Best massage therapy for anxiety and stress: 11 Massage Types Discussed

Anxiety can markedly reduce the quality of life. Regular attacks of anxiety attacks or panic attacks in an anxiety disorder can cause lots of stress. Most people seek successful relief from the symptoms. Which is the best massage therapy for anxiety and stress?

Shiatsu massage, a Japanese type of massage is the best massage for stress and anxiety because it leaves the person receiving the massage relaxed and also enables relief from stress, pain, and tension. However, you can check the other massage types for the one that gives you the best emotional and physical calmness, relaxation, and pain relief.

Massage has been prescribed by many anxiety physicians as one of the best natural methods for preventing or treating anxiety. Massage can either be done by a masseur, a masseuse, a companion, or by using massagers.

You can check the excellent massagers for anxiety here or get one from the ones below. These massagers enable you to relax, get good sleep, and keep your blood flowing well for anxiety relief.


What is a massage therapy?

Massage therapy is complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) that involves flexing, kneading, rubbing, pressing, and patting of different muscles and pressure points in the body. This helps to relieve muscle pain, injury, and tenseness.

The other CAM techniques include yoga, acupuncture, and aromatherapy. The massage therapists (masseur and masseuse) commonly use their hands and massage oil to manipulate the muscles. In some places, a massager can be used to deliver the massage.

In some therapy sessions or for some massage types, aromatherapy oils, and calming music too. The two are used to reduce stress while creating a relaxing environment.

A massage changes the electroencephalogram (EEG) brain activity and raises the parasympathetic activity. It also helps to reduce the cortisol levels in the body. For this reason, even though it is hard to prove it scientifically, available studies show massage helps to improve moods, reduce anxiety and stress, and lower depression.

Massage has gained popularity in the recent past in the management of emotional disorders like stress, depression, and anxiety disorders. In addition, it also helps you to have quality sleep.

For anxiety, massage offers relaxation and helps to reduce fears. It is also great in managing the other symptoms of anxiety disorders. It also improves attention.

A massage helps to alleviate pain and leave you feeling rejuvenated. Therefore it is recommended for fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis. It also helps to improve the immune function in the body. Due to the
immune function, massage can help in cancer therapy.

Common types of massage and their benefits

There are over 80 types of massage depending on the pressure applied, how it is applied and the muscles manipulated. These massages, therefore, work well for different kinds of pain and conditions.

The massage specialist can be able to select the type of massage that will work for your condition.

The following are the common types of massages:

1. Swedish massage

 Best massage for anxiety

A Swedish massage is one of the most widely used types of massage. It involves a gentle full-body massage best suited for people who are having a massage for the first time.

It is also good for people who have lots of tension in the muscles and also those who are sensitive to touch.

The massage helps the whole body to relax and can also help to cure muscle tightness, hardness, and tenseness. Therefore, it is one of the best massages for relaxation and relieving minor pain.

During the therapy, you may have to remove all your clothes or remain with your underwear but the specialist will cover areas that he/she is not manipulating.

The Swedish massage will use a combination of the following:

  • Long strokes for a start which flows in the course of the heart
  • Muscle rolling and kneading (Petrissage)
  • Pressure application on sore points
  • Passive joint movement procedures
  • Vibration, shaking, and pattering of the muscles
  • Tapotement (rhythmic tapping)

You can also use a massager to carry out the Swedish massage. One of the most recommended massagers for Swedish massage is the BaBylissPRO massager.

A session of Swedish massage can last for an hour or an hour and a half.

2. Shiatsu massage

Shiatsu massage is a Japanese massage that has been used for decades. It is one of the best massage types for anxiety, stress, pain, and tension. The name shiatsu means finger pressure.

The massage uses a combination of fingers, palms, and elbows to give rhythmic pressure and pulses to your body, especially at certain pressure points.

You can also get a Shiatsu massager. An example of an excellent Shiatsu massager is the Snailax neck and body massager. These massagers exact rhythmic pressure on your body for better relaxation and thus anxiety relief.

Shiatsu massage enables you to:

  • Get more relaxed and calm. This is done in a way to ensure both physical and emotional wellbeing
  • Relieve anxiety, depression, and stress
  • Ensure that the muscles are relieved of all the tension
  • Most times relieve headaches and other body pains

Shiatsu massage works on the whole body. The massage therapist can in the process of massaging the body realize that there are areas that need more attention and he or she focuses there (anxiety massage points).

For shiatsu massage, removal of the clothes is not a necessity. The whole process will be done in an hour or an hour and a half.

3. Aromatherapy massage

Aromatherapy massage for anxiety

This is an excellent massage therapy for anxiety and healing other emotional problems. This therapy uses diluted essential oils to offer soft, tender pressure on your body.

It is great in giving you the following:

  • A boost to your mood
  • Reduce anxiety, depression, and stress
  • Cure the tense muscles
  • Offer relief from pain

In this massage, most of the time you are given essential oils to inhale in addition to application on the skin. This is done by using an essential oil diffuser. The diffuser disperses natural oils into the air for you to inhale.

It has been proven by several studies that inhaling lavender and other essential oils is effective in treating neurological disorders. These disorders include anxiety disorders, negative moods, sleeping problems, pains, and convulsions/ seizures.

For aromatherapy massage, a person will need to have either no clothes on or just with the underwear. This is because of the areas of focus is the whole body but a therapist can decide to give special focus to the back, shoulders, and head.

Like the Shiatsu and Swedish massage, an aromatherapy massage lasts for about 60 to 90 minutes.

4. Reflexology

Reflexology is the application of pressure to the feet, ears, and hands so that you can relax and reduce stress. It can also restore natural energy to normal levels.

Reflexology focuses on the pressure points for people who do not want a full body massage but still want relief from stress and anxiety. In the procedure, the therapist may require you to wear loose clothing so that he/she can access the feet.

There is a hypothesis that some parts of the feet relate to different organs in the body. From this theory, a massage in an area of the foot, in which a foot chart is used to guide, can lead to relaxation and therapy to the corresponding body organ or system.

Reflexology according to several studies has been shown to alleviate or reduce pain, anxiety, and stress. It has also been shown to facilitate quality sleep. It is also non-intrusive and thus can easily be explored for anxiety therapy.

A normal reflexology session lasts for about half an hour to 1 hour.

5. Hot stone massage

Hot stone massage: a massage therapy for anxiety

This massage is quite similar to Swedish massage in the flow of hand strokes, kneading, and rolling, but in addition to using hands, the hot stone massage like the name implies uses smooth heated stones for therapy. The therapist can sometimes hold the stones during therapy.

This massage is very useful for people with tension and pain in the muscles. It is also good for people who want to relax. It also may enhance blood flow and relieve stress.

The most used stones for this therapy are the Basalt river rocks. These stones are very smooth in addition to the ability to retain heat for some time. They are heated using a professional stone heater to a temperature of between 110 to 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

The heated stones are placed in different parts of the body. Qualified massage therapists use the body’s anatomy to place the stones in areas thought to balance the mind and body energy and wellbeing.

The weight and heat from the stones give relaxation and warming to the muscles. The therapist can then give a deep therapy massage to the areas warmed with little or no pain.

The massage is used for the treatment of anxiety, stress and depression, anxiety back pain, and insomnia. Research on all the massages has shown that they have benefits for prenatal depression, arthritis, fibromyalgia, hypertension, and autoimmune conditions among others.

The whole hot stone massage therapy takes around 90 minutes. The therapist will request you to remove all your clothes or remain with an underwear.

6. Deep tissue massage

As the name suggests, deep tissue massage uses more pressure as compared to Swedish massage. The deep tissue massage pressure helps to alleviate pain and remove muscle knots in certain painful stiff body parts.

The therapist will employ slow and measured strokes with less rhythm to the other types of massage but focusing on the muscles, especially sore ones. Because of its deep tissue nature, it is very good at relieving chronic muscle tensions, injury, and pain.

Studies show that it is one of the best massage therapies for back pain and neck pain. The massage helps to improve blood flow and reduce inflammation in all the muscles.

In addition to back and neck pain, the following are the conditions in which a deep tissue massage is very effective:

  • Sports injuries especially muscle injuries
  • Sciatica
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Heel pain like plantar fasciitis
  • High blood pressure
  • Inflammation of tendons like tennis elbow

Deep tissue massage can be done on the whole body or a localized zone depending on the problem areas. The massage is not recommended for people who are too much sensitive to pressure and may leave some soreness for some days because of the deep kneading involved. This can be treated by using warm towels on the sore area.

The massage will take an hour or an hour and a half to be completed. During the massage, you will need to expose the area being worked on. In case it is a full body massage, you can be naked or in your underwear.

7. Sports massage

Sports massage

A sports massage is a deep procedure of soft tissue mobilization. It can be engaged in a sports environment (for athletes) or on people who are not in sports. It is sometimes called active release therapy (ART). It employs a wide range of therapy techniques like:

  • Kneading:
  • Effleurage: It can be superficial or deep. It is a circular stroking movement done using the palms. There are several effleurage benefits including increased healing, improved recovery, lymphatic drainage, and relaxation.
  • Squeezing and twisting
  • Hacking
  • Trigger pointing.

This is a massage that is used to enhance blood circulation, improve tissue elasticity, reduce pain, and relieve muscle tension. It is very useful when a person experiences repetitive muscle injury occasioned by frequent use of the muscle. Examples are injuries that emanate from sports.

The sports massage benefits include helping to prevent muscle injury, improve performance and flexibility thus leading to better performance. It can also be used to alleviate pain, anxiety, and muscle tension.

Depending on the problem area, the therapist can decide to do either a full body massage or focus on the area where there is a risk of injury. The therapy uses alternating deep strokes with gentle strokes. The combination helps to soothe while also working on the deeper muscles thus facilitating healing.

There are several types of sports massage depending on when and why it is administered. They include:

  • Injury rehabilitation sports massage: Used to restore normal function and use of an injured muscle, from joint pain and post-surgery recovery. This can help reduce anxiety after surgery too. Done by a qualified physiotherapist or massage therapist.
  • Injury prevention sports massage: Employs massage techniques to focus on areas of muscle tension, frequently used muscle, and rebalance biomedical imbalances.
  • At the event sports massage: The massage helps to remove lactic acid build-up thus helping to prevent injury. It also works on tired sore muscles to ensure a quick recovery.
  • Post-event sports massage: It is a massage used to restore you to the post-massage body condition. It helps in reducing recovery time when done within 48 hours after the event.
  • Maintenance Sports massage: This is a sports massage that helps to reduce recovery times between intense workouts. It can be done weekly or bi-monthly.
  • Pre-event sports massage: This massage is planned to be done within 24 hours of a sporting event. It helps to prevent injury and also prepares the body for the grueling action.

The massage lasts for an hour or an hour and a half. In this therapy, you may or may not be wearing your clothes. However, if you prefer having your clothes on, loose clothing that can allow access to the muscles should be worn.

8. Trigger point massage

It is a type of massage that focuses on trigger points (knots in muscles) to help people with injuries, chronic pain, or a specific ailment. It is well known that pain/ tightness from some trigger points can cause radiating pain in other parts of the body.

For this reason, it is important to identify the trigger point and give special massage attention to it. This will help to relieve the chronic pain experienced in other body parts.

The trigger point massage is done using:

  • Gentle, far-reaching, and flowing strokes
  • Stronger, deeper pressing of the trigger points
  • Rubbing on the trigger points
  • Massage on the whole body but special focus on specific body parts.

Trigger point massage benefits include relieving pain that emanates from some trigger points like back pains, neck pains, and myofascial pain among chronic pains.

It may cause some discomfort and relaxation after the massage. Some people may also feel tired and with some soreness after the massage for one or two days. Most of the people get immediate relief from the trigger point pain when just one massage session is done. This includes an energy boost.

The trigger point massage sessions last for around an hour or an hour and a half. For the session, you may be fully naked, half-naked, or wearing some lightweight clothes.

9. Chair massage

Chair massage
Man receiving massage from physiotherapist

A chair massage focuses on the neck, shoulder and back to give you quick relaxation and relief from stress. It can also be used to ease someone in the world of massage.

What is a chair massage?

The massage utilizes light to medium pressure to offer relief. In the session, a person sits on a massage chair, fully clothed. The massage therapist may request you to sit while facing the chair for him/ her to access your back.

The benefits of chair massage include:

  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Offers relief from soft tissue and muscle pain.
  • Helps to cure or reduce the intensity of headaches (both chronic headaches and migraines)
  • Gives relief from arthritic pain and carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Helps to cure body tension and offers relief from fatigue
  • Offers a cure for back, shoulder and neck pain
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Improved blood circulation to the hands and brain

The massage lasts for 10 to 30 minutes.

10.  Thai Massage therapy

Thai massage

A Thai massage is a traditional massage therapy that combines acupressure, yoga, and Indian Ayurvedic principles. The massage is good for persons who want an active and participatory form of massage.

The massage involves rhythmic movements that are similar to yoga stretching. The therapist will help you to conduct the stretches while also using their fingers and palms to apply firm pressure onto the body.

The following are the Thai massage benefits:

  • It helps to lower stress: Thai massage therapy helps to reduce chronic stress thus offering relaxation. This is because chronic stress can lead to other diseases like insomnia, cardiovascular disorders, depression, and anxiety disorders.
  • It gives an energy boost: According to research, Thai massages help to boost energy and mental stimulation. For this reason, it helps to offer relief from fatigue.
  • Helps to cure headaches: a 2015 study gave results that the traditional Thai massage helps in people with chronic tension-type headaches.
  • Develops the variations of motion: A Thai massage helps you to be flexible due to the techniques apply like yoga. This helps to improve the circulation of fluids to the joints to help in friction reduction.
  • Helps in blood and fluid circulation in the body: A Thai massage helps in the flow of lymphatic fluid, blood, and synovial fluid in their respective parts. This helps in diabetes, ensuring healthy hearts, in body balance, and in promoting cell growth.
  • It helps in sports performance, related injuries, and pains. The improved circulation, enhanced relaxation, improved range of motion, and energy boost helps in athletes performance and recovery

The Thai massage session lasts for 60- 90 minutes in which you are supposed to put on some comfortable and loose clothing.

11.  Couple’s massage

Couple's massage

It is like most regular massages but it involves having the massage with your partner in the same room at the same time, on different massage tables, and by different massage therapists. The partner may be a spouse, a friend, a colleague, or a family member.

The regular massage may be accompanied by access to hot tubs, sauna, and other spa facilities. Some couples’ massage treatments may include facials, body scrubs, and pedicures.

The couple may choose from a variety of massage types listed above to give relaxation. The couple may even choose a different massage type since they are using different massage therapists and also according to preference.

The following are the benefits of a couple’s massage:

  • Relaxation: A couple’s massage offers a chance to relax with your spouse. It is also great because you can have some discussion with your spouse as you get the massage. This little quality time together can help in reconnection.
  • Additional facilities: You get additional facilities during the massage. These include saunas, hot tubs, pedicures, facials, and body scrubs. They help in relaxation and give benefits to most body systems.
  • It gives the couple a new experience. Sometimes a couple may have experienced monotony in their lives. Regular dates involve dinners, movies, and walks among others, where normal life events can interrupt like phones. During a massage, the couple gets enough time to relax.
  • It helps to lower stress and anxiety. Most of the massage techniques help to reduce stress and anxiety. The anxiety and stress in the family can be resolved by a massage. One of the main causes of anxiety disorders is strain in family life. Relaxing together can put this to stop.
  • Intimacy. Massage with a spouse can increase intimacy between the two of you. The massage helps in relaxation, blood circulation, and healing. The massage gives you a chance for better emotional attachment and bonding.

The mode of dressing depends on the type of massage chosen and the level of comfort for exposing yourselves to the therapists. Also, the amount of time spent in the spa depends on the type of massage choices, any additional facilities among others.

How to choose the best massage therapy for your anxiety

Choosing the type of massage that you need for your anxiety is a tasking thing. However, one thing to note is that every type of massage when done by a qualified therapist or massager is good enough to relieve the anxiety symptoms.

There are several considerations however to make before deciding on the type of therapy that you should get. The following are the common things to consider:

  • Is it the first time to get a massage or you frequently get a massage? The Swedish massage is the best massage if you are getting a massage for the first time. All the other types of massages can be used when it is the first time massage however.
  • Do you have major pain or minor pain? And where is the pain located?
  • How much time do you have for the massage?
  • Are you comfortable with aromas?
  • The type of muscles targeted/ the area of focus. Some massages like Swedish massage target the superficial muscles whole others like deep tissue massage target the deep-lying muscles, tendons, and joints.
  • Cause of the injury or pain. Pains caused by repeated use of a muscle like in sports are better treated using deep tissue massage or sports massage.
  • The end result desired: A Thai massage gives an energy boost and mental stimulation while a Swedish massage gives improved relaxation and sleep.

What are the best massage techniques names (Movements)?

The massage techniques described in the types above are some of the best techniques for anxiety, stress, depression, and pain. The common techniques include:

  • Effleurage (sliding and gliding)
  • Kneading
  • Rhythmic tapping
  • Friction
  • Vibration/ shaking
  • Stretching of various body joints.

How much to tip a massage therapist

In the standard hospitality rates, the tip for a massage therapist for good work done is 20% of the massage fees. The amount will thus depend on the amount charged for the massage. For example, if you are charged $50 for a massage, the tip for good work done will be $10.

However, the amount tipped can be more or less depending on the satisfaction with the work done by the massage therapist. The tip should include a frank ‘thank you’. Sometimes a thank you can go a long way in making someone feel appreciated.

It is good to give the tip in cash to the massage therapist. This is because it helps the therapist in their day-to-day needs instead of waiting for the tip to come from the spa’s regular paycheck.

If you won a coupon for a massage, it is good to consider the original price for tipping. This works to ensure the tip is for the actual price of the work done. This is because, even with a coupon the massage therapist makes the same efforts in giving you a relaxing, pain, and stress-relieving massage.

For some Spas, there is a no-tipping policy. If that is the case then you should not tip. For less than satisfying massage, inform the front office or manager that you were not satisfied or note it in the suggestion box if it is available. However, it is good to still tip the massage therapist in this instance too.

How often should you get a massage for anxiety?

Massages have so many benefits in the life of the individual. The benefits on pain, anxiety, depression, cardiovascular conditions, and sports among others make massage something to consider.

From several clients who have visited our clinic, the question, “how often should I get a massage for anxiety?” The answer lies in answering the following questions:

  • How available are you for the anxiety massage?
  • Do you have enough resources to get the massage regularly?
  • How extreme is your anxiety?
  • The type of massage therapy preferred
  • Availability of a massage parlor for stress and anxiety near me
  • Availability of qualified massage therapists.

For anxiety, depending on the stressful situation, it is recommended that you get a massage regularly after a week or two. This means you can get the massage twice thrice or four times a month. For others, they can get a massage for anxiety once or twice a month.

The massage should be done using a qualified massage therapist. This will ensure that the massage does not lead to other complications since deep tissue massage or hot stone massage among others can cause more harm than good if done incorrectly.

What is the best massage therapy for anxiety and stress?

Most of the massage types work on pain, stress, and anxiety. However, there are some anxiety types recommended if you have chronic anxiety or have an anxiety disorder. You should strive to get the massage in an isolated and quiet room which are the best places to get a massage.

Some of the best massage therapy for massage include:

  • Shiatsu massage
  • Swedish massage
  • Hot stone massage
  • Thai Massage
  • Aromatherapy
  • Deep tissue massage

The 6 types of massage help in anxiety and work on the different body parts and stimuli for anxiety.

The final word

Massage is a good therapy for anxiety. It has been recommended by several senior psychologists and psychiatrists. It is also recommended in several books on anxiety. As one of the founders of anxiety disorder treatments, I always advise my clients to get a massage either by a qualified massage therapist or by the use of massagers.

Massage therapies also work on chronic pain, stress, depression, cardiovascular conditions among other disorders. It is therefore to have a massage considering the benefits.

The best types of massage therapies for anxiety will help you to cope with or prevent anxiety attacks. The therapy can be done after a week or two to get maximum effects in recovery and prevention.


Can a massage relieve anxiety?

A massage can relieve anxiety. It does so by lowering the levels of cortisol and epinephrine in your body while increasing dopamine and serotonin levels. As shown above, several studies have been made which support the hypothesis that massage can help relieve anxiety and depressive moods.

Does Swedish massage help with anxiety?

A Swedish massage when delivered by a professional masseuse can help with anxiety. In fact, other than the Shiatsu massage which is the best massage therapy for anxiety, the Swedish massage is quite effective for most forms of anxiety disorders.

Is Shiatsu massage good for anxiety?

Shiatsu massage is the best massage therapy for anxiety. It helps the body to lower cortisol and epinephrine levels while increasing dopamine and serotonin levels which are important in anxiety relief. With Shiatsu massage, the body is able to relax thus reducing the heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, metabolism, and oxygen consumption since it has effects on the neurotransmitters.

Can a deep tissue massage help anxiety?

Deep tissue massage is one of the best massage therapies for anxiety if done correctly by a trained professional. However, deep tissue massage can cause pain and increased anxiety is done by a novice since it can increase the pain or even introduce pain in some parts of the body. The deep pressing and kneading of the muscles that are used in deep tissue massage are able to release knots and relieve tension.

Dr. David Barlow

David is a well-known researcher and author in the anxiety disorders area with extensive research on their etiology, nature, and treatment. He started the site to share his real-life experiences on the management of anxiety disorders with successful diagnosis and treatment being his motivation to write or review the content on this site.