Lymphatic Drainage Massage and Anxiety

Lymphatic Drainage Massage at SeaRhythms Healing Arts in Charlottesville, VA 22911

One of the first things I noticed after I began receiving Manual Lymphatic Drainage massage (MLD) was a surprising absence of anxiety symptoms soon after my treatment.  I had been having varying levels of anxiety on an almost daily basis for the last couple of years, so when it suddenly wasn’t there anymore I was certainly relieved, but also quite curious about exactly how MLD could have had such an effect.

Anxiety can have a number of different origins, but it’s always related to an overwhelmed stress response, and involves a lot of stress hormones. Mine started during my menopausal metamorphosis, when the responsibility of making estrogen shifts from the ovaries to other organs, especially the adrenal glands, where stress hormones are also produced. 

When my body began this process I started to experience symptoms of adrenal exhaustion, which included fatigue, mental fogginess, reduced ability to cope with stress, sleep disturbances, and, yes, ANXIETY like I’ve never had before in my life. My poor adrenals were simply overwhelmed and said, Slow down woman! We just can’t keep this pace anymore!  

It was the proverbial straw that almost broke me, but on the positive side, also led me to make some much needed life-style changes. In addition to stepping back and learning to say NO a lot more often, upping my self-care routine, and getting therapy for the trauma I was carrying in my body (we all carry some trauma!), I was using herbs and mindfulness practices to manage my anxiety on a daily basis.  Even though I got somewhat better, the anxiety never really went completely away.  I had begun to accept my anxiety as part of my new reality, and I had a routine to manage it so I could function well enough to fulfill my daily responsibilities.

When the anxiety suddenly cleared up after lymphatic drainage therapy, of course I wanted to know more.


The mind-body connection & down-regulating the nervous system

A simple web search brought up a lot of interesting information. It turns out I’m not the first person to notice the relationship between MLD and reduced anxiety.

Much of what I found concluded that lymphatic drainage massage reduces anxiety by stimulating the lymphatic cleansing of the brain.  Researchers at U.Va. recently discovered that the lymphatic system is linked into the brain, when previously it was thought the brain had an independent detoxification mechanism. This discovery showed a direct connection between the immune system and the organ in charge of our psychological and neurological wiring, the brain.

This line of thinking is in agreement with what the field of Psychoneuroimmunology is telling us about the mind-body connection.  Stimulating the lymphatic system can not only positively affect the body, but also the mind.  In addition, the techniques we use are also working directly with the peripheral nervous system via the receptors in the skin, which also positively affects the mind and body.

So, as far as I understand at this time, lymphatic drainage massage may help with anxiety in two ways:

  1. Stimulating the lymphatic system can improve the body’s ability to clear itself of old hormones, chemicals, cellular debris, metabolic waste, etc. This reduces stagnation and inflammation in the tissues of the body and the brain, and literally helps to clear the very substances that can cause feelings of anxiety.
  2. MLD uses a gentle skin stretching technique over most of the skin surface to stimulate the lymphatic pathways. What’s interesting here is that skin stretching is a massage technique that also engages the peripheral nervous system in an incredibly soothing and restorative way.  Gentle skin-to-skin contact is particularly effective at regulating the nervous system, and has the exceptional ability to bring the nervous system into a relaxed state of rest & digest, which is well known to reduce stress & anxiety.

As I currently understand it, lymphatic drainage massage treats the lymphatic system AND the nervous system simultaneously. It now makes perfect sense to me how it was able to eliminate my own anxiety.


Can lymphatic drainage massage help every person who has anxiety?

I don’t know yet, but I am paying attention. As my experiences working with clients grows I’ll be able to say more about this in the future.

I do have a high degree of confidence that the physical aspects of anxiety — i.e. old hormones, debris, metabolic waste, etc that may be stored in the tissues, as well as the activation in the nervous system — can definitely be addressed somewhat effectively with lymphatic drainage massage. Therefore, I feel MLD could be an important part of any treatment plan for anxiety.

However, I also know that the physical aspects are only one piece of the puzzle. There may also be lifestyle habits and other emotional components that should be addressed as well.  In fact, in cases where trauma in the body is extensive, and anxiety is severe, I believe MLD therapy has the potential to release too much, too fast, adding to the individual’s overwhelm. My experiences so far, both in receiving this therapy and in observing client reactions, have convinced me that lymphatic drainage massage really is that potent.


Could lymphatic drainage massage help you?

If you’re not sure, contact me for a free consultation and we can decide together. If we decide lymphatic massage is not a good choice at this time, I also have other very effective bodywork tools to work with anxiety and an overwhelmed stress response, which might be a better place to start. I want to help you feel better. Let’s talk and figure out what might be right for you.

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