Tag Archives: self-care

Stress, Anxiety, and Massage

Why get a massage? According to a survey conducted by the American Massage Therapy Association, 28% of Americans who get a massage do so for relaxation and stress reduction. That’s a lot of people in the US who feel strongly enough about their own experiences with massage for stress reduction to put their money on it. But aside from individual feelings, what exactly do we know about massage and how it relates to stress and anxiety? And what does the research have to say about that?

What is stress? What is anxiety?

Stress is your body’s response to demanding circumstances. Working late hours? You’ll experience stress. Prepping for a big competition? Definitely stressful. Toddler throwing a tantrum? That’s no doubt stressful for both of you. When you’re stressed, your blood pressure goes up, your breathing and heart rate quicken, and you feel jittery and distracted. All this is useful if your stress is a result of the big race you’re running, when you can put that energy to good use. It’s less helpful if your stressor is a friend in need of patience and comfort.

People who regularly put themselves into stressful circumstances on purpose (public speakers, for example) often learn how to channel that stress response for their own benefit, but it takes practice. When stress goes from being an occasional experience to a chronic condition, health problems result.

Anxiety (not to be confused with anxiety disorders, see below), on the other hand, isn’t necessarily a reaction to circumstances. Most often, it’s related to anticipated future or potential stress. As with stress, anxiety isn’t necessarily an immediate health problem, although it’s unpleasant. Feeling a bit anxious about an upcoming exam, the imminent birth of a baby, or the quality of a presentation can give you a push to prepare as best you can. But anxiety becomes unhelpful when it is overwhelming, requiring you to focus all your energy on surviving your immediate feelings rather than addressing their roots. Pacing, nail biting, trembling, and vomiting are signs that anxiety is veering into unhelpful territory. Test anxiety, social anxiety, and decision anxiety are all common forms of anxiety.

Anxiety disorder is the general name given to chronic, excessive anxiety in response to everyday situations. Anxiety disorders include

  • Generalized anxiety disorder: excessive anxiety in general.
  • Social anxiety disorder: anxiety disorder related to interacting with others.
  • Separation anxiety disorder: anxiety disorder related to separation from specific people, often parents or caregivers.
  • Phobias: subset of anxiety disorders characterized by persistent fear of a specific thing.
  • Panic disorder: anxiety disorder characterized by reoccurring panic attacks.

Many people discover that they have more than one type of anxiety disorder, or deal with anxiety combined with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, alcoholism, or substance abuse. While stress and anxiety are more general terms that you can probably identify in yourself, anxiety disorders can only be diagnosed by a physician.

What kinds of studies have been done on massage for anxiety and stress?

Stress:

While stress levels are largely subjective, studies focused on pain, sleep, and other outcomes often find that patients report decreased stress levels as one of the major benefits they receive from massage therapy treatments. In one study on pain in acute care settings, more than half of the patients mentioned relaxation in their survey responses. One described the experience of receiving massage as “very helpful, soothing, comforting, and relaxing,” which is notable considering how stressful being hospitalized is. Improved emotional well-being and sleep were also mentioned by many patients and nurses, both of which are good indicators of stress reduction.

Anxiety:

Most studies done on massage and anxiety have focused on specific populations. One study found significant improvement in both state (long term) and trait (immediate) anxiety in children with cancer and blood diseases who received Swedish massage. Another measured the physiological responses to stress (blood pressure and pulse) in hospitalized children and found similar results. Cardiac care patients were the focus of another study. Again, massage was shown to be helpful at reducing anxiety. Still, larger and broader studies on the matter still need to be done.

Anxiety disorders:

There have been relatively few studies on massage therapy for anxiety disorders specifically, and those that have been done have been small and generally lacking good control groups. One randomized controlled trial found that massage therapy was significantly helpful for people with generalized anxiety disorder, but no more so than thermotherapy (relaxing with hot towels placed in different locations on the body) or being in a special relaxation room with no additional treatment. This study only measured improvement over multiple weeks, and not feelings of anxiety in the short term, before and after treatments. Because this study didn’t have a no-treatment control group, they weren’t able to state whether all three were equally effective or equally ineffective.

What does all this mean?

People regularly feel that massage helps reduce their stress and anxiety. There are also other techniques that seem to be helpful to varying degrees, depending on the situation and the person. This is helpful to know, because not everyone enjoys massage. For some, touch itself can be a source of stress and anxiety, so it’s helpful to know that there are other complementary therapies available that also create positive results.

Stress and anxiety are closely tied to pain, sleep, and other factors. Reducing pain reduces stress levels. Reducing stress levels can also reduce pain. Improving sleep can impact both pain and stress, and vice versa. Does massage therapy work primarily through either pain or stress reduction, or does it impact both equally? This is an area for further study.

Massage therapy is a fairly safe way to manage stress and anxiety. With relatively few drug interactions and a very low chance for injury, massage therapy can be helpful to a wide variety of people dealing with stress and anxiety in different situations. From infants to athletes to people in hospice, there are few who could not benefit from massage therapy.

There is a lot more to learn. While there is a lot of research on massage for pain, massage for anxiety (and especially massage for anxiety disorders) has less research to back it up. It will take time and money before a large body of knowledge has been built up.

If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, massage therapy is worth trying. The evidence is still rolling in, but what we have is promising. Are you ready to give it a try? Book your next massage today.

Massage Myth #2: You can’t get a massage while taking painkillers. 

bottle of pills
Photo by Jonathan Perez on Unsplash

Welcome to myth #2 on our reasons-you-can’t-get-a-massage-myth series.  Be sure to check out Myth #1.

Myth #2: You can’t get a massage while taking painkillers. 

You’re hurting, so you schedule a massage. But then you’re still hurting, so you take some ibuprofen … should that stop you from getting the massage you’ve scheduled?

This myth states that taking a painkiller leaves you unable to tell whether your massage is too deep, which can lead to a massage therapist injuring you accidentally. And this can be a realistic concern, especially if you’re taking strong narcotics for pain. Drug side effects like dizziness, easy bruising, and low blood pressure can also impact your massage session.

In most cases, though, this can be dealt with through open communication, rather than avoidance, especially if it’s a simple NSAID or other over-the-counter medication. When you let your massage therapist know what kinds of painkillers you’re taking, things like pressure, positioning, and duration can all be adjusted to make sure that your session is both satisfying and safe. There is no reason that painkillers and appropriate bodywork have to be mutually exclusive.

Get some relief. Book your massage now.

 

New Year, New You!

healthy cooking
Photo by Katie Smith on Unsplash

Is there any time of year when people are more obsessed with health habits than the New Year?

Even the “beach body” craze of late May doesn’t reach the same level of hype.

Every time you turn a corner, somebody else is trying to get you to try a class, a supplement, a shake, a piece of equipment, a diet, a lifestyle … and it can be exhausting trying to figure out what’s bona fide and what’s bogus. It’s perfectly normal to look forward to a fresh start in January (or not!), but here’s a little guidance on whether to put money down on that hot new habit after the holidays.

Does it promise quick fixes?

If whatever you’re thinking of trying swears you’ll get the desired result in no time at all, you can be pretty sure you’re entering into scam territory. The human body is based on homeostasis. It can change, and it does, but most of those changes occur over time. There’s a reason why most things that cause fast changes in the body (like surgery and drugs) require a physician to administer them; they can be dangerous if not used carefully. If you’ve been out of shape for five years, don’t expect to get back in shape in five weeks. That’s just not how the body works.

Does it promise a panacea?

There are diets that can help you lose weight. There are exercise routines that can help you gain muscle and strength. There are massages that can help you relax and manage your stress levels (you might want to get on that one soon). But if someone is selling One Amazing Thing that will evaporate your fat, increase your happiness, straighten your posture, whiten your teeth, cure your cancer, and send your sex drive through the roof? You can be pretty sure it’s not worth your money. No, that essential oil will not prevent ebola, but it does smell nice and could help improve your mood if you like it. Don’t pay a Magical Thinking Tax for exaggerated claims.

Does it rely on conspiracy theories for marketing?

Conspiracies can be fun to read about, but if the main selling point is that “doctors hate it” or “Big Pharma doesn’t want you to know about this,” it’s probably not the best addition to your life. Why? Because you and your physician (and your dentist, your massage therapist, your counselor, your personal trainer, your nutritionist …) are part of your health and wellness team. If any one of them refuses to be a team player, they’re not doing what’s best for you. Casting aspersions on some of your VIPs? Not cool. If you haven’t heard much about a particular tool, it’s probably not because your health team is trying desperately to get you to stick to being sick. It’s much more likely that the thing just doesn’t work at all.

Does it fit your life, your budget, your goals, and your understanding of reality?

If yes, then this is something worth looking into, whether it’s a gym membership, a cookbook of heart-healthy meals, or a habit tracking app. Ultimately, we try things out and see how they work for us over the long haul. Not everything will be a perfect fit, but at least we can weed out some of the resolutionist marketing malarkey and move forward with our best efforts into the new year.

Here’s hoping you have a happy, healthy, and stress-free New Year!

5 Tips for Surviving the Holidays

The holidays are kinda weird. For all the ‘Most Wonderful Time of the Year’ jingles, it’s also the toughest for many people. Some people over-commit to family, friends, or volunteer tasks and find themselves over-scheduled and unable to actually enjoy the season. Some of us dread the inevitable, obligatory socializing and the pressure of being ‘on’. Some of us are grieving.

So here are a few less-typical Holiday Survival Tips. Some of them are brilliant. Some of them are not. But maybe you’ll find a nugget in here.

Ditch obligations

Just because you’ve always gone to Aunt Sue’s for Christmas Eve doesn’t mean you always have to. You can stop going.

Say, “I’m starting a new tradition this year, I’m really looking forward to cooking with my kids and having a quiet family night.” Then set up another time to visit Aunt Sue when you’ll actually be able to visit her, instead of just a hug between appetizers while stuffed into a small house with 30 loud relatives.

Reframe obligations

When I hear people complain about all the ‘stuff’ they have to do, I usually say, “Dude. Stop doing it.” The typical reply is, “Oh, but I really like having 37 different types of cookies and seeing all my 3rd cousins!” Cool. I can respect that. But stop looking at (and speaking of) the tasks and events like chores.

This isn’t a martyr contest. Nobody gives a darn that Betty SUV Soccer Mom makes her bundt cake from scratch and you use a mix. Except maybe Betty, and that’s her issue. Do stuff because you want to, because it brings you joy. And quit doing the stuff you don’t want to do.

Stick with the people who warm your soul

Some of us are not close with our families. For many, many people, family relationships are rarely nourishing and often painful. We’ve built friendships that stand in for the sibling and parental relationships that will simply never be fulfilling.

So why feel obligated to spend a holiday with anyone other than those who bring us joy and unconditional love? Create a holiday plan with the people you most enjoy and cherish. Or at the very least, make an escape plan to unwind with the people who will let you vent after a stressful family interaction.

Step back from the gift-giving (and receiving) or just change it dramatically

Do you really want another gift set of perfumey bath gel and body lotion? Do you really want to be giving that to someone else? Blech. Maybe it’s time to reexamine your gift-giving habits. Instead of exchanging gifts with your adult friends and family, can you decide to spend that money on having a great dinner together in January?

If you feel really attached to giving a tangible object, can you simplify the process? Find one universal gift, and give it to all your people. Like a jar of local honey from you favorite apiary, or a holiday ornament purchased from a local charity.

Rethink your assumptions

Just because you’ve always done the holidays a certain way, doesn’t mean you have to keep doing that. It’s all a choice. Sometimes you don’t even need to change the pattern, just recognizing that it’s a choice is enough.

Wishing you a happy, merry, joyous whatever-you-celebrate. I hope you get exactly the holiday you want (and deserve).

Decrease Stress with Breath

Breath
Photo by Nine Köpfer on Unsplash

Breath.

Such a simple thing.

It’s essential to life, but yet how often do we think about it?

It ebbs and flows throughout our days and we barely give it a second thought. 

Are you holding your breath right now?

(Fun Fact: when I was in Massage School, we had to put together a business plan complete with a business name. I was going to name my business “Just Breathe,” because I was pretty stressed at the time and was always catching myself holding my breath.)

Deep breathing can reduce anxiety

Implementing a deep breathing technique when anxiety strikes can make the difference between a full on attack and an unwelcome blip in your day. Deep breathing lowers your heart rate, improves circulation, and promotes clearer thinking.

You can use your breath to calm down

Let’s face it, when tempers flair it seems almost impossible to think about anything other than the current situation that set you off. Practicing simple breathing techniques can encourage calmness and help reverse the physical symptoms of anger.

TECHNIQUE for Anxiety and Calm

  • Isolate yourself from everyone for 15 minutes
  • Inhale slowly for the count of 4
  • Exhale slowly for the count of 8
  • Notice the space in between the inhalation and exhalation
  • Repeat until you begin to calm down

Take breathing even deeper with pranayama

Pranayama is the practice of regulating the breath. If practiced right, pranayama can bring harmony between mind, body, and spirit. It boosts your ability to be mentally and spiritually strong. There are very specific breathwork techniques that we’ll cover in future posts (or videos!), but here’s one to get you started. If you attend yoga classes regularly, you’ll probably find that many yoga teachers include pranayama. 

Use with meditation

Breathwork can be a fantastic addition to your mindfulness or meditation practice. 

TECHNIQUE for Meditation

  • Quiet your body and mind
  • Observe your breath as it is
  • Slow your breathing to a calm steady level
  • Concentrate on the air that moves in and out of your lungs
  • Focus on how your body feels and moves as you inhale and exhale

Much like massage, there is no doubt that breathing can encourage relaxation and healthy habits. It keeps the body/mind functioning and curbs stress. Your muscles naturally relax and you can go about your day a little easier.

Breathing may seem insignificant. It happens naturally, so we may not think about breathing all that much, but maybe it’s time we should.

 

Getting Started with Essential Oils

Field of lavender
Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash

As the weather cools down and we break out our cozy scarves and everything smells of pumpkin spice, I’ve taken some time to clean out my essential oil collection, like tossing bottles that are past their prime (we only use quality essential oils for our aromatherapy massage) and giving some that I never use to a friend.

And I’ve also been trying out some new ones.

When I was in aromatherapy school, I amassed quite a collection of oils from the company that offered a discount to the students of the program I was in. They’re fantastic oils, and the company provides a ton of education on their website.  I’ll still use them, but there are so many different essential oil retailers out there, I decided to try something new.

If you’ve studied aromatherapy at all, you know it’s easy to go down the rabbit hole and get overwhelmed with the variety of essential oils and their uses. A friend recommended Simply Earth, so I gave it a try. I purchased of few of their blends, and I loved them! So I decided to subscribe to their essential oil box (more on that below).

About Simply Earth

  • Like Aromatics International, my other favorite essential oil supplier, Simply Earth is committed to high quality products.  
  • Did you know that there is more than one type of Lavender essential oil and each one has different therapeutic effects? That’s why it’s important to know the Latin name of the oil you are buying. Simply Earth’s single oils are labeled with the Latin name, but the blends are not. I’d like to see them add that in the future.
  • Ever had someone recommend you add essential oils to your drinking water? Don’t do it! Simply Earth promotes safe use of essential oils. Cautions are listed right on the bottle (also on the website if the print’s too small for you read).  They even have a Certified Aromatherapist on staff to answer questions.
  • What if you don’t like it? They have a ridiculously generous return policy. 

Simple Way to Start Using Natural Products at Home

This is where Simply Earth really shines. You know aromatherapy can help support your wellness. Or maybe you want to use natural products in your home, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all of the options out there.

Enter the Simply Earth subscription. Each box has a theme (ex. green cleaning, fall spa) and contains  four bottles of essential oil, 5-6 recipes, and a few extras to make the recipes (September’s had some Epsom salts, jojoba oil, and some roller bottles).

Since it’s only a few oils, you can take the time to learn about each one. The recipes give you options for use and different ways you can blend them together. This way, you’re actually using your oils instead of letting them gather dust (not that I would know anything about that!).

Savings For You

Simply Earth‘s essential oils are very reasonably priced. But I also have a coupon code for you! You have 2 options:

  1. Sign up to receive a monthly or quarterly subscription and receive a $40 gift card (via email). It can be cancelled at any time (but I don’t think you’ll want to).
  2. Or get $10 off from purchases of any oils from the website.

Here’s how:  Click the button below and when you’re ready to checkout use coupon code: BALANCECHAMPAIGNFREE

Shop Simply Earth

*The links to Aromatics International and Simply Earth are affiliate links. When you order from Aromatics International, we’ll both earn $10 credit and if you purchase through Simply Earth, I will earn a small commission. Be assured, I only recommend products and services I actually use and value.

Is a poorly fitting bra causing you pain?

Upper back pain is one of the top reasons folks come to see us for massage. Lots of things, like staring at a computer for 8 hours a day or lugging a heavy backpack around, can contribute to back pain. But could the fit of your bra be causing pain as well? We checked in with the local experts at Confidentially Yours to find out.


Published in the journal Chiropractic & Osteopathy, a survey conducted in 2008 by bra manufacturer Triumph found that 80% of women were wearing the wrong size bra. There are numerous reasons why women are in the wrong bra size, from lack of information to embarrassment for asking for a fitting, but the effect is what everyone has in common—it’s bad for your body.

Back pain is one of the main conditions that physical therapists treat. What you choose to wear can have an impact on your posture, and thus, on your back pain. Experts warn that an ill-fitting and unsupportive bra can cause postural disorders and back pain as they cause the woman to slump forward in a slouched position and result in sharp or dull pain between the shoulder blades.

If your bra isn’t fitting correctly and the band is loose, it will ride up your back. It may not bother you, but it will cause you to roll your shoulders forward which can then strain your upper back muscles. Most of your bust’s weight is held by the bra’s band and when your band doesn’t fit correctly it can cause the weight of your breasts to shift to the shoulders which can lead to upper back pain. You want your band to be snug, but not uncomfortable. It should be level with the floor and not ride up on your back.

On a different note, if your bra is too tight, it can restrict the movement in your upper back, causing stiffness in the spine and restriction. This can cause a backache which can then develop into back pain. Suzanne Pentland, an expert bra fitter for the brand Freya, adds that “your bra should not move throughout the day. The band should be firm enough to sit in place but if it’s too big, your bra will move and this causes rubbing on the skin, which can cause irritation.” If your band is too snug or too loose and riding up, it may be time to get fitted.

Making sure you’re in the right size bra is also important if you live an active lifestyle. Any type of activity from walking to running to playing sports requires a good-fitting sports bra. Your breasts have ligaments called Coopers ligaments that support the tissue. Other than that, there’s not much going on in terms of support, which is why, if you’re doing any sort of physical activity, it’s important to wear a good fitting sports bra. The stretching of the ligaments can’t be reversed and can lead to sagging and back pain later on.

It’s also important to remember that your body goes through changes and this means your bra size might change as well. The staff at Confidentially Yours recommend getting a bra fitting every 3-6 months or when you have a lifestyle change, such as pregnancy or any type of weight gain or loss.


Got upper back pain? You may also like:

Simple Shoulder Exercise for Less Pain
Got Pain from Sitting at a Desk?
5 Tips for Neck and Shoulder Care Between Massage Appointments


Founded in 1982, by Jean Duden, Confidentially Yours has grown over the last 35 years to provide bras, breast forms, lingerie, shapewear, and swimwear for women of all shapes and sizes.

At Confidentially Yours, we promise to help you maintain a positive self-image by providing you with the best possible fit, great service and compassion. We want you to look and feel your best so you can be your best.   

Simple Shoulder Exercise for Less Pain

Got nagging pain in between your shoulder blades from working on the computer, texting, or doing yard work? Sure, massage can help, but we don’t always have a massage therapist handy when we need one!

I discovered this exercise this past week and I’m amazed by the pain relief after practicing just a few minutes:

You can read her article here: How to Get Great Shoulders!

So next time you have shoulder pain and your massage is too far away, try “The Quasimodo.” Don’t have a scheduled massage? Book one here.

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Reboot Your Mind and Body

Do you feel stretched in a hundred different directions?

Obligations, deadlines, appointments, meetings, work, housework, sports…..everything else! More often than not, it seems there aren’t enough hours in the day or days in the week for all that needs to be done. We’re on constant high alert. We’re always moving.

All this chaos can be hard on our bodies and minds. When this happens, we tend to be less mindful of our eating. Or chasing sleep like it’s a lively kitten. Or we get snippy with loved ones and coworkers.

The effects of this day to day stress are cumulative for most of us. Stiff joints get stiffer. Cranky shoulders get crankier, then one rogue golf swing or one heavy laundry basket makes it worse.

Massage is the mini-vacation you need. Without the sand in your shoes and having to pull your computer out of your backpack. Massage therapy is a reboot. It’s the control-alt-delete for your body and mind.

A massage resets your thoughts, slows your pulse, regulates your breathing, and recharges your mind.

Spend some time on one of our cozy massage tables, taking care of you. You can schedule online right here.

6 Healthy Actions You Can Do At Work

May is Global Employee Health and Fitness Month, so we are going to talk about some ways to promote the benefits of a healthy lifestyle by giving you simple actions you can do anywhere… especially at work.

Stairs

Take the stairs.
Pedometers, Fitbits, and various health tools track steps and daily mileage. One of the first things people do when they lean into a healthier lifestyle is to increase their movement. This can take the form of an actual organized fitness plan or by incorporating little acts that propel them forward toward their goals; such as taking the stairs and parking a little further from the building.

Get up.
If you’re a desk jockey, one of the best things you can do is to get up and move. Do it every hour if you can. This action can increase blood flow as well as your productivity. A 5-10 minute break can prevent eye strain, cramped wrists and stretch a stagnant body.

Increase your water intake.
Hydrate. Do we really need to tell you why? Drinking water is good for you and will keep you hydrated. Benefits also include improving digestion and clearer skin. Keep a water bottle with you at all times and sip from it often. (Bonus tip: Couple drinking water with a repetitive activity can be a good way to stay on task.)

Eat something.
Very busy people often forget to eat. We’re not talking sugary snacks that boost your energy (and then cause a crash) throughout the day. We’re talking about healthy, good-for-you snacks that keep you feeling full and satisfied without all the calories and carbs.

Breathe Deep.
The workplace can be hectic at times. Finding a moment to take a deep breath can keep the most frazzled days focused and on point. Remembering to breathe will help you reduce stress and anxiety, slow your heart rate, and just feels good.

Get a massage.
Ok, so this one is kinda hard to do on the clock. We’ve managed to find ways around this though. Scheduling a half hour massage on your lunch break might be just the thing to keep you on task and relaxed. You could go for a full treatment off the clock OR maybe you can talk “the powers that be” into recruiting some massage therapists for some seated chair massage right there in the office.

There are so many other ways to practice healthy habits at work. From balancing poses at the copier to correcting your posture at your desk. Practicing healthy habits in the workplace is tricky. Find ways to work them in and before long you won’t even notice the extra tasks that are bringing you one step closer to a healthier you!

Need a break from the office? Book a massage.