Massage therapy has been shown to decrease stress and depression while it increases good mood and a sense of well-being, and so many obese massage clients may benefit from these stress- and anxiety-reducing effects of massage sessions, new research indicates.

The study from Rhode Island Hospital indicates that obese individuals with social anxiety related only to their weight may experience anxiety as severe as individuals with social anxiety disorder (SAD).

The new research from Rhode Island Hospital, led by Kristy Dalrymple, Ph.D., evaluated a group of individuals who were seeking clearance for bariatric surgery. The researchers identified three separate groups: 135 individuals diagnosed with DSM-IV SAD; 40 individuals classified as “modified SAD” who experienced clinically significant social anxiety related to weight only; and 616 individuals with no history of psychiatric disorders.

In their study, both the SAD and modified SAD groups were rated as having poorer social functioning as an adolescent compared to the no disorder group, but there was no difference between the SAD and modified SAD groups in this respect, with similar results found in social functioning over the past five years.

Results also showed that those in the modified SAD group experienced more disruption in their social life and were more distressed about having social anxiety in the past month compared to those in the SAD group. Dalrymple says,

“We found it particularly interesting that the modified SAD group reported greater levels of disruption in social life and distress about their social anxiety compared to the DSM-IV SAD group,” said Dalrymple. “This suggests that although our modified SAD group had social anxiety that was related to obesity only, their level of impairment was significant.

“It could be that for individuals in which anxiety is related only to obesity, the change in social life functioning is more recent due to weight changes, and therefore, more distressing than for individuals who have experienced more generalized forms of social anxiety over a longer period of time,” she added.

The study is now published online in advance of print in the journal Depression and Anxiety.

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