On a regular basis clients experiencing some sort of anxiety come into my office. Anxiety shows up differently from person to person; for example, one client may have a general sense of stress and worry while another might already be under the care of a doctor or psychologist for a diagnosed condition. Some people feel it in a general sense of agitation while others might have headaches. Body work helps ameliorate the signs and symptoms of anxiety both on a mental and physical level.
Bodywork calms down the nervous system
Basically, Massage therapists are wizards of the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic system is in charge of “rest and digest” and is when it is on the healing happens. Part of what is at play with anxiety is a heightened flight or fight response which is hardwired into our sympathetic nervous systems. We live our lives with our sympathetic nervous systems keyed up to handle what ever threats(real or imagined) are around the corner. What we do as body-workers is provide an opportunity for your sympathetic nervous system to turn off and your parasympathetic nervous system to turn on. Signs that your body has switched to the parasympathetic nervous system are slower breathing, gurgling tummy, and a drop in body temperature. When you sit up and say, “wow, I can get on with my life” I know that I have done my job.
There is a method to the calmness of a Massage room as the soothing music, the aromatherapy, the heated stones all trigger the relaxation response.
The Physiology of Worry
Not only does body-work engage the parasympathetic nervous system, it actually causes changes in the endocrine system; the system in charge of hormone secretion.
For example, massage has been linked to elevated levels of dopamine and lower levels of cortisol, which provides evidence of reduced stress.”Benjamin, Patricia J Tappan’s Handobook of Massage Therapy p.136
Dopamine and oxytocin are feel good hormones whereas cortisol is emitted during times of stress. Due to the relationship of the PNS and impact on hormones Massage also helps with the psychosomatic signs and symptoms like headaches, tight muscles and upset tummy through hands on application. Regardless of the science behind Massage, caring human touch makes people feel good.
Emotional release is when a clients might have a deep sense of letting go of some intrinsic stress that has been held in the muscles and it usually involves a good cry during a bodywork session. Our muscles store our memories and sometimes when we are touched in a safe environment our minds and muscles let go of some negative feelings that has been stored inside. Not to worry if this happens, crying is a normal way to shed stress and most people feel better afterward.
It’s not the job of the Massage therapist to process the feelings like a talk therapist would, but rather to hold the space so that you can release deep tension. I like to say that we listen with hands and heart.
The Practical Healer Full Body Approach
Whether you choose Massage or Shiatsu a full body approach is best. For example; the scalp muscles can tense from making worry faces. Also Abdominal massage is great if worry has your stomach tied in knots. Rubbing out the shoulders is a way to take off the weight of the world. Working on the feet helps bring the energy down from the head and is deeply relaxing. Also, evening out the energy of the channels from an Asian bodywork perspective helps support the underlying condition.
Comfort and Safety are Key
The cornerstone of working with anxiety is good communication. No two clients need the same thing. I have anxious clients that prefer the deep pressure points of Shiatsu and others that prefer a soft Swedish Massage. One thing that everyone has in common is a need to be comfortable and safe. It’s not uncommon for those with anxiety to need adjustments to the bolsters, face cradle, music, lighting and so on. A good Massage therapist is there to help and can make infinite adjustments.
As far as aromatherapy goes, Frankincense, Lavender and Ylang Ylang are notorious for calming the mind. I can send you home with an aromatherapy inhaler which you use in times of stress. It’s also great to use before you fall asleep.
There are many acupressure points that are associated with couple the mind. Below are a few examples. A therapist trained in Shiatsu can access these points to augment a treatment for someone struggling with excess worry.
In conclusion bodywork is an effective tool for coping with anxiety-whatever form it takes. On a personal note, I too can find myself taking a ride on the worry wagon. Over the years I have learned that that talk therapy, medication, exercise and great body work are all helpful ways for me to deal with stress of anxiety. In particular bodywork helps with the psychosomatic manifestations like headache and stomach ache. I hope that you will find relief too so that you can continue to enjoy a vibrant life.