Every massage therapist knows that stress is one of the main motivators leading clients to seek massage, and massage therapy has been shown to reduce stress, lower blood pressure and effect relaxation. New research shows that people who experience stress in social situations, including parties, public speaking and job interviews, experience immune-system responses that can lead to inflammation.

Researchers found that individuals who exhibit greater neural sensitivity to social rejection also exhibit greater increases in inflammatory activity to social stress, according to a press release from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Such increases can be adaptive; however, chronic inflammation can increase the risk of asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer and depression, the press release noted.

“It turns out, there are important differences in how people interpret and respond to social situations,” lead author George Slavich, a postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, said. “For example, some people see giving a speech in front of an audience as a welcome challenge; others see it as threatening and distressing.”

The researchers recruited 124 individuals, put them into two awkward social situations, and then measured biological changes in inflammatory activity.

“This is further evidence of how closely our mind and body are connected,” Slavich said. “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.”

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

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