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Massage for SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)

Massage_back-front_02Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is defined as winter depression. It is triggered by the onset of winter, and it is thought to be due to the decrease in sunlight, which decreases vitamin D levels. Studies have shown that low vitamin D may be linked to depression [1].

SAD is typically treated with light therapy, psychotherapy and medications such as antidepressants. Symptoms of depression include loss of interest in things you were once very interested in, irritability, fatigue, sleep changes, decreased energy and general low mood. In the winter months, people stay inside more, so activity levels change. These changes decrease the body’s production of endorphins, which are natural mood lifters.

If you are experiencing symptoms of SAD also consider therapeutic massage. Massage is, in essence, its own medicine. Massage greatly reduces the symptoms of depression. Massage decreases cortisol levels, and with decreased cortisol levels there is a decrease in stress. Massage allows the body to restore parasympathetic nervous system functioning. In this state the body is at rest and is able to digest. Massage increases the level of endorphins (the body’s natural anti-depressant) which interrupts the fight or flight mechanism. Massage strengthens the mind/body connection. It increases our general sense of wellbeing and increases our immunity and vitality.

General side effects of antidepressant medicines can include:

  • Nausea, loss of appetite, or diarrhea
  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Difficulty sleeping or drowsiness
  • Headaches
  • Sexual dysfunction

Massage may help you cope with the side effects of antidepressants, depending on the type of medication used. Inform your massage therapist of your medications and all their potential side effects. Massage can be tailored or may be contraindicated while taking some medications [2].

Possible side effects of massage may include:

  • Muscle soreness: This can be prevented by increasing water consumption for 48-72 hours after a massage and utilizing topical analgesics or hydrotherapy.
  • Flu-like symptoms: If you do not hydrate after a massage during which a lot of toxins in your body are released, you may experience flu like symptoms.
  • Low blood sugar: Massage may lower blood sugar. It is important to get up slowly from a massage table, drink water and get something to eat.

When looking for treatment of SAD consider massage as its own medicine or use it in conjunction with medical and psychological treatment.


Footnotes:
1 — A recent study of more than 12,500 people aged 20 to 90 showed that people with the lowest levels of vitamin D were more likely to report symptoms of depression, compared to those with higher levels. This relationship was strongest among people with a history of depression. See more at WebMD: Low Levels of Vitamin D May Be Linked to Depression

2 — From USPharmacist.com: Massage Therapy: Implications for Pharmaceutical Care


Tammy GodetteTammy Godette, Massage Therapist at Casey Health Institute.