workday massage might last from 10-20 minutes. Some employers ask employees to sign up for time slots in advance while other employers let the employees add their names to session-scheduling calendars that the massage therapist brings with them. Generally, employees and companies figure out how to integrate massage therapy time into their daily workflow so that everyone feels supported.
Five Ways to Know if Massage Might Help Your Mental Health
Massage might be supportive for your mental health if…
- You have a hard time turning off your thoughts. The physical touch associated with a massage provides stimulation that can help interrupt the cycle of a busy brain.
- You feel overwhelmed with life. The physical touch to your body can help you reconnect with what is solid and real right now…your physical body.
- You have a difficult time relaxing. Massage therapists are used to working with people who have a challenging time relaxing. If you request support, your massage therapist can guide you through a strategy or two for relaxing with more ease.
- You’re distracted by body aches and pains. Massage therapists have received extensive training in how to help relieve body aches and pains. Make sure to communicate with your massage therapist about what you’re experiencing so they can address it during your session.
- You forget to take breaks. Choosing to receive a massage helps your body get some care so that it can keep comfortably supporting you in all of the tasks that keep you busy.
If you’d like to read more on the topic of massage therapy and mental health, check out the following articles.
- Can Massage Help You Sleep? | Sleep.org
- Hands On Research: The Science of Touch | berkeley.edu
- The Mental Health Benefits of Compassion | Newport Academy
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