Sunday, March 1, 2009

Anxiety, PTSD, OCD & Massage Therapy

By Susette Jenkins L.M.T.

As a licensed massage therapist, working with excess stress and anxiety is a main theme of my practice. I see mild forms of anxiety, in other words clients expressing that they are feeling anxious about work, relationships or taking their upcoming final exam. I also see more severe cases of chronic anxiety and its related counterparts ranging from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), OCD (Obsessive compulsive disorder), panic attacks, and depression.

So what is anxiety?
Anxiety is defined as distress, or unease of mind caused by fear or danger of misfortune. Another way to put it is the feelings you have when you are stressed.

With PTSD something triggers a memory and your body reacts as if the threat of the event is happening right now. PTSD can be a result from war, abuse, accident, or natural disaster. In these cases of extreme stresses and fight for survival you do what is necessary to protect and preserve yourself. When life is calm you may not have let go of that wonderful life preserving energy and it is coiled tightly in your body ready for the next attack and as a result you are now overreacting to non-threatening situations.

With OCD you are constantly worrying and doing the same repetitive task over and over again (such as washing you hands, turning a light off and on, or making sure you locked the doors) because it gives you a feeling of control, comfort and security. Again this is a fear-based compulsion because if you weren’t afraid of something why would you need to feel secure?

With panic attacks you can have chest pain, heart palpations, shaking, trouble breathing and sometimes feelings of fear, dread, or going crazy.

People can develop anxiety even if they haven’t been through a traumatic event such as war, abuse, accident or natural disaster. For example, anxiety can manifest from other stressful life situations such as: surgery, pregnancy, miscarriages or childbirths, marriage, divorce, toxic relationships, change of jobs, moving, family illness or the wear and tear of a long term overburdened schedule. It is important to realize that both micro and macro stresses depletes body resources and the energy it needs to function properly.

Depression can occur because you have been in a stressful or anxious state for so long your resources become depleted and you crash.

Truth be told if you look at all the reasons for anxiety the theories are endless (including genetic factors), so let me give it to you from a massage therapist standpoint. Something has happened that has put your body into over-drive. A massage therapist can help restore balance and then enhance health, especially when it is complemented with Oriental medicine techniques and special meditative exercises such as Tai Chi and Qi Gong. I will describe more about this below.

Breathing & Massage
As massage therapists one of the first things we do is to bring awareness to and support proper breathing.

Correct relaxation breathing is the number one way, in my opinion, to alleviate anxiety. When stressed, your breathing shifts to small shallow gasps of air in your chest rather than slow deep abdominal breaths. This can cause neck and shoulder tension because you are using the smaller muscles in your upper body that quickly become exhausted. You have to breathe more rapidly because lungs aren’t completely filling with oxygen so you compensate for the loss which keeps
you in a state of anxiety and desperation.

With abdominal breathing your diaphragm drops, forming a vacuum to allow air to completely fill your lungs. When your lungs fill properly your internal organs are naturally massaged, promoting them to fulfill their vital functions such as de-toxing your blood and absorbing nutrition from your food. Abdominal breathing also pumps lymph and venous blood (blood retuning to the heart) that runs though the abdomen. Deep breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system (the relaxation portion of the nervous system), which allows full dilation all the way down to the cellular levels so even the capillaries (blood vessels one cell thick) are open and able to deliver oxygen and nutrition to every cell in the body.

The Power of Healing Touch
Just being touched is healing in and of itself. It has been proven over time that out of our 5 senses, touch is the one sense that if not satisfied will cause us to perish. Touch is the first sense that develops when we are an embryo. Healing touch can relay compassion, relaxation, and security. Our deep desire for healing touch comes out in our language, like “Let’s keep in touch”. People who are touch deprived (something very common in our non-touch American society) can try to fill the void with other addictions such as food and alcohol.

Getting a weekly massage even for just 15 minutes is a wonderful way to nurture and put yourself at ease. For people who have anxiety because of previous negative touch experiences, building a professional relationship with an understanding massage therapist can be a wonderful experience. During these customized healing sessions (often times fully clothed) you can experience the feeling of safety touch can bring.

Acupressure and Oriental Medicine
Therapists trained in Oriental medicine are able to make energetic assessments to restore health and balance. Meridians are channels of energy that run though the body and connect with all your systems (urinary, cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive etc) Acupressure points are the transistors we use to increase or decrease the function of that system or organ thus helping you attain balance and health at a deeper level. For example we have very specific protocols to help headaches, high blood pressure, IBS, insomnia, and depression. In cases of anxiety everyone is different but your therapist has the ability to customize a treatment protocol and wellness program that is right for you. We usually manipulate the points with special massage techniques and we also have a variety of non-needling techniques we can use, such as:

Cupping: A special suction technique to pull out toxins deep in the body.
Moxa: A special herb used to warm acupressure points or meridians.
Gua Sha: A technique that uses jade or bone as massage tools
Auricular therapy: Similar to reflexology this treatments places beads into points in the ears for a healing effect.

Herbs, essential oils, Five Elements nutrition, or special QiGong exercises may also be used to complement your series of healing session.

Emotional Balance
There are extreme emotional components with anxiety because something has “upset” you and caused you to go into overdrive. It could be something physical, emotional or spiritual, conscious or unconscious. The emotions you feel could be fear, anger, grief, worry or even elation (you know the times you just start laughing hysterically and can’t stop before you crash into a depression again).

From an Oriental medicine perspective emotions are simply viewed as information. “Emotion” is derived from the Latin “e-mot” or “outward moving”, meaning the outward expression of inner feelings. When you become tense you can clamp down on that outward movement. Emotions are after all nothing but a chemical reaction inside your body and can be stored in your tissues.

As you relax in a safe place those emotions can release and continue to move out allowing proper body balance and function to be restored. Even if you are not sharing with your massage therapist the emotion you are experiencing during the session they know how to coach you to relax and breathe though the experience allowing you to internally discover balance, peace, bliss and often times deeply personal insights.

Self-Healing and Empowerment
Tai Chi and QiGong are meditative balancing exercises that can either complement your massage session or be stand-alone therapies. Both teach you proper relaxation breathing and meditative body stances. We always encourage our clients who suffer from chronic anxiety or depression to enroll in one of these classes to support them if they have the desire to manage their own health.
Tai Chi is a Chinese style of martial arts preformed slowly. You may have seen it practiced in the parks around town or on TV. It builds strength and endurance. How it directly applies to anxiety is that it teaches you how to relax under stress so you don’t clamp down on your emotions. Tai Chi takes commitment but you are getting more than exercise. You are teaching your body through movement not only how to be appropriately assertive and protect yourself and be smooth, harmonious and relaxed in the world.

QiGong means “Energy Work”. There are thousands of QiGong exercises. Each is designed to do something different such as lowering high blood pressure or strengthening your tendons. My favorite for anxiety is a QiGong called Ba Duan Jin translating as “8 precious movements for longevity”. Each movement is designed to nurture your internal organs and bring overall balance. It is simple and easy to learn and wonderful to do to transform anxiety and rise above depression.

How to get started:
Please visit us at the Oriental Healing Arts Center 2636 Spenard Rd.
Walk in Services available 7 days a week
Full body healing sessions are available by appointment. We have several levels of therapists to serve you.

General Relaxation Massages and Rejuvenation:
Walk-in Chair Massage & Reflexology foot spa: are available on a walk in basis open Mon-Sat 9am –10pm and Sundays Noon-8pm. This is the best service to alleviate immediate pains and anxieties until a full body session can be scheduled.

Student Clinic: Relax while helping one of our students learn to be a licensed therapist. Students practice daily Qi Gong and meditation and the foundation of oriental medicine and acupressure. Please understand that students are practicing a general relaxation and rejuvenation massage and may not treat serious medical conditions.

Professional: Our top graduates until they have acquired 2 years of experience. Professionals can start customizing their massage towards specific individuals for relaxation and rejuvenation. Hour and a half session’s available.

Therapists Qualified for Therapeutic Treatments & Cases of Chronic Anxiety:

Oriental Healing Massage Therapist:

At least 2years of experience
Additional training in oriental medicine and non-needling techniques
Practice daily meditation and self cultivations of Tai Chi, Qi Gong or Yoga
Many have studied in China or with Chinese masters
Have the ability to customize a session right for you.

Master Massage Therapist:
At least 5 years of experience
Additional training in Oriental medicine and non-needling techniques
Practice daily meditation and self cultivations of Tai Chi, Qi Gong or Yoga
Have studied in China or with Chinese masters
Have achieved a higher level of Cultivation and Intuition
Have the ability to customize a session right for you.

Master Healer & Spiritual Director:
25 years experience in the Taoist Arts (Chinese Medicine)
Tai Chi & QiGong Master and Instructor
Herbal Consultations
Sees the root of the disease on the spiritual level
Specializes in: Energy Healing, Qi Healing, Spiritual Healing
Serious requests only

Susette Jenkins is an Oriental Healing Massage therapist at the Oriental Healing Arts Center. She works with Anxiety and Depression as well as PMS, IBS, Headaches and Fibromyalgia. She is available for workshops and teaches Tai Chi and Ba Duan Jin Qi Gong on Wednesday Nights 7:30-8:30pm
Other Beginner Tai Chi, QiGong classes available 7 days a week. For more information visit our Center or web site at


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