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Feeling overwhelmed? How massage can help with stress and anxiety

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems facing Australians today. One in three women and one in five men will experience anxiety at some stage in their lives – that’s over two million Australians every year (BeyondBlue 2022). So, if you’re wondering how to deal with stress and anxiety, you’re far from alone.

Anxiety and stress, especially sustained, long-term stress, can be complex issues to address. You’ll likely seek a number of treatments, which might include medical and mental health support. If you’re also looking for a wellness therapy you can incorporate into your routine to help deal with stress or anxiety, you might like to consider the benefits of massage.

How anxiety effects your body: fight or flight vs rest and digest

We all feel anxiety and stress at certain points of our lives – it’s only natural. However, when stress and anxiety become long-term, chronic conditions, they can have severe negative impacts, both mentally and emotionally, but also physically. You’re probably familiar with some of the physical signs, such as tight muscles, hunched posture, increased heart rate and clenched jaw.

Anxiety activates your body’s stress response, which is part of the sympathetic nervous system. Massage, on the other hand, relaxes you by engaging the body’s parasympathetic nervous system: the ‘rest and digest’ response.

Massage for stress: how effective is it?

In 2011, a study found that a three-month massage therapy routine significantly lowered anxiety in people with generalised anxiety disorder (Sherman et al. 2010). In fact, another study found that a massage session as short as 15 minutes can spark an immediate and significant reduction in symptoms of stress (Cady et al. 1997).

Having said that, it’s important to remember, that when it comes to anxiety disorders, massage should be considered as a complementary therapy, which can help manage symptoms alongside any primary treatment recommended by your doctor or mental health professional.

How massage can help alleviate anxiety and stress

There are a few different ways that massage can help to reduce the physical effects of stress and anxiety on your body.

Lowering cortisol

Cortisol is the ‘stress hormone’. Your body produces cortisol in a ‘fight or flight’ situation to direct resources to vital functions. It also increases glucose in your bloodstream and the amount of glucose your brain uses, to help you react faster in stressful situations. Massage has been shown to lower cortisol levels in the body. (Marsolek 2022)

Increased ‘happy hormones’

If cortisol is the stress hormone, endorphins and serotonin are the opposite. These are neurotransmitters that promote relaxation and a positive mood. Massage stimulates the release of endorphins and serotonin, helping to lower stress, reduce pain signals and overall make you feel better. (Marsolek 2022)

Mindfulness and relaxation

The physical response to massage usually includes slowed down heart and breathing rates and muscle relaxation (Sherman et al. 2010). It’s also an opportunity to take a mindful moment, focus on the present and release any day-to-day stress you may be holding onto.

Lymphatic drainage

Your body’s lymphatic system helps remove metabolic waste, which causes muscle fatigue, weakness, pain and swelling. Massage can help to stimulate the lymphatic system and drain all that waste more effectively, helping you to relax and recover. (Eske, Wilson 2019)

Improved sleep

Sleep is vital to overall health and wellbeing. If you aren’t sleeping well, it can compound the effects of everyday stressors and make you feel even worse. Studies have shown that through promoting relaxation, massage improves sleep quality. (Lawler et al. 2006)

So, if you’ve been under stress, book in for a session with one of our experienced massage therapists and see how we can help you to feel better.


Anxiety, BeyondBlue, 2022

KJ Sherman, EJ Ludman, AJ Cook, RJ Hawkes, PP Roy-Byrne, S Bentley, MZ Brooks, DC Cherkin, Effectiveness of Therapeutic Massage for Generalized Anxiety Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Trial, Depress Anxiety, 2010

SH Cady, GE Jones, Massage Therapy as a Workplace Intervention for Reduction of Stress, Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1997

A Marsolek, Can massage relieve symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress?, MayoClinic, 2022

J Eske, DR Wilson, Lymphatic drainage massage: How-to guide and benefits, Medical News Today, 2019

SP Lawler, LD Cameron, A randomized, controlled trial of massage therapy as a treatment for migraine, Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 2006


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