A cornucopia of stressors is contributing to an overall state of anxiety, depression and loneliness in the US today.
Four new nationwide surveys provide a picture of stress in America, from college students to working adults and seniors, and the conditions—including work, politics, finances, social isolation and health conditions—that are causing all that stress.
Understanding the stressors of current and potential clients gives massage therapists the opportunity to specialize in a technique serving a particular demographic and to target marketing materials to those people who could benefit most from therapeutic touch.
MASSAGE Magazine shares the results of these surveys here; a reporter also spoke with leaders in the massage field for perspectives on the benefits of massage therapy to harried Americans.
Students are Stressed
The 2018 State of the Student report is a survey of 1,000 students who represent the broad spectrum of demographics in the U.S. It found that anxiety is prevalent among college students, with 60 percent of respondents saying they are anxious “frequently” or “all the time.”
Among the results:
- The main source of students’ anxiety is finances, with 66 percent of students saying they cannot comfortably afford housing at their college, 37 percent have felt social pressure to spend more money than they can afford, 34 percent find it challenging or impossible to afford food, and 73 percent work while in school.
- Sixty-one percent of LGBTQ students have felt “very lonely” at college.
- Fifty percent of Hispanic students are concerned that someone they know personally may be deported.
American Adults Feel Anxious
Another survey, Economic Security and Work, conducted by the AARP and the Association of Young Americans, reflects input from 4,862 adults between ages 18 and 74, representing the Millennial, Gen X and baby boomer generations.
It shows that Americans across all three generations “have major concerns about their personal finances, debt levels, and the national economic picture, despite a growing economy,” according to a press release.
Politics is another stressor, with one in seven Americans losing sleep over the political landscape, according to a survey of 1,000 Americans conducted for Bankrate.
Among the results:
- The more income and education a person has, the more likely they are to los sleep over political worries.
- Younger baby boomers, those aged 54 to 63, are the most likely age group to lose sleep over politics.
- Survey respondents could choose from relationships, money, work, health and politics as reasons for their stress, and could select more than one option.
Relationships were the biggest stressor at 41 percent, followed by money at 36 percent, and then politics at 16 percent for those making $75,000 or more annually.
Seniors Suffer from Social Isolation
A survey conducted by AARP Foundation, “Loneliness and Social Connections: A National Survey of Adults 45 and Older,” found that one in three adults in the U.S. age 45 and older are lonely.
“Over the past several years, both loneliness and isolation have emerged as public health issues that could have serious implications for quality of life and the U.S. economy if not properly addressed,” stated an AARP press release.
Among the findings:
- Caregivers, people who identify as LGBTQ and low-income individuals are most at risk for chronic loneliness.
- The number people a person has in their social network and being physically isolated are the top factors that contribute to loneliness.
- Depression, urbanicity, anxiety, overall health and age also contribute to loneliness.
- Less than 20 percent of people have discussed feelings of loneliness with their health care provider.
How Massage Helps
Massage therapy is a potent antidote to anxiety, depression and feelings of isolation, according to experts and the body of research.
Massage educator Tammy Roecker, LMT, specializes in medical massage for anxiety and depression, as well as massage therapy for geriatric clients, among other demographics.
“Massage is a great tool for improving the feelings of anxiety in many ways,” Roecker said.
“First, massage stimulates the touch, pressure and proprioceptive receptors of the skin, and helps to balance the autonomic nervous system,” she said. “Second, massage relaxes muscles, increases blood circulation and lymph flow, and can alleviate pain in migraine sufferers.”
Massage educator Tracey J. Moon, LMBT, who also specializes in massage for anxiety and depression, said the foundation of massage in helping someone with anxiety is recognizing that anxiety is a symptom of an overwhelmed nervous system.
“The physical toll of anxiety reveals itself in the body through tension, pain, misalignment and discomfort,” said Moon.
“Through our touch, we make changes in the physical body, biochemistry, nervous system and emotions, sending messages to the anxious body to downshift into feeling relaxed and in a state to heal,” she added.
Touch Nurtures Isolated Seniors
For isolated and lonely seniors, massage can be the only time of connection and nurturance they experience, said Sharon Puszko, PhD, LMT, owner, director and educator for Daybreak Geriatric Massage Institute, who has written frequently about massage for older clients for MASSAGE Magazine.
“People are now living longer than they ever have before, and our society does not seem to know how to handle this,” said Puszko in her article, “Your Aging Clients” for MASSAGE Magazine.
“Whether living alone in their own house or in a retirement community, many people can become sad or depressed as their bodies and minds age,” she added. “Just having someone there on a consistent basis, whose attention is devoted to them for 30 to 60 minutes a week, can make a huge difference in their emotional well-being.”
People receiving massage can feel compassion through touch, and become more empathetic toward others—somewhat of a ripple effect, said Roecker.
Massage, she said, “also affects the digestive system, has an immune response, can decrease inflammation, and releases chemicals in your brain, like endorphins, which can help with stress, anxiety and depression.”
About the Author:
Karen Menehan is MASSAGE Magazine‘s editor in chief. Her recent articles include “Cannabis is Big Business for Colorado’s Massage Therapists” “California Massage Council Partners with Police Chiefs to Fight Human Trafficking,” and “Meet the MT Who Helped the U.S. Women’s Hockey Team Win Olympic Gold.”