Mental Health Conditions and Massage Therapy

By Alexandria Weiss, LMT


May is Mental Health Awareness month.  Most people don't think about their mental health until the have to, for a variety of reasons.  One explanation for this is that getting treatment for a mental health condition is considered shameful to many Americans.  Just the phrase "mental health" can conjure up images of prescription pills, padded rooms, and a therapist's couch.  Mental health conditions are stigmatized, especially in the United States.  Americans tend to be individualistic and independent by nature; these traits are culturally ingrained.  Opening up about our issues is not common, and asking for help is even less likely.

It may be rare to seek support for mental health concerns, but statistically, it is not unlikely to develop a mental illness.   According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI for short), 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness every year. 

While we may be socially conditioned to lead with our best, many Americans struggle with mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders behind closed doors.  There are many ways to improve your mental health.  Most methods depend on the frequency, duration, and types of symptoms experienced.

If you or a loved one are struggling with stress, anxiety, anger or a depressed mood, it is important to honestly evaluate your mood and behavior.  After this, a visit to the doctor is reccommended.  After you talk to your doctor, lifestyle changes can kickstart your healing.  One practical strategy to de-stress and improve your mood is to schedule a massage, but this is one of many possible coping strategies.

Mental Health Self Evaluation

One of the best things to do when you begin experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition is to honestly evaluate where you are emotionally and behaviorally.  Internal signs include uncharacteristically low or high mood, confusion, excessive worry/fear, persistant feelings of being misunderstood, and irritability.  External signs include changes in sleepin patterns, eating habits, spending more time alone, hygiene issues, and struggling to articulate your feelings.  Think about where your mood generally sits compared to how you are currently feeling.

It is also important to listen to the concerns of your support system-  the people you see on at least a weekly basis.  If the people you love are concerned about your behaviors, this is a sign that you may need some additional help.  

When you experience these symptoms on a regular basis, it is best practice to ask your physician about it.  Oftentimes, people worry about being placed on a medication the second they mention their symptoms to a doctor.  Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your doctor may not even need to start you on medication.   Nonetheless, mental health symptoms can progress and it is best practice to at least mention these symptoms to your physician so they can monitor your mood when you come in for regular check ups. 

Many people worry that if they express how they actually feel the world will view them as weak or broken.  Common fears include being put on a heavy duty medication, being forced into seeing a therapist, or being admitted into an inpatient mental health program.  Some people do indeed need those more serious interventions, and that is perfectly okay.  Your mental health is just as important as your physical health and when you need additional support, you should accept the help. 

That being said,  those who are proactive about their worsening mental health symptoms are less likely to need more expensive services.  It may feel embarrassing to be honest about something so personal and stigmatized, but we are human and we all struggle.  The sooner you can recognize the warning signs of mental illness is the sooner you can find effective treatment.


Common Medical Treatments for Mental Health Conditions


Some conditions require medication, such as an antidepressant, beta-blocker, or an antipsychotic.  These medications are generally taken daily and monitored closely by a psychiatrist or general practitioner.  While every medicine has a laundry list of side effects, your quality of life is well worth it if your condition would greatly improve with a prescription.  Despite this, always talk to your physician when you experience side effects.

Some mental health conditions require psychotherapy.  Different branches of talk therapy include cognative behavioral therapy, dialectical  behavioral therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing.  Talk therapy can give you a safe place to talk about your stressors and triggers, plus you can learn new coping skills through any of these therapy modalities.


Massage and Mental Health


Regardless of whether you require medical or theapeutic intervention for your mental health concerns, it is important for anyone to find ways to cope with their troubles.  Massage therpy can be both an excellent coping skill and a good form of complementary care for those struggling with mental health symptoms or persistant stress. 

Massage therapy is a great way to relax.  A good massage will activate your parasympathetic system, also known as our "rest and digest" system.  Repetitive and intentional massage strokes can help you center your breathing and focus on your mindfulness.  Many people leave as massage with lower blood pressure and decreased cortisol level (also known as the stress hormone).

Massage therapy is human touch, and therapists are trained to be both compassionate listeners and effective practitioners.  We may not be able to solve your problems, but we are definitely happy to lend an ear when you have a lot going on. 

Also, many trauma survivors report that experiencing human touch with a massage therapist that they trust can be incredibly healing, while lowering trauma related hypervigilance. 

Mental health conditions can cause us to hold excess muscular tension.  We all physically carry our tension in different patterns, but by having a massage therapist assist in releasing this tension, we can feel our body truly relax.  If you tend to feel achy, massage will assist with your pain as well.

When you get a massage, that time is all yours.  It is a good opportunity to step outside of your busy, chaotic world and experience peace.

You are welcome to stay silent and nap, or to talk and conversate with your therapist.  We can adjust lighting, music, temperature in the room to help you fully relax.  Massage therapists are trained to customize every element of your massage to your preference. 




Tips to ensure your massage is the stress-relieving, tension releasing experience you need


  1. Tell the therapist all about your preferences, and be honest about it.  Tell them if the pressure is too much or too little.  Tell them if you are cold or uncomfortable with your positioning.  Tell them if the music is too quiet or too loud.  Tell them if you want any areas avoided during your massage.  Tell them if you want them to stop talking.  This is your time and you deserve to have the best experience imaginable.
  2. Let the therapists move your limbs for you.  While "helping" your massage therapist is second nature to many of us, by allowing your LMT to move your fingers, wrists, and arms for you, you are allowing your body to fully and completely relax.
  3. Schedule your massage at a time that allows you to have an hour or two free afterwards. This way you can recenter yourself before returning to the craziness of everyday life.
  4. Turn your phone off during your massage session.  It is almost impossible to relax on the table when your phone is ringing.  You'll spend the whole session worried about whether the phone call was urgent or not.
  5. Tell your therapist what type of work or activities you do during the day!  This will allow us to figure out which muscle groups to work on to best help you relax.


Mental Health is an important, often neglected leg of overall wellness.  To support your overall wellbeing, reflect about where you are at emotionally and behaviorally in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month.  Also, schedule a massage for this month!  Massage is a great  investment in your mental health and overal wellbeing. 

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