Living Health Day Spa's Blog

Combatting Depression with Massage Therapy

February 20th, 2017 • Posted by David Pryor • Permalink

During the winter months, roughly 1.3 million American adults combat a seasonal form of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Typically, SAD first shows up in your 20’s or 30’s. Symptoms usually last from November through March. The symptoms of SAD are similar to those for generalized depression: low energy, lack of desire to do anything active, carb cravings, weight gain, excessive sleepiness, and a general feeling of sadness or hopelessness.

It is widely believed that the lack of sunlight in winter’s shorter days is the main culprit for bringing on the annual symptoms of SAD. Some medical professionals recommend using artificial sunlight lamps as a non-pharmaceutical treatment. But, for the most part, mainstream medical advice is to turn to prescription antidepressants.

Whether you have SAD or generalized depression, you should discern carefully before you go down the road leading to a prescription bottle. Many common antidepressants have a host of uncomfortable and unhealthy side effects, including excessive sleepiness and an increase in suicidal thoughts.

If you are currently on an antidepressant, you should not stop taking it abruptly. Talk to your medical professional about how to wean yourself off slowly.

Massage therapy, as a medicinal practice, has roots that extend back thousands of years to ancient Greece, Rome, Japan, China, India, Egypt. As western civilization grew in influence, the use of massage for medicinal purposes declined. But, thankfully, that trend is reversing with vigor. Today, massage therapy is the fastest growing alternative and complementary medicine modality in the United States. And developing along with this rise in popularity, is a wider acceptance of massage as an effective treatment for many medical ailments – including all forms of depression.

In fact, for many individuals with depressive symptoms, massage therapy is as effective – or even more effective – than psychotherapy. Even just a single massage therapy session can reduce anxiety levels, blood pressure, and heart rate by 60% to 65%. When the body is in a more relaxed state, it is easier to handle the challenges of life that can contribute to depressive symptoms.

But the greatest benefit of massage therapy related to depression come with prolonged treatment. In clinical studies, individuals with diagnosed depression or anxiety experienced more than a 75% reduction in symptoms – equal to the improvement seen in studies for individuals seeking psychotherapy.

Why is massage so effective at treating depression? Massage actually has biochemical effects on the brain. It has been documented that massage promotes the release of serotonin, your body’s natural mood-lifter. That’s exactly what many prescription antidepressants do, too! Massage also elevates your levels of dopamine – which mediates the reward system in your brain. So massage can induce the same sense of pleasure as sex, a piece of dark chocolate, or completing a particularly challenging task.

On the flip side, massage therapy has been shown to measurably reduce blood levels of cortisol (your body’s stress hormone) as well as epinephrine and norepinephrine (the “fight or flight” hormones). In other words, regular massage therapy gradually increases your everyday levels of “happy” hormones and reduces background concentrations of “stress” hormones – which is the perfect recipe for your body to harness its own healing powers to reverse your depressive symptoms.

If you believe you are experiencing symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, or any form of depression, please call us to schedule a consultation to discuss a massage treatment plan to manage (and even reverse) your symptoms.