Massage Therapy for Generalized Anxiety Disorders

Mar 12, 2018

Generalized Anxiety Disorder, often referred to as GAD, affects about 14% of the Australian adult population, and twice as many women as men, according to Sane Australia. Its onset usually occurs between adolescence and middle age. Those suffering from a generalized anxiety disorder might obsess over health issues, family relationships, their finances or their job security.  Although some of their concerns might be valid, a generalized anxiety disorder is usually characterized by an exaggerated sense of the severity of the problem. This type of thinking can eventually create behaviour patterns that trigger a classic case of self-fulfilling prophecy. A vicious cycle ensues.

Massage therapy, sometimes in conjunction with psychotherapy, can help alleviate some of the symptoms, whilst breaking the cycle of destructive thought patterns.

Physical Symptoms of a Generalized Anxiety Disorder:

  • Chronic headaches
  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscular strain and tension
  • Twitching
  • Irritability
  • Sweating profusely
  • Hot flashes
  • Frequent urination
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty swallowing

How Massage Helps

In a clinical trial comparing the effects of massage on people suffering from a generalised anxiety disorder,  participants reported that massage reduced their anxiety level by 40% at the end of 12 weeks and by 50% three months later.

Another study took place in 1996 at the Touch Research Institute. The research team recruited 26 adults. Half the participants were given chair massages two times a week for 15 minutes. The poor control group simply sat in a massage chair but did not receive a massage.

Before and after the five-week testing period, the researchers measured the subjects’ anxiety and depression levels They also tested the subjects’ saliva for cortisol, a hormone associated with stress and anxiety. Since high levels of anxiety have an adverse effect on mental functioning, the research team also asked the subjects to solve a series of mathematical problems.

Upon the completion of the study, the group who received the chair massages displayed lower levels of anxiety and depression. Even more impressive were their significantly reduced cortisol levels, along with increased speed and accuracy at solving math problems.

Why Does It Work?

Researchers are not completely sure why massage therapy is so effective for treating generalized anxiety disorders. Some speculate that massage elevates levels of dopamine, a neurohormone that influences the ability to experience joy and enthusiasm. Others say that massage therapy increases serotonin levels. People with low serotonin levels often suffer from anxiety and insomnia.

If you or someone you know suffers from a generalized anxiety disorder, our physiotherapists might be able to help. Contact us today.