Feet and hand massages help people to cope with the grief and move on in life after the death of a loved one, a new study has claimed.

Researchers led by experts at the Stockholms Sjukhem Foundation found that hand or foot massage provides physical touch and closeness to the bereaved relatives and help to diminish the feelings of empty space and loneliness that they feel.

“This activates touch receptors which then release oxytocin, a hormone known for its positive effects on well-being and relaxation,” said lead author Dr Berit S. Cronfalk.

In the study, 18 people in the age group of 34 to 78 years including widows, widowers, daughters and sisters who had lost their relatives to cancer participated.

They were offered a 25-minute hand or foot massage once a week for eight weeks and could choose whether the sessions took place at home, work or at the hospital, the Journal of Clinical Nursing reported.

“Massages can provide much-needed consolation during an intense, stressful period of grieving,” Dr. Cronfalk said.

“All the people we spoke to used the word consolation. Study participants also told us that the massages helped them to balance the need to grieve and the need to adapt to life after the loss of their relative,” he said.

A follow-up six to eight months after the study showed that 17 of the relatives had moved forward with their lives, but one had suffered further emotional problems after the death of another close family member.

“In this study the hand or foot massage was done with slow strokes, light pressure and circling movements using oil lightly scented with citrus or hawthorn. The relatives were then encouraged to relax for a further 30 minutes,” the study said.

The interviews with the participants showed that they derived considerable benefits from the programme.

One of the relatives said, “I almost longed for it. It started at the beginning of the week…the massage became something to look forward to.”

“I could focus on my grief during the massage and that helped me handle the rest of the week. I was just lying there… and no one expected me to talk about my feelings.”

Another one said, “I gained strength… Through my weakness, strength emerged. I suddenly realised that I could go through my thoughts in a much calmer way…I was more sensible in my thinking.”

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