How Anxiety Manifests in the Body

What is anxiety? And how does anxiety manifest in the body?  Put simply, anxiety is a physical response when we don’t feel safe in our environment or surroundings. It is our body’s way of preparing itself to fight or flee a situation to ensure our survival in this world.

What does anxiety feel like?

When someone experiences an anxiety attack, the anxiety symptoms can vary in intensity and duration. It often starts as a heightened fear which sets off the sympathetic nervous system (our fight or flight response). Our heartbeat speeds up, our breathing quickens and becomes shallow. Blood gets shunted away from our digestive system to our muscles, our senses become heightened. We have evolved over thousands of years and been shaped by experiences, our surroundings, and nature. Unfortunately, the world we now live in is vastly different from two, five, or 10 generations ago. 

In cities, constant noise, hustle, and bustle tend to keep us in a fight or flight state, which means our stress levels are heightened and constant. Artificial lighting and screens have us awake long past when our world gets dark which changes the amount of sleep we get, which also affects stress and hormone levels. With these factors combined, we’re rarely in the less stressful state of rest and digest (parasympathetic state). 

Normal anxiety can spiral into a disorder when we lose our capacity to revert to a parasympathetic state (rest and digest) once the danger has passed. This means our body doesn’t have the environment to digest food properly, which can potentially lead to nutritional deficiencies. Not being able to rest and recuperate can lead us to feel tired, wired, short tempered, irritable and fatigued. We need time to catch our breath, to breathe slowly, deeply and quietly. This helps to reset our hormone levels, energise our trillions of cells, and balance our body.

What are anxiety disorders?

Anxiety disorders are a number of specific psychiatric disorders relating to feelings of strong fear, or excessive attempts to control them, such as:

  • General anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Post traumatic stress disorder
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Social phobia

These are all different types of afflictions that elicit a similar physical response. The effect an anxiety disorder has on our quality and experience of life ranges from benign to severe and often impacts not just the sufferers, but also family and friends.

If symptoms are mild and infrequent, people may successfully manage their anxiety with meditation, breathwork and movement. Sometimes diet and lifestyle can also be a factor where a change in diet or supplements may bolster our natural reserves. Chiropractic care may also assist by ensuring the peripheral and central nervous system are optimised.  

Can Massage Help with Anxiety

Yes. Massage helps reduce anxiety by invoking the parasympathetic response (the rest and digest state). Massage also helps by –

  • Improving your breathing patterns
  • Boosting lymphatic flow (which helps the body clear toxins more easily)
  • Improving digestion
  • Deactivating mechanical pain receptors
  • Increasing feelings of relaxation

For people suffering strong or debilitating symptoms, normally a combination of drugs and psychotherapy through their GP and psychologist or hypnotherapist are the main strategy. Additionally, patients can use allied health services as complementary therapies to help enhance their quality of life.

What is Massage Therapy?

Massage therapy is the practice of using touch and the environment to change the soft tissues of the body affected by stress and anxiety. The most common types of massage therapy are: therapeutic, aromatherapy and remedial massage. All massage modalities use calming music and dimmed lighting to create a comfortable, peaceful environment.

In therapeutic massage the techniques used are generally light and flushing. Aromatherapy massage incorporates essential oils by a certified practitioner selected to enhance feelings of calmness and wellbeing.

Remedial massage zeroes in on the patient’s restricted range of movement or painful areas by assessing the body to determine the dysfunction. Once assessed, the practitioner uses a range of techniques, such as myofascial release (MFR), proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) to affect the deeper soft tissues (muscles, fascia, ligaments and tendons). Using the deeper techniques may cause temporary discomfort but should not be painful.

The majority of treatments are performed with the client partially disrobed and the use of draping with either towels, sheets or blankets to association standards. However, we can also modify the treatments should the client wish to remain fully dressed.

The body is an external reflection of what is going on inside the mind. Massage therapy is a great resource to help manage our emotional wellbeing as well as our physical wellbeing. Our lifestyles may have changed dramatically over the past few decades, which is even more reason to prioritise your physical and emotional health. If you want more information on how massage therapy can help with your anxiety, call us to schedule a consultation with our therapeutic or remedial massage therapist today! 

By: Andrew Hobbs, Remedial Massage Therapist