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Aaaahhh: How massage therapy can help nurses reduce stress

For once, there's something you already love that could also yield mental health benefits! With the first monotherapy study ever completed using massage to address an anxiety disorder, Emory University researchers reached some appealing conclusions. "It is limited but the reputable meta-analyses suggest that massage may cause at least a temporary decrease in feelings of anxiety, stress, fatigue and depression," notes lead researcher Mark Hyman Rapaport, MD, Chief of Psychiatric Services for Emory Healthcare.

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Who better to tap into these findings than those in the nursing field, described by a 2018 University of Novo Mesto study as "mentally and physically demanding" and "one of the most stressful professions," with those in nursing exposed to stress on a daily basis from combined sources that include psychological or physical violence, dealing with death and lack of personnel. That study lists measures nurses could use to preserve their health and well-being in the onslaught, with the "main ones" being cognitive restructuring, constructive monologue, time management, social support and assertiveness training.

The Emory study, though, opens up another option. "Our peer-reviewed published data indicate that six weeks of twice weekly Swedish Massage was more effective than a touch control condition in clinically and statistically decreasing the symptoms of anxiety, depression and fatigue in patients with generalized anxiety disorder," Rapaport adds.

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Even a single session can provide benefits. In the pilot studies from Emory, which were also peer-reviewed and published, subjects experienced an increase in oxytocin levels, a decrease in vasopressin levels and even a small decrease in cortisol.

From there, the news only got better, with twice-weekly massage for five weeks causing "more profound decreases in stress hormones, oxytocin increases and decreases in vasopressin," according to Rapaport. Weekly massage also "caused more profound changes on the immune system."

» RELATED: How friendships between nurses can help reduce stress

It's worth mentioning that the Emory researchers can only speak to Swedish massage, and most other data on the medical benefits of massage also covers this best-known type of "bodywork," as Massage Envy terms it. "One of the primary goals of the Swedish massage technique is to relax the entire body," Massage Envy adds. "This is accomplished by rubbing the muscles with long gliding strokes in the direction of blood returning to the heart."

In another interesting twist, the Emory researchers teamed up with Atlanta School of Massage for the clinical trial. But the wide acceptance of such complimentary treatments needs more time and effort, Rapaport explains. "People should be justifiably skeptical of complimentary treatments, the extent of the well-done research is limited."

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