Archive for October 11th, 2010

By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

People seek massages for a variety of reasons: Stress relief, reducing muscle tension, improving recovery from injury, to enhance athletic performance, and to just pain feel good (versus feel bad or being in pain and tension). If you’ve noticed lately, a new study that links social anxiety to increased inflammatory response has been all over the Internet. So what does this have to do with massage therapy? Plenty.

First off, massage therapy is one of the main complimentary health care approaches for stress relief. Research has shown that massage therapy lowers blood pressure, elevates levels of serotonin and dopamine and reduces levels of cortisol. This new study, conducted by George Slavich, a postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, and Shelley Taylor, a UCLA professor of psychology,  found that people who have a greater neural sensitivity to social rejection (social anxiety) also have greater increases in inflammatory activity in response to social stress.

A temporary increases in inflammatory response may have been useful for our ancestors when they were confronting a physical threat which may have been triggered by a social threat from a neighboring tribe or another tribe member jockeying for position. Inflammation may be triggered by anticipation of a physical injury.  Proteins that regulate the immune system called, inflammatory cytokines  are released in response to impending (or actual) physical assault because they accelerate wound-healing and reduce the risk of infection. However, chronic inflammation can increase the risk of asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer and depression, according to the UCLA study.


George Slavich, UCLA


Study author George Slavich said that how people react and interpret social situations has an important effect on how people trigger the inflammatory response. For example, some people may view being the enter of attention (such as giving a speech or attending a party), as a welcome challenge. Others may see the same event as extremely uncomfortable or even threatening.

“This is further evidence of how closely our mind and body are connected,” Slavich said according to a UCLA press release about the study. “We have known for a long time that social stress can ‘get under the skin’ to increase risk for disease, but it’s been unclear exactly how these effects occur. To our knowledge, this study is the first to identify the neurocognitive pathways that might be involved in inflammatory responses to acute social stress.”

Potentially anxiety producing situations like job interviews, public speaking, large parties, even award ceremonies can lead some people to feel extreme anxiety.

How can massage therapy help? One way would be to hire your own personal massage therapist to travel around with you and give you a chair massage any time you feel social anxiety. Bob Hope did it. That it, he had his own personal massage therapist for years that gave him a massage every day. I’m not sure that daily massage was to improve Bob’s social anxiety, because I don’t know if he had any! But he did get daily massage for many years. And Bob lived to be 100 years old.

For most of us a daily professional massage not really practical. But how about scheduling a massage the day before or a few hours before or after your big event. The massage may help relax you and flood your body with feel good chemicals. It’s difficult to feel tense and stressed while feeling relaxed at the same time!

Other strategies for coping with social anxiety include working with a cognitive behavioral therapist to help you better manage your thoughts that make your responses to social situations less stressful.

“Although the issue is complex, one solution is to not treat negative thoughts as facts,” Slavich said. “If you think you’re being socially rejected, ask yourself, what’s the evidence? If there is no evidence, then revise your belief. If you were right, then make sure you’re not catastrophizing or making the worst out of the situation.”

The study appears in the current online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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