Depression is a struggle (to put it mildly!). It can make it difficult for you to get out of bed. Or to eat properly. Or to maintain normal relationships.
If you have depression, you know that there are days when you have more energy and days when your energy goes down to zero. However, you want to do something to heal even on the bad days.
Massage may seem like a good option because you can do them even on the bad days. If you are considering massage therapy, you may wonder, “Does massage therapy help depression.”
In this article, I am going to go over the symptoms of depression, what the research tells us about the effectiveness of massage therapy for depression and what the research doesn’t tell us. Then I will go over some things that you should consider if you are wondering if massage therapy is really worth it, different ways that you can get a massage, and some important steps to take if you have depression.
Keep in mind that this article is for informational purposes only and not meant to replace professional medical advice, treatment, and diagnosis. Please read my full medical disclaimer here.
Major Depressive Disorder is a mood disorder characterized by a chronically low mood. This definition may seem simple enough, but everyone tends to experience it in different ways.
Some people who have depression may feel so exhausted all of the time that they are barely able to get out of bed. Others may find themselves constantly working but unable to derive any satisfaction out of their work or out of life.
Some people may find themselves feeling constantly sad, like a raincloud is perpetually hanging over their head. Others may feel like they are filled with a silent rage that is just waiting to boil over.
The fact that depression can vary so much from one person to another is one factor that can make it difficult to diagnose. If you think that you have depression, here are some key symptoms that you should watch out for according to Dr. Sapolsky from Stanford:
Anhedonia is the loss of pleasure. This symptom makes it feel like the life is sucked out of you. Your passion is drained. You may notice that you enjoy music less and that everything seems blander.
You mind chews over the same idea over and over, like a cow grazing on grass. Are you coming up with any solutions? Nope. If anything, you are only stressing yourself out. However, you find that you just can’t stop this habit- ironically, your thinking has a mind of its own.
- Vegetative Symptoms
These are symptoms that make it difficult to maintain your day to day life. These include sleep disturbances, such as sleeping too much, too little, having trouble falling asleep, waking up after only a few hours of sleep, etc. They also include difficulties with food such as eating too much or too little. Even someone with functional depression may notice that they have vegetative symptoms.
- Grief and Guilt
You dwell on things that happened years ago. You carry the shame around like an uneccesary burden that you cannot remove.
- Many More
There are plenty of other symptoms that are tied to depression. An excellent resource for depression symptoms is the Mayo Clinic. If you want to learn more about the symptoms of depression, you should look there.
If you notice that you have symptoms of depression, I highly encourage you to talk to a medical professional. Many times, depression symptoms can be signs of physical illness rather than mental illness.
For example, thyroid disorders tend to present with depression symptoms and can throw your entire metabolism out of whack. If you are only treating your depression, you are vulnerable to cardiac arrest, congestive heart failure, osteoporosis, and other health complications.
At the same time, symptoms of depression may also go along with another psychological disorder, such as anxiety (up to 60% of people who suffer from anxiety also have symptoms of depression), bipolar disorder, and other psychological issues.
Is Massage Therapy Effective For Depression?
There is evidence that massage therapy can help depression. In fact, expert psychologist Christopher Moyer asserts in his article Affective Massage Therapy that the “effects [of massage therapy] on anxiety and depression are the most well-established effects in the MT research literature.”
Moyer has been instrumental in analyzing the potential of massage therapy. His meta-analysis looked at 37 different studies evaluating factors such as anxiety levels, blood pressure, and heart rate. He found that massage therapy had the largest effect on depression and anxiety levels.
A 2010 meta-analysis that looked at 17 clinical trials also found that massage therapy significantly reduced depression symptoms.
In addition, Moyer suspects that the therapeutic effects of massage therapy on depression could help explain why some people find massage therapy effective for other conditions.
For example, a person with fibromyalgia may find that massage therapy helps alleviate their pain. However, the massage therapy may not directly reduce their pain. Instead, the massage therapy may help alleviate the depression that was aggravating their fibromyalgia.
Unanswered Questions About Massage Therapy For Depression
Even though massage therapy can help depression, there are still a lot of questions that need to be answered, which Moyer pointed out in his article Affective Massage Therapy.
For example, no one knows the best type of massage therapy for depression. There are many different types of massages, including Swedish massage, chair massage, Thai massage, deep tissue massage, hot stone massage etc. etc. I have even seen massages done with knives (not so sure I would recommend that one…). Some types of massages may be more effective than other types.
We don’t know where massages are most effective. It would be great if a foot massage that you could do yourself could alleviate depression symptoms- it would save time and money. However, when it comes to the most effective part of your body that you could massage to alleviate depression, you are kind of shooting in the dark.
We don’t know how long you need to get a massage before it effectively reduces depression. Would you notice the effects of massage therapy after hours or minutes? After days, or weeks, or months? Research simply hasn’t produced an answer for the most effective time that it takes for massage therapy to produce a result.
We don’t know exactly how massage therapy works for depression. Even though massage therapy reduces symptoms, we just don’t know the nitty gritty of how it does this. Does it do this through hormonal changes? Does the relaxation cause changes in the brain that reduce depression? We simply do not know.
Is Massage Therapy Worth It?
Massage therapy can be costly. For some people, the idea that it may reduce their symptoms of depression may be enough to justify this cost. However, it is important to keep in mind that there are plenty of other things that you can do to reduce your depression that are also effective and that cost much less.
For example, relaxation techniques can also help reduce symptoms of depression and are fairly easy to learn. Some may argue that massage therapy alleviates depression symptoms simply because it is relaxing.
You should also consider that massage therapy has a comparable cost to psychological therapy, but that psychological therapy is in many ways a more direct approach to the problem.
Lastly, you do not want to get a massage if you have certain conditions. Make sure that you are familiar with massage contraindications.
Ways to Get Massage Therapy
One way to get massage therapy is to simply go to a massage spa. Google can tell you which massage spas are best in your area. If you are feeling adventurous, you could try looking for coupons on sites such as Groupon and LivingSocial.
You can easily get a chair massage in the mall without getting an appointment. These massages are often more flexible too. Many times, you can get one for only 15 minutes if you want.
If you want regular massages without having to make appointments or leave the house, consider a massager. There are many different styles, from handheld to cushions to full massage chairs. One drawback of a massager is that you miss out on the interpersonal interaction that you get with a massage therapist.
If you are interested in trying out a massager yourself, I recommend checking out my list of the best massage cushions.
If you want regular massages at home, you could also try learning about self-massage.
Some Steps To Take If You Have Depression
Here are some steps to take if you have depression. These will be most helpful for people who recently found out that they have depression or who suspect that they might have depression.
- Consult a Professional
If you don’t already, there are many reasons to talk to a professional if you have depression. For one, they can help you rule out any other conditions that you might have and they can help you pinpoint the type of depression that you have.
At the same time, they can help you learn valuable skills that can make it less likely you will have another major depressive episode.
- Learn more about depression
If you have depression, you should learn about it and all of the different techniques that can help you cope. One book that I highly recommend is Undoing Depression by Richard O’Connor. O’Connor is a therapist that has suffered from depression himself.
He asserts that depression is maintained by dysfunctional skills and that to undo the depression you must learn new skills. This book is an actionable guide to the different skills that you can learn to overcome depression.
- Track your progress
If you want to try out massage therapy for depression, you should try tracking your symptoms to see if you notice any improvement. This free booklet from Depression Hurts includes tracking worksheets as well as valuable knowledge for overcoming depression.
In conclusion, massage therapy can help reduce the symptoms of depression. There are a lot of unanswered questions about massage therapy and depression, however.
We do not know the best type of massage for depression, the best part of the body to massage, how often, and for how long. If you have depression, you may find that massage therapy is worth it, but I encourage you to talk to professional and to continue to learn more about depression.
You may find an exercise that is extremely effective for you for a fraction of the cost as massage therapy (for example, many people find gratitude journaling helpful for depression and you could start that today for free).
Now it’s your turn
In the comments below, let me know what you think about using massage therapy for depression. Is it worth it?
In your experience, what has been helpful in combating depression.
Let me know below!