Corona Virus and economy related newspaper headlines

Stay-at-home, social distancing and shelter-in-place orders have been key elements in the fight against the coronavirus (COVID-19).

While these measures and others are believed to have helped slow the spread of the virus in most states, they may have contributed to another public health problem: depression, anxiety and an increase in stress, according to research conducted by multiple organizations.

For you as a massage therapist, this means many clients will be returning to your table suffering from tension, pain and other physical effects of stress — and massage purely for stress relief, or even simply for the sake of healthy touch, may be what they need.

Social Distancing Can Contribute to Anxiety

Joy Specht, a massage therapist in Ozark, Missouri, who recently reopened her practice, has seen the effects of people having isolated themselves. “Some of my clients were extra emotional because of the touch therapy, those that had been mostly by themselves for weeks and weeks,” she told MASSAGE Magazine.

“[Clients’] issues before the pandemic were mainly work or family-related,” said Brenda Schwartz, a massage therapist and esthetician in Mount Airy, North Carolina. “Clients now have the above but added global stress.”

Results of the Household Pulse Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics, have revealed that 30% of Americans show symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD. (Defined by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America,, GAD is characterized by persistent, excessive worry.) Twenty percent of respondents to the Household Pulse Survey showed signs of both anxiety and depression.

You might encounter clients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), noted Jimmy Gialelis, a massage therapist and educator in Tempe, Arizona.

“The past 10-12 weeks have been traumatic for everyone to varying degrees. People have emerged from this time with different levels of anxiety or other emotional manifestations,” he said. “I encourage everyone to become more educated on PTSD as many more people [will] present with this after these times of trial.”

Social Distancing Can Contribute to Poor Health

Some clients may come to you showing the effects of not dealing with their stress in a healthy way — those who have stopped exercising due to their gym closing down, for example.

“People are so far-more-stiff from not being on a regular workout routine,” said Brandi McIntosh, a massage therapist in Tallahassee, Florida. “I have had several surprised that certain pains didn’t magically go away with not being at work. They are just as stressed, if not more, if they have had to homeschool [their kids].”

Work & The Economy Are Stressors Too

The American Psychological Association has released the first volume of its annual report, “Stress in America 2020: Stress in the Time of COVID-19.” The survey, conducted by the Harris Poll on the APA’s behalf, included just over 3,000 U.S. adults and took place between April 24 and May 4.

Work proved to be a major source of stress for most of the survey respondents.

“The economy and work have become significant stressors for more Americans. The economy is reported as a significant source of stress by 7 in 10 adults (70%),” noted an APA press release. “For comparison, the percentage of Americans indicating that the economy is a significant source of stress is on par with the previous Stress in America-reported high of 69% during the recession in 2008.”

It also noted, “This is considerably higher than the proportion of adults who cited the economy as a stressor during the 2019 Stress in America Survey (46%).” Complete results of the Household Pulse Survey and the “Stress in America 2020” survey are available at and, respectively.

How Are We Sleeping Post-Quarantine?

When people are under stress, as many have been during the coronavirus crisis, sleep can easily be compromised. This poll from Sleep Standards, a sleep health research organization, looked at the sleep habits of about 1,000 Americans to find out what effect the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders and other restrictions have had on our nightly rest. It found that, since the pandemic:

  • 98% developed new sleep problems
  • 67% believe their sleep is less healthy
  • 53% spend less time sleeping
  • 31% find it hard to sleep
  • 21% have more vivid dreams/nightmares
  • 21% don’t get enough sleep

Mental Health Help

If you’re in crisis with anxiety or depression, reach out for help. SAMHSA National Helpline, available 24/7: 800-662-4357

About the Author:

Allison M. Payne is MASSAGE Magazine’s Associate Editor. Her recent articles include “MTs Ask: What is Asymptomatic Transmission of Coronavirus and What Does it Mean for My Practice?”