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  • Writer's pictureAshley Johnson

Massage and Anxiety Disorders

Per the National Institute of Mental Health, over 40 million adults in the USA experience anxiety disorders. Types of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias. Symptoms that occur may include excessive and persistent worry or fear about daily situations, feeling tense, racing heartbeat, fatigue, and avoiding the things that trigger anxiety. These feelings of anxiety are pervasive and interfere with quality of life.

Research has indicated that massage can be very effective in reducing various types of anxiety, including those experienced with anxiety disorders. An important component of the nervous system is the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve runs from the brain to the abdomen. It affects heart rate, breathing, digestion, and plays a role in the body’s response to stress. Massage techniques that utilize rhythmic movements and gentle pressure can soothe the vagus nerve, resulting in increased feelings of well-being. Massage therapy reduces the amount of cortisol, a stress hormone, in the body, and increases serotonin, a neurotransmitter often referred to as “the happy chemical.” The quiet and restful atmosphere in a massage session also provides a safe environment to refocus, decompress, and rest. For these reasons, therapeutic massage can be a beneficial addition to standard medical treatment for anxiety disorders.

Trying massage therapy for the first time, trying a new massage practitioner, or trying a different massage modality can feel challenging for those who experience anxiety. We encourage you to communicate with your practitioner at intake, as well as during the session, about any concerns you may have. Our staff at Ohana will work with you to customize a massage treatment to your needs. This includes a clear understanding of what areas to apply massage therapy or any areas to avoid, as well as what types of techniques and amount of pressure to use. You may also schedule a consultation with any of our massage practitioners to go over any questions you have.

Self Care for the Vagus Nerve


Bhramari is a low or medium pitch buzzing sound that gently massages your throat, tongue, teeth, and sinuses. The vibration produced stimulates the part of the vagus nerve that runs along both sides of the throat.

To begin, stand or sit comfortably. Take a couple easy breaths in and out. Once ready, inhale. Exhale while making a buzz or humm sound for the entire length of the exhalation. Be mindful of the sensation of vibration throughout the head and neck. Repeat 5 to 10 times. If this exercise becomes difficult or you feel agitated, please return to normal breathing.

Triangle Breathing

Triangle breathing is a technique that focuses on moving the diaphragm up and down.

It is a three part technique, in counts of 4, breathing through the nose, and tucking the chin.

To begin, stand or sit comfortably. Take a gentle deep breath in through the nostrils for a count of 4. Tuck your chin toward your chest, gently plug your nose, and hold for a count of 4. Then return your chin and release your breath from your nostrils for a count of 4. Repeat this as many times as you like, or until you feel a deep sense of relaxation.

Ear Massage

The vagus nerve can be massaged through the ears. This technique is quieter than bhramari and more discreet than triangle breathing, making it an easy self care activity to utilize throughout your normal day.

To begin, make a pinching grip with your pointer finger and thumb. Pinch the inner ridge of each ear, or pinch each earlobe, whichever feels more comfortable. Make 5 gentle circles forward, then 5 backward. Repeat as often as you would like. You may also increase the amount of traction by pulling gently with each circle.


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