Massage Therapy for Stress

It’s no wonder we often feel “stressed out” in this complex world. With rising gas prices, a competitive job market, and increasing pressures from work and family—all complicated by limited time to take a break and unwind—it can be hard to find a balance.

Among the many ways to successfully manage stress, massage therapy is a great way to relieve tension. The benefits of massage therapy are numerous, ranging from promoting relaxation to loosening tight muscles and increasing blood flow.

How Can Massage Therapy Help Manage Stress?

Just taking a break from your hurried routine by to see a massage therapist can help you reduce stress, and once you arrive at the massage appointment, you’ll obtain even greater benefits. Massage can help you manage stress by relieving anxiety and tension, promoting relaxation, increasing your energy, improving sleep, reducing muscle soreness, and decreasing pain.

Therapeutic massage, such as Swedish massage, is the massage technique most often performed to relieve stress. Swedish massage techniques involve gentle kneading pressure and long strokes applied to the surface to relieve tension in the muscles and connective tissues. Therapeutic massage often involves aromatherapy in the form of massage oil or candles, and the pleasant fragrance can also contribute to stress relief during your massage therapy session.

A combination of massage techniques can also be helpful in managing stress. Other massage techniques that can help relieve stress include deep-tissue massage to release tension from the deeper muscles and connective tissues, trigger point therapy to release muscle spasms from specific areas, and shiatsu to improve the flow of energy (“Qi” or “Ki”) in the body by applying firm pressure to specific acupressure points.

What is Stress?

Stress is your body’s natural response to the demands of life. Stress helps you face challenges and “stay on top of your game.” Stress can be the result of environmental, physical or emotional factors. Although stress is a natural, and necessary, part of everyday life, prolonged or chronic stress can lead to damaging health effects, including psychological and emotional disorders, as well as the development of diseases such as cardiovascular disease.

What is Massage?

Massage is a manual therapy that uses hands-on manipulation of the muscles and other soft tissues to relieve muscle tension and reduce stress. Although massage affects the whole body, it is especially therapeutic for the musculoskeletal, circulatory, lymphatic, and nervous systems.

Helpful Tips for Managing Stress

While massage can help reduce stress and tension, it is only one of several useful tools to help manage your health, and it shouldn’t take the place of standard medical treatment recommended by your doctor.

Here are other ways you can manage your stress:

  • Practice relaxation techniques: In addition to massage, deep breathing, meditation, guided imagery, yoga, Qi Gong, Tai Chi, and a variety of other relaxation techniques can help reduce stress and tension by producing a calming effect on the body and mind.
  • Make positive cognitive and behavioral changes: Review your attitudes and beliefs, adjust your expectations, set realistic goals, and mentally rehearse before potentially difficult confrontations to help manage your stress. In addition, share your expectations assertively with others and communicate openly about your feelings.
  • Don’t rely on unhealthy coping habits: Smoking, excessive drinking, and overeating are not the answers for managing stress. These are unhealthy coping habits that can actually escalate the negative effects of stress.
  • Exercise regularly: Among numerous other health benefits, regular exercise can help you relieve stress.
  • Get organized: Stress can often be the result of disorganization. Set goals, make lists, and purge unnecessary clutter to help you get back on track.
  • Seek an experienced certified massage therapist for treatment: A certified massage therapist can make recommendations for the type of massage techniques that are right for you.

When to Get Help for Overwhelming Stress

Talk to your doctor if stress is limiting your ability to participate in activities of daily living, if you have intense feelings of fear, or if your negative feelings persist for four weeks or more. Your doctor can provide guidance about the appropriate treatment—or combination of treatments—that are right for you. A mental health-care professional can offer stress-management tips, counseling, support group referrals, biofeedback, and much more.

It is important to seek immediate medical attention if your stress is associated with feelings of hopelessness or suicidal thoughts. Suicide is an irreversible solution that causes permanent harm not only to you but also to family members and friends. If you are having thoughts of suicide, call your local 24-hour suicide hotline right away, call 911, or go to the nearest emergency room for help.

Additional Resources

Massage Therapy as CAM, published by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (May 27, 2008), provides a helpful overview on massage and its benefits.

Mind-Body Medicine, published by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (May 2007), provides an overview on the mind-body connection.

The American Institute of Stress provides information on many stress-related subjects.

The Patient Education Institute offers a helpful interactive tutorial on managing stress.

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