5 Tips for Reducing Burnout in Massage Therapy

Caregiver burnout can result from job stress and can impact both physical and mental health and potentially your massage practice. These tips can help!

Burnout, an issue generally stemming from job-related stress, especially affects massage therapists and people in other health care professions. It is not something to ignore or let pass, as it can be accompanied by serious mental health issues like depression, isolation, and trauma. There’s no need to make drastic changes, but by shifting your focus at times and listening to your emotional and mental state, you can achieve more life balance and reduce the daily burnout you feel.

Aim for More Balance

Work-life balance means different things to different people–some might balance out their business by spending more time with a partner and children, while others might introduce a new hobby or learn a new skill to feel more balanced. One 2003 study, for example, demonstrated positive improvement in caregivers who began making music recreationally.

If you’ve been working nonstop, even a short vacation could create more harmony between your career and your personal life. When a vacation simply isn’t feasible, reconsider the hours you’re putting in at work. Evaluate whether they’re serving you well as a practitioner but also as a human who needs time to rest and recharge. If more and more evenings or weekends have become occupied with work, it might be time to reprioritize.

Boost Your Self-Care

Studies show health care workers are notorious for neglecting self-care. If your practice feels particularly rushed or hectic, you might benefit from allocating more time for your own care and well-being. Treating yourself to a spa day might not always be realistic, but simple activities like staying hydrated, stretching, taking short walks, or journaling, however briefly, can effectively help ease burnout.

Mindfulness activities have particularly positive effects on burnout and are a sustainable way of preventing burnout and incorporating a self-care routine. Meditation, mindful movement, and walking meditation do not require any props or extra preparation. What’s more, they can be done anywhere. If you’re new to meditation, try downloading a free app to facilitate the process.

Try New Things

An immense field, bodywork offers numerous professional opportunities that only require a few continuing education hours or workshops. If your practice starts to feel less fulfilling, consider looking into an adjunct endeavor.

After years of practicing Swedish massage, for example, you might be interested in incorporating a therapeutic rock treatment. Or perhaps circumstances in your personal life are drawing you toward mindfulness-based approaches or energy work, such as Jin Shin Do and reiki. If your office setting allows for it, you might consider purchasing a spa tub and offering some types of hydrotherapy.

Acquiring new skills can breathe new life into your massage therapy practice, attract and help you retain clients, and introduce you to different bodywork modalities. Your new approach might allow you to be more creative and attentive to your own needs, and you can feel good about having taken the time for discovery and self-improvement.

Switch Up Your Marketing Strategy

By marketing differently you can reach new audiences, learn new skills, and boost your practice in a way that fits you better. Advertise your services in a local gym, for instance, and brush up on what you know about sports massage to attract a new type of clientele. Alternatively, connect with your local hospice organization to offer your services. Even if your involvement is strictly voluntary, you might make connections that result in more clients.

You might also consider branching out in marketing through new types of social media. While unlikely to become your go-to strategy, image-based platforms like Instagram and Pinterest create a unique branding opportunity. Invest a bit of time into researching these avenues, following bodywork and health accounts, and posting some images of your office space, for starters.

Seek Your Own Therapy

Massage therapists are always advised to receive massage regularly, both to experience others’ techniques and for the same benefits their clients receive: lowered stress and anxiety, reduced muscle tension and fatigue, and increased serotonin and dopamine levels (to help counteract depression). Of all people, massage therapists know the many ways bodywork can improve multiple aspects of life, and they are uniquely positioned to receive various types of bodywork because of professional connections.

If you’re experiencing burnout in your business, emotional state, physical well-being, or mental health, you can begin addressing these areas by receiving massage treatment. In many cases, caregiver burnout or compassion fatigue should also be regarded as a serious issue worth addressing with a mental health professional.

Avoid the temptation to immediately dismiss burnout as a phase you will naturally work through. Though this may be the case, feelings associated with burnout may also be deeply seated in grief, trauma, or depression. Either way, consulting with a psychotherapist can help you identify the roots of those emotions and a path for moving forward.

Health care providers are particularly susceptible to caregiver burnout because of the extraordinary amount of time and attention they put into meeting others’ needs and a tendency to neglect their own. But burnout is not a death sentence for your career or livelihood. Once you pay attention to the exhaustion you are feeling, you can address it and begin moving past it.

Is Massage Therapy a Good Treatment for Anxiety and Depression?

Research indicates massage therapy and bodywork can produce a wide range of mental and physical health benefits for those experiencing anxiety and depression.

Editors note: Some instances of anxiety and depression may be debilitating or life-threatening. This article is not intended to encourage massage therapy over professional mental health help and/or the treatment of a licensed mental health professional.

Many people may feel anxiety at some point in their lives. Persistent anxiety may be a symptom of a mental health issue, such as depression or generalized anxiety, or the result of other external factors, such as major life changes, traumatic experiences, or certain medications.

Stress is often a cause rather than an effect, and anxiety can be one of the many effects of living in a stressful environment. Many people may experience momentary anxiety from stressors such as a car swerving into their lane on the highway, but people who experience chronic anxiety may describe feeling worried about relationships, family, school, work, health, and money long after a triggering moment has passed. Additionally, it’s not uncommon for people who experience depression to report symptoms of anxiety, including irritability, nervousness, poor concentration, and insomnia.

Anxiety-related mental health issues can compromise the immune system, disrupt body chemistry, and make you feel tired and irritable. You may have a hard time sleeping, feel restless when awake, and have trouble concentrating. People with severe anxiety may even experience muscle tension, poor digestion, and “cold sweats.” If you feel this way, you’re not alone. Anxiety affects 40 million adults in the United States, which is about 18% of the population.

How Can Massage Therapy Help People with Anxiety?

Even after removing stressors from your environment, you may experience the lingering effects of anxiety and stress created by life situations that can’t be immediately changed. You can reduce anxiety by exercising, getting plenty of rest, and eating well. For a quick and healthy reduction in anxiety, consider finding a massage therapist who specializes in body-mind relaxation techniques.

A research team at Emory University studied the effects of Swedish massage therapy (SMT) on 47 patients with generalized anxiety. Study participants received two SMT sessions per week for six weeks. Using the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale, a common framework for measuring anxiety severity, they reported a reduction in symptoms for as many as six weeks after treatment. The researchers recommended massage therapy as a complementary and alternative therapy for generalized anxiety patients.

Depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental health issues. On average, 79% of cancer patients experience anxiety symptoms and 10-20% experience depression. A group of researchers—which included a cardiologist, psychiatrist, and two nursing experts—studied the effects of massage therapy on a group of cancer patients. These researchers found massage therapists provided effective and affordable care for a variety of cancer treatments. Patients who received massage therapy experienced improvements in pain, anxiety, and depression symptoms. These effects were especially pronounced for isolated patients who rarely received physical contact with others.

How Does Massage Therapy Help People with Depression?

A team at the University of Miami’s Touch Research Institute studied women with prenatal depression and found massage therapy and yoga were healthy for both them and their babies. Infants whose mothers engaged in massage and yoga treatments had higher birth weights and longer gestational ages (time spent in the womb). Their mothers reported decreased anxiety, depression, anger, and leg pain as well as healthier relationships. The researchers pointed out that massage therapy provides a natural alternative to antidepressants, which may cause side effects in some patients.

In a 2010 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, a group of researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 17 research papers examining 786 study participants to learn more about the positive mental health benefits of massage therapy. They found massage therapy was significantly related to improvements in depression symptoms.

Why Does Massage Therapy Relieve Anxiety and Depression Symptoms?

Many people with anxiety and depression can reduce the severity of their symptoms by engaging in activities that help increase focus on the present moment. This is a practice called mindfulness, which may be one of the reasons massage therapy and bodywork can effectively benefit a person’s mental health. Studies on mindfulness practice have noted its positive application for a wide range of conditions, from fibromyalgia to anxiety and depression.

Eckhart Tolle, an internationally recognized expert on mindfulness, recommends paying attention to all five senses, such as the feel of your breath, the smell of the air, the sounds around you, or the color of the walls. A massage therapist with experience using mindfulness techniques to treat anxiety and depression may be able to help you with this process. Because sense perceptions happen in the moment, people with anxiety and depression can “reset” their mental and emotional habits by deeply feeling their immediate experiences. This practice leaves little room for the mind to wander to past regrets and future troubles.


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