🙍🏻Stress, Anxiety, and Massage 💆🏻

Stress, Anxiety, and Massage
Why get a massage? According to a survey conducted by the American Massage Therapy Association, 28% of Americans who get a massage do so for relaxation and stress reduction. That’s a lot of people in the US who feel strongly enough about their own experiences with massage for stress reduction to put their money on it. But aside from individual feelings, what exactly do we know about massage and how it relates to stress and anxiety? And what does the research have to say about that?
What is stress? What is anxiety?
Stress is your body’s response to demanding circumstances. Working late hours? You’ll experience stress. Prepping for a big competition? Definitely stressful. Toddler throwing a tantrum? That’s no doubt stressful for both of you. When you’re stressed, your blood pressure goes up, your breathing and heart rate quicken, and you feel jittery and distracted. All this is useful if your stress is a result the big race you’re running, when you can put that energy to good use. It’s less helpful if your stressor is a friend in need of patience and comfort.
People who regularly put themselves into stressful circumstances on purpose (public speakers, for example) often learn how to channel that stress response for their own benefit, but it takes practice over time. When stress goes from being an occasional experience to a chronic condition, health problems result.
Anxiety, on the other hand, isn’t necessarily a reaction to circumstances. Most often, it’s related to anticipated future or potential stress. As with stress, anxiety isn’t necessarily an immediate health problem, although it’s unpleasant. Feeling a bit anxious about an upcoming exam, the imminent birth of a baby, or the quality of a presentation can give you a push to prepare as best you can. But anxiety becomes unhelpful when it is overwhelming, requiring you to focus all your energy on surviving your immediate feelings rather than addressing their roots. Pacing, nail biting, trembling, and vomiting are signs that anxiety is veering into unhelpful territory. Test anxiety, social anxiety, and decision anxiety are all common forms of anxiety.
Anxiety disorder is the general name given to chronic, excessive anxiety in response to everyday situations. Anxiety disorders include
  • Generalized anxiety disorder: excessive anxiety in general.
  • Social anxiety disorder: anxiety disorder related to interacting with others.
  • Separation anxiety disorder: anxiety disorder related to separation from specific people, often parents or caregivers.
  • Phobias: subset of anxiety disorders characterized by persistent fear of a specific thing.
  • Panic disorder: anxiety disorder characterized by reoccurring panic attacks.
Many people discover that they have more than one type of anxiety disorder, or deal with anxiety combined with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, alcoholism, or substance abuse. While stress and anxiety are more general terms that you can probably identify in yourself, anxiety disorders can only be diagnosed by a physician.
What kinds of studies have been done on massage for anxiety and stress?
Stress: 
While stress levels are largely subjective, studies focused on pain, sleep, and other outcomes often find that patients report decreased stress levels as one of the major benefits they receive from massage therapy treatments. In one study on pain in acute care settings, more than half of the patients mentioned relaxation in their survey responses. One described the experience of receiving massage as “very helpful, soothing, comforting, and relaxing,” which is notable considering how stressful being hospitalized is. Improved emotional well-being and sleep were also mentioned by many patients and nurses, both of which are good indicators of stress reduction.
Anxiety:
Most studies done on massage and anxiety have focused on specific populations. One study found significant improvement in both state (long term) and trait (immediate) anxiety in children with cancer and blood diseases who received Swedish massage. Another measured the physiological responses to stress (blood pressure and pulse) in hospitalized children and found similar results. Cardiac care patients were the focus of another study. Again, massage was shown to be helpful at reducing anxiety. Still, larger and broader studies on the matter still need to be done.
Anxiety disorders:
There have been relatively few studies on massage therapy for anxiety disorders specifically, and those that have been done have been small and generally lacking good control groups. One randomized controlled trial found that massage therapy was significantly helpful for people with generalized anxiety disorder, but no more so than thermotherapy (relaxing with hot towels placed in different locations on the body) or being in a special relaxation room with no additional treatment. This study only measured improvement over multiple weeks, and not feelings of anxiety in the short term, before and after treatments. Because this study didn’t have a no-treatment control group, they weren’t able to state whether all three were equally effective or equally ineffective.
What does all this mean?
People regularly feel that massage helps reduce their stress and anxiety. There are also other techniques that seem to be helpful to varying degrees, depending on the situation and the person. This is helpful to know, because not everyone enjoys massage. For some, touch itself can be a source of stress and anxiety, so it’s helpful to know that there are other complementary therapies available that also create positive results.
Stress and anxiety are closely tied to pain, sleep, and other factors. Reducing pain reduces stress levels. Reducing stress levels can also reduce pain. Improving sleep can impact both pain and stress, and vice versa. Does massage therapy work primarily through either pain or stress reduction, or does it impact both equally? This is an area for further study.
Massage therapy is a fairly safe way to manage stress and anxiety. With relatively few drug interactions and a very low chance for injury, massage therapy can be helpful to a wide variety of people dealing with stress and anxiety in different situations. From the smallest infants to athletes to people in hospice, there are few who could not benefit from massage therapy.
There is a lot more to learn. While there is a lot of research on massage for pain, massage for anxiety (and especially massage for anxiety disorders) has less research to back it up. It will take time and money before a large body of knowledge has been built up.
If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, massage therapy is worth trying. The evidence is still rolling in, but what we have is promising. Are you ready to give it a try? Book your next massage today.

👊Less Pain All Gain👊

What do we really know about pain?

Pain is one of those “you know it when you feel it” kind of sensations. But it’s also a strange phenomenon, when you think about it. A snowball is cold, and so it feels cold when you touch it. A block of concrete is rough, so it feels rough when you touch it. But a knife isn’t painful on its own. Neither is a pot of boiling water or the leg of a table. We handle these things safely all the time, and experience their mass and temperature and texture. But pain exists only in the body, and even more specifically (as people who’ve experienced anesthesia know firsthand) in our minds. But that doesn’t make it less real! So what exactly is happening when we feel pain, and how do we stop it from negatively impacting our lives?

How does pain work?

There are three primary types of pain, and each of them works a slightly different way.

1.) Nociceptive pain (tissue pain).

There are many different kinds of sense receptors in the body. Some are sensitive to heat or cold, some to touch or pressure. Others, called free nerve endings, aren’t specialized for any one type of stimulus. When a significant stimulus triggers these nerve endings, they send a message through the spinal cord and up to the brain indicating that something potentially dangerous has happened. The brain then decides (without consulting the part involved in conscious thought, alas) whether this is something to ignore or brush off or if it seems likely that damage has occurred. This then sends this message back down to the affected part of the body.

If the message is “No biggie, ‘tis but a scratch,” then you’ll most likely shake yourself off and forget the incident even happened. If it’s “WHOA, THIS SEEMS LIKE A PROBLEM,” then you experience this as pain.

This is useful! Just ask someone with CIPA, or congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis, a disease that leaves people insensitive to pain. Imagine not noticing a bit of grit in your eye until it damages your cornea, developing stress fractures in your feet because nothing is telling you it’s time to sit down, or ending up with burns in your mouth and throat because you don’t realize your coffee is scalding hot. Pain stops us from trying to walk on a sprained ankle or go for a run when we have a fever. Tissue damage, high temperatures, low pH, and capsaicin (the active ingredient in hot peppers) are all common triggers for this process.

But brains aren’t always correct when it comes to assessing danger. Lorimer Moseley gives a brilliant example of this in his TEDx talk. What’s the difference between the pain from a scratch on the leg and the pain from a nearly-fatal snake bite? Spoiler: it’s whatever your brain is expecting. That’s why you might feel little pain after a bicycle accident, but be in agony when getting the wound stitched up two hours later. Pain is weird.

2.) Neuropathic pain (nerve pain).

This is pain that results from an issue with the nervous system itself, rather than surrounding tissues. If you’ve ever banged your funny bone, you know this feeling well. Common forms of neuropathic pain include:

  • Sciatica: pain in the sciatic nerve running through the hip and down into the leg and foot
  • Diabetic neuropathy: nerve damage resulting from fluctuating blood sugar levels
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome: pain resulting from the compression of the nerves that run through the wrist into the hand

Less common forms include phantom limb pain (pain that feels like it originates in an amputated limb) and postherpetic neuralgia, which occurs as a result of getting shingles.

Neuropathic pain can be especially frustrating because the normal things we do to reduce pain are often useless when it comes to pain originating in the nervous system. Moving or not moving our muscles, applying heat or ice, these can have relatively little impact on nerve pain.

What’s more, nerves don’t heal as well as things like muscles and skin do, which makes nerve pain more likely to become chronic pain.

3.) Other kind of pain. The unknown. Where and Why? 

Pain is messy, and a lot of it doesn’t fall into either of the two categories above. Fibromyalgia is a great example of this. Is it pain resulting from tissue damage? Nope. What about nerve damage? Not as far as we can tell. It’s caused by the nervous system malfunctioning, sometimes in horrible ways, but that don’t result from actual nerve damage. Often a lot of it. And the world of medicine is still trying to figure out why.

So how do we alleviate pain?

There are several different options.

  • If the pain is caused by some kind of physical injury or stimulus, you can work on fixing that. If your hand is being burned on a lightbulb, you can remove your hand, which will make most of that pain go away. If you’re experiencing a muscle cramp in your foot, you can flex the foot (manually, if necessary). If you’re experiencing pain from sitting in the same position for too long, you can move around and shake out your legs. If the cause of the pain is inflammation, anti-inflammatories and ice can reduce that. This is perhaps the ideal form of pain relief, although it’s not always in the realm of the possible.
  • You can block the messages that tell your brain you’re in pain. This is how many painkillers work. Ice can also numb nerve endings.
  • You can convince your brain that you’re not in any real danger. This is a tough one, because the brain doesn’t just listen when you tell it things. But it’s well documented that fear, stress, and anxiety lead to increased pain perception. And of course, pain leads to stress, which leads to pain … General relaxation techniques—from meditation to light exercise to getting a massage—can all be helpful in turning the brain’s pain alarms down a notch. Physical therapy (practicing certain motions in a way that isn’t painful) and talk/art therapy can also be useful here too.

How can massage help with pain?

Sometimes the issue is one that massage can help manage on a physical level. Such as trigger point therapy or even cupping. But even more often, massage gives the brain a chance to let down its guard and experience something non-painful and even pleasant in the body. And while there’s no silver bullet for pain, that can mean a lot for people whose pain has defied more straightforward treatments and whose injuries or illnesses are already healed.

Feeling the hurt yourself? Suffering from chronic pain? Need pain management? There’s a massage with your name on it. Book your next one today with Annie at ZenGate Healing Arts! 

13 Things You Didn’t Know About Massage

 

Schedule a Massage!

Did you know only 32% of adult Americans got a massage in the past 5 years? And only even fewer get massage regularly. So it’s not surprising that most people don’t know much about massage.

Here are some fun facts to build your knowledge:

  1. Massage can help you sleep better. (Even if you don’t nap during the actual massage.)

2. When your back hurts, that might not be the only area that needs massage. Sometimes back pain comes from the hip, legs or even the abdomen.

3. Likewise, sometimes hand and arm pain is caused by dysfunction in the neck and shoulder. The body is so crazy and weird and neat-o!

4. You can stop a massage session at any time. You never lose control of your body. At any time during a massage you can say “no”, “stop”, or even “can you just work on my neck for the rest of the time and skip everything else?” If you are uncomfortable or feel like the therapist isn’t hearing your feedback, or if you just feel like the table is too hard and you have to pee and gosh, this is awful. You can end it. Seriously.

5. Massage can help your mood. It’s been shown to be helpful in treating both anxiety and depression.  

6. Even small therapists can provide dEEEp pressure. It’s not about size, it’s about the techniques we use!

7. Biggest Myth: Massage doesn’t ‘detoxify’ your body. That whole thing is a silly myth. It was taught in many schools and you may have heard me say it, back before I knew better. But we know now that it’s just not true.

8. Massage is safe in the first trimester of pregnancy (unless there are unusual health issues).  Some practitioners choose to not do it, but that’s a liability choice. Prenatal massage is our Speciality at ZenGate, its what we do and massage so many mama’s to help alleviate aches & pains associated with the 1st trimester such as heartaches, morning sickness & fatigue. 

9. Deep tissue massage, or any massage, doesn’t need to be painful to be effective. For reals. Run screaming from any practitioner who insists there needs to be pain in a treatment.

10. Scars are living tissue that can be transformed with massage and other manual therapies, no matter how old they are. And they can be affecting you in places farther away from the visible scar than you’d ever suspect.

11. It’s OK to focus on certain areas of discomfort and not always get a full body session. If you only want your arms massaged, that’s fine, too. Sometimes, just focusing in on a specific body area can be transformative in managing pain & tension.

12. Your massage therapist loves feedback. We like to know if you hate having your feet touched, and if you looove having your ears massaged. We like knowing your musical preference and if you prefer to start face down or face up.

13. We’re also cool if you just want to chill and let us use our judgement to design the treatment.

Just know that it is my honor to be your massage therapist & a part of your journey toward health & wellness. Do you have questions about massage? Contact me or ask at your next appointment and I would LOVE to answer them!

 

How to give a Zentastic massage

How to give a Zentastic Massage!

Everyone wants a massage, but sometimes making it in to see your favorite massage therapist (hi there!) just isn’t feasible. It’s in those unexpected and inconvenient moments that knowing how to give your partner a pretty great massage yourself can make the difference between a rotten day and a better one. But of course, this hinges on one thing: do you know how to give a good massage? Giving an at-home massage is not that hard. Here are my favorite tips:

Use firm pressure, but not hard.

People get confused about pressure in two opposite ways. If your partner is smaller than you, you may have a tendency to use very light pressure. This is okay to a point (you probably won’t hurt anyone), but can be a little frustrating if your partner is tense or sore or, even worse, ticklish. On the other side are the people who come from the “no pain, no gain” school of massage. Don’t buy into this myth! Massage should be pleasant. If your partner has to tense their muscles and clench their jaw in order to get through your ministrations, it’s not helping.

Slooooooow doooooown.

There are absolutely occasions where someone might want a fast-paced, vigorous massage. But unless your partner is getting warmed up for a race or ballroom dancing competition, this is probably not one of them. You’re not going to miss some key muscle if you take your time. If you seem relaxed, your partner is going to relax too. So

, put your hands out, and make each stroke last.

If you meet a bone, leave it alone.

There is one exception to the firm pressure rule, and that is bones. You don’t need to be an anatomist to recognize the ones that stick out, like knees, elbows, ribs, and spines. With little padding between them and the skin, these areas can be quick to bruise or feel painful. If you find your hands arriving at one of these bony landmarks (yes, that’s actually what massage therapists call them, it’s like reading a topographical map), you have two options: turn around and go back the way you came, or skim over them using gentle pressure and keep going with your massage on the other side.

Practice good body mechanics.

If massage shouldn’t be painful for your partner, it also shouldn’t be painful for you. If you are hunched over, if your wrists are bent at an awkward angle, if you are using your thumbs or fingers in ways they weren’t designed to work, you will end up regretting the day you ever offered to give a massage. Use bigger muscles in place of small ones whenever you can: use your back to provide pressure instead of your arms, and your arms instead of your fingers. Whenever possible, push instead of pulling. When you move to a new part of your partner’s body, adjust your entire position, not just your hand placement. It may feel strange at first, but imagine if you tried to shovel snow by standing in one place and using just your arms to move the shovel from one side of you to the other. If that image seems ridiculous, you already understand why proper body mechanics are so important.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.

Really, you probably don’t need to talk to a massage therapist to learn that open communication between you and your partner is key to anything you undertake together. But it’s especially true in a situation like a massage, where one of you is more vulnerable than the other. As the massage giver, it’s important that you check in regularly: How does this feel? Would you like more or less pressure? Do you remember whether I turned the oven off? (Okay, maybe not that one.) The same goes for communicating your own needs. If you are getting tired, or thirsty, or really need to leave for work, say something. Don’t leave your partner feeling guilty about enjoying a massage because you made a unilateral decision to sacrifice your needs for theirs.

Learn from the pros.

As with any skill, one of the best ways to learn to give a massage is by watching the people who are already great at it. Getting regular professional massage (hello again!) and taking a couples massage class are both helpful. Barring that, YouTube is a fantastic source of tutorials for beginners. You can search for a style you like—Swedish massage is a great place to start—or an area you’d like to focus on, like the neck and shoulders.

If you follow these guidelines, you’re going to be fine.

You may not be winning any championships, but massage isn’t a competition. If you can give a caring, relaxing massage without hurting your partner or yourself, you’re way ahead of the curve on this one. And if you feel like you need more than that … well, give me a call.