How touch therapy and massage can support your mental health
May 13, 2022
Helena Grzesk MBE
COO at the British Beauty Council

We’ve all experienced occasions where we’ve felt stressed or anxious, maybe a little overwhelmed at times and that’s perfectly okay, it’s a very normal response. There are endless situations that can cause stress such as moving house, problems at work, sitting examinations, having a baby, changing job, financial worries, divorce, illness, the loss of a loved one, the list goes on and on. In many instances stress is temporary and life as we know it will return to ‘normal’ following a period of time. But for others, living with a mental health diagnosis such as depression and anxiety can be long term challenge impacting across many areas of life.


Admittedly, mental health is a subject that I can talk about from extensive first-hand experience, and it hasn’t always been something that I’d openly admit to, never mind share. Fortunately, the dial has been shifted and the volume level on the mental health conversation has been turned up in recent years enabling people to speak up, ask for help and seek out services to support them more easily. That said, there remains a significant barrier for many individuals when it comes to openly discussing their mental health. Societal expectations for us to be strong and resilient could quite easily push the limits of a person facing difficulties, whatever they may be, preventing them from reaching out for help.


I’ve often wondered why there is such stigma associated with mental health. Seemingly the fear of damaging personal relationships and professional reputation, showing weakness or feelings of shame, embarrassment or worthlessness can mean that for some people, speaking up about how they are feeling is simply too daunting and difficult to face. Sadly, when poor concentration, fuzzy thoughts, mental fatigue, and forgetfulness of brain fog really takes hold; and the complete inability tolerate or cope with even basic things that really shouldn’t be bother some begins to impact the connection with those around you, it can easily push an individual to retreat and become withdrawn, lonely, and disconnected.


In utter despair, often a visit to the GP can feel like the most logical and safe place to go when you feel like you’re not coping. Of course, seeing a medical practitioner is always advisable, particularly if you don’t feel like you are coping. However, the offer of a sick note, a prescription of pharmaceuticals or being added to an 18-month waiting list for talk therapy might not always be the solution that is needed, it certainly wasn’t for me.


Arguably the hair, beauty and wellness industry are perfectly positioned within communities across the UK to positively impact health and wellbeing. But how many people use touch therapy and massage to support them during times of heightened stress and anxiety? Do we as an industry truly recognise, utilise, and promote the benefits of the services that we offer? How can we as therapists and practitioners help to support the mental health crisis? All great questions right!


Post pandemic we are acutely aware of the heightened strain on the healthcare system. Mental health problems cost the UK economy a staggering£118 billion pounds per year but much of this is preventable. In April 2021 the British Beauty Council published a research paper ‘The Effects of Personal Care Services on MentalHealth and Wellbeing’ which I co-authored with industry colleagues that demonstrated significant global evidence that touch therapy and massage can reduce mental health problems.


There is more and more evidence demonstrating the positive effects of touch therapy on our physical and mental health throughout our lives. Most significantly, touch therapy influences four key chemicals within the body, which have been shown to change significantly with physical/social touch:

·         Oxytocinis released by touch. Wellbeing, stress reduction and even health promotion are linked to the release of oxytocin.

·         Cortisollevels can also be significantly reduced through a simple hug or massage. High levels of cortisol are linked to type 2 diabetes, obesity, cholesterol and blood pressure and heart disease. The reduction in cortisol from touch has been shown to lower blood pressure and heart rate.

·         Serotonin and dopamine levels, key hormones associated with mental health and pain relief, are also stimulated by touch. Research on increasing serotonin levels without drug intervention to address depression and other mental health symptoms has also proved successful.

Recent research has also shown boosts in white blood cell count of up to 70% from massage.


Whilst the National Institute forHealth and Care Excellence (NICE) recognises some of the positive results of touch and massage as therapies for mental health, they believe the industry needs further research for them to be satisfied enough to formally recognise touch and massage therapy as a method to address mental health issues.Therefore, we are calling for more robust, up to date UK based research.


The Coronavirus pandemic has been responsible for an 8% increase in mental health problems, with a predicted 11% rise in individuals accessing mental health services over the next 3 years. Presently there is a global shortfall of 18 million healthcare workers. The Royal College of Psychiatrists are calling for 7000 more posts. The number of mental health nurses are 10%lower in 2020 than in 2010. The NHS spent £12.2 billion pounds in 2018/19 on mental health services with 1.5 million people in England currently waiting to access this help.


In September 2021 Chancellor Rishi Sunak attended British Beauty Week in Covent Garden where he addressed the attendees, referring to the beauty industry as the ‘best of British business’ and stating that the personal care services we provide are ‘essential services’: essential for confidence, self-esteem, and a sense of wellbeing. Our business are places where people can come together for a chat and catch up, where they often feel it is a safe space to share. My hairdresser has been by my side through every trial and tribulation of my life for about 20 years now.


The British Beauty Council are working with other industry partners to develop a research proposal to demonstrate the benefits of touch therapy as treatment for mental health diagnosis in the UK. The introduction of touch therapy and massage could reduce UK sick days by 1.76 million saving the UK£10.5 billion pounds per year. If the trials are conclusive, touch therapy should be integrated into health improvements for staff wellbeing, social prescribing and to support the NHS and care trusts, promoting touch therapy and massage as an essential part of public health.


As a society we are increasingly recognising the importance of maintaining both our mental, emotional, and physical health and wellbeing. Much like making healthy choices with food and exercise, a monthly massage, and the benefits they bring, would be worthy lifestyle choices to incorporate into a healthy routine. My monthly massage isa vital part of my personal wellbeing routine and something I missed terribly during the periods of lockdown.


There are plenty of affordable treatments available, as well as simple techniques people can do at home. I frequently use self-massage techniques to aid my relaxation and wellbeing whenI feel stressed, or my shoulders tighten when I don’t have time to visit my massage therapist. Massage is incredibly accessible with trained professional services available not only in salons and spas, but many at-home services providers and freelance massage specialists providing treatments within their local areas and communities. Make a commitment to your own wellbeing today and next time you feel stressed or anxious give massage a try.


Helena Grzesk MBE – COO at the British Beauty Council



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