The modern world is like nothing any animal, vegetable or mineral has ever experienced previously, EVER! For hundreds of thousands of years, the planet earth has evolved without electronic gadgetry, smart phones, email, internet, facebook, 50” LED TVs, Skype or Bluetooth. But here we are, 2014, wired in, hooked up, connected, stimulated, engaged in high definition from the moment we wake ’till the time we go to sleep. Even then, your daily dose of stimulants, such as caffeine, will keep you from getting the good, deep rest that you need before waking up, plugging in and switching on again. In fact, do we ever really switch off.
In this brave new world, the need for massage cannot be overstated. In this blog I will take you through a few ideas why I believe massage is an invaluable tool to survive in the modern world.
Connected – What is the Effect of a Modern Overstimulated Lifestyle?
How can we switch off? Pack up, move to the bush, become a farmer, a hippy, a surfer? Maybe, but for everyone that decides to stay “connected” what options are there to truly disconnect from “life” and reconnect with yourself? Meditate, sure? Join a yoga class, sounds good. What about a walk or a run? All good options, but in this modern world sometimes you need a hand to reconnect with who you are, or more specifically two hands.
Massage is an effective tool to get connected with reality, to deal with modern demands, and you might be surprised at just how much evidence there is of the benefits of massage therapy for managing the effects of a modern life.
“When the body is stressed, muscles tense up. Muscle tension is almost a reflex reaction to stress — the body’s way of guarding against injury and pain. With sudden onset stress, the muscles tense up all at once, and then release their tension when the stress passes. Chronic stress causes the muscles in the body to be in a more or less constant state of guardedness. When muscles are taut and tense for long periods of time, this may trigger other reactions of the body and even promote stress-related disorders. For example, both tension-type headache and migraine headache are associated with chronic muscle tension in the area of the shoulders, neck and head.”
This is what Australia’s peak support network for Depression and Anxiety Beyond Blue have to say about the effects of the modern lifestyle.
“Prolonged exposure to stress at work – are more likely to cause depression than recent life stresses.”
“Changes to stress hormone levels have also been found in people with depression. Research suggests that behaviour can affect brain chemistry – for example, long-term stress may cause changes in the brain that can lead to depression. Changes in brain chemistry have been more commonly associated with severe depression rather than mild or moderate depression.”
Constant stimulation is stress, stress is not necessarily negative, it is simply something that puts pressure onto your body or mind.
Beyond Blue notes that the following stressful events can trigger symptoms of anxiety:
- Job stress or job change
- Change in living arrangements
- Pregnancy and giving birth
- Family and relationship problems
- Major emotional shock following a stressful or traumatic event
- Verbal, sexual, physical or emotional abuse or trauma
- Death or loss of a loved one.
You will notice a common theme regarding work stress. In a modern world, stress is a part of life, so what can massage do about it?
What Can Massage Do for Stress, Anxiety and Depression?
The best evidence for the value of massage in management of anxiety and depression comes from a French review of all available research into massage for anxiety and depression. The quotes below are taken from the abstract.
“Both in the treatment of depression and in the treatment of anxiety, massage therapy predominantly achieved a significantly better result than the varying control treatments. The antidepressant efficacy appears to be more pronounced than the anxiolytic. (Note: An anxiolytic is a medication used to treat anxiety)”
“It could be shown that the validity of today’s massage trials has considerably improved. The review also demonstrates that the application of massage therapy for depression/anxiety turns out to be useful and effective.”
This indicates that note only is the quality of research into massage improving, but the outcomes for management of anxiety and depression are also clear.
Another 2011 Spanish study showed “anxiety levels, quality of sleep, pain, and quality of life were improved” after one month of regular massage therapy.
Massage has shown to be effective to manage anxiety and depression for oncology patients, and is regularly recommended by medical and health practitioners right across Australia, this has been confirmed in another 2010 review of massage therapy research stating;
“Massage therapy is to be considered a cost-efficient, noninvasive intervention positively influencing and contributing to the reduction of pain, anxiety, and depression in seriously ill patients with cancer.”
How Does This Relate to a Remedial Massage Treatment?
As powerful as massage can be for someone dealing with cancer, it has the same effect for anyone wanting to deal with the effects of stress. The mechanisms are not entirely clear however we can see that the reduction of the physical symptoms of stress such as increased muscle tone, breathing rate and blood pressure are simple outcomes as a result of massage therapy.
Similar effects can be achieved through other means such as relaxation therapies, yoga and meditation. Exercise is also excellent for managing anxiety, stress and depression, so long as it is not used as another form of stimulation and appropriate rest is also achieved with exercise.
So, as a remedial massage therapist, please keep in mind that the benefits of your treatments to clients can be wide a varied. Getting too obsessed with intense painful treatments, is not only hard work for yourself, but also counteracting any potential opportunity for relaxation and ‘unplugging’ from the our modern life. For those therapists that focus on relaxation, please be encouraged to know that the research shows that relaxation may actually be the single most powerful therapeutic tool that a massage therapist can use.