By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated June 22, 2012)
There is plenty of evidence that massage therapy is beneficial for many anxiety sufferers. The Group Health Cooperative Center for Health Studies (2010) reports on the results of a study showing that massage reduces anxiety symptoms by half on average, though psychotherapy, medication, thermotherapy (lying down with arms and legs wrapped in warm towels and heating pads), and breathing deeply while listening to soothing music all have similar anti-anxiety benefits.
Field et al.’s (1996) study found that massage not only reduces anxiety and elevates mood in the short term, it also reduces job stress and increases the accuracy and speed at which subjects are able to do math computations. The study’s control group, who simply relaxed in massage chairs, did not achieve reduced anxiety or improved mathematical performance, though their moods did improve.
There is evidence that massage can reduce anxiety and discomfort even in the most stressful of circumstances. Wentworth et al. (2009) found that patients who received 20-minute massages prior to invasive cardiovascular procedures suffered less stress and discomfort than a control group. Cutshall et al. (2010) also found that massage reduced anxiety, tension, and pain in cardiac patients, and Myers et al. (2008) found massage beneficial in reducing pain and anxiety among cancer patients.
Overall, there is enough evidence to suggest that massage is worth trying. However, not everyone can afford regular massages or has a medical plan that covers therapeutic massage. There are plenty of highly effective free therapies for anxiety and panic disorder, such as meditation, turning your focus outward and cultivating mindfulness, challenging faulty beliefs, and reducing stress. For a full list, see the main Natural Anxiety and Panic Remedies page.
- Cutshall, S.M.; Wentworth, L.J.; Engen, D.; Sundt, T.M.; Kelly, R.F.; & Bauer, B.A. (2010). “Effect of Massage Therapy on Pain, Anxiety, and Tension in Cardiac Surgical Patients: A Pilot Study.” Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practices, 16(2), 92-95.
- Field, T.; Ironson, G.; Scafidi, F.; Nawrocki, T.; Goncalves, A.; Burman, I.; Pickens, J.; Fox, N.; Schanberg, S.; & Kuhn, C. (1996). “Massage Therapy Reduces Anxiety and Enhances EEG Pattern of Alertness and Math Computations.” International Journal of Neuroscience, 86(3-4), 197-205.
- Group Health Cooperative Center for Health Studies (2010, March 9). “Massage Eases Anxiety, but No Better Than Simple Relaxation Does.” ScienceDaily.com.
- Myers, C.D.; Walton, T.; & Small, B.J. (2008). “The Value of Massage Therapy in Cancer Care.” Hematology/Oncology Clinics of North America, 22(4), 649-660.
- Wentworth, L.J.; Briese, L.J.; Sanvick, C.L.; Bartel, D.C.; Cutshall, S.M.; Tilbury, R.T.; Lennon, R.; & Bauer, B.A. (2009). “Massage Therapy Reduces Tension, Anxiety, and Pain In Patients Awaiting Invasive Cardiovascular Procedures.” Progress in Cardiovascular Nursing, 24(4), 155-161.