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December 2023

Talking Conditions: Anxiety

Source – Reflexions September 2022 – Written by Tracey Smith MAR, BSc(Hons)

Reflexions is the AoR members quarterly magazine letting you discover the latest reflexology insights. Written by Reflexologists, for Reflexologists.
In our September 2022 Edition we offered members an insight into the explosion of anxiety in the aftermath of the pandemic, explained what anxiety is and how it can manifest. Here we share with you one article from this popular magazine.  Want more? Join today and access this whole edition of Reflexions as well as a library of previous editions of this highly sought after magazine.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, the world is now experiencing an explosion of anxiety, which has become more and more prevalent. As a global population, our anxiety levels have risen synchronously due to the trauma we have all been through and this means that even people who may not have had problems with anxiety before, may now be more susceptible.

So what is anxiety and why can something that starts as a general feeling of unrest, become a full on anxiety disorder? Anxiety comes from both physical and mental roots and starts with negative expectations. We all can experience anxiety at certain times of our lives, before interviews, big days out, or with the expectation of bad news, and at this point it can be a positive, keeping us alert, good at problem solving and aware of risks. But it becomes a problem when it gets out of hand and starts controlling our
actions. Mentally it can result in a feeling of dread, irritability, on the edge of panic and loss of concentration while on the physical level is shows as shortness of breath, palpitations, restlessness, dizziness, nausea, insomnia and a host of other manifestations, none of which are pleasant.

It can be triggered through external events such as loss of a job or internal worries to either real or imaginary threats and can come, in part, from uncertainty. Anxiety disorders may be specific, for example phobias, or more generalised, as in generalised anxiety disorder(GAD). This is where people feel anxious every day about a wide range of issues and struggle to remember how it feels to relax. GAD is estimated to affect up to 5% of the UK population (or 1 in 20 people), in slightly more women than men, and is more common in ages 35-59.

From a biological perspective anxiety stems from our fight and flight, the adrenal/ hypothalamus/pituatary axis (AHP), where the body has the right responses in place to escape danger. Under the actions of adrenalin and cortisol, blood is rushed to where we need it – our brain to think, our legs to run and our arms to throw. It is not needed in the trunk of the body. Way back in our evolution this would have been a short reaction that passed quickly, however the actions of the AHP are now much more prolonged and extensive.

From a genetics perspective, there appears to be a propensity for anxiety to run in families and so if you have parents or siblings that are diagnosed, then you are more likely to have GAD or phobias. There are also temperamental variations within famillies which can be linked to genetics – for example the highly sensitive personality.

From an experience perspective, what the person has been through, for example,distressing or frightening events can make a huge difference to how anxiety is shown and held in the body. A classic example of this is post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD

Generally treatment for anxiety comes initially through the self-help route and then to talking therapies and cognitive behavoural therapy (CBT). Medications may be offered, and some are the same drugs used in the treatment of depression such as selective seratonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRI’s, pregabalin (an anticonvulsant drug), or benzodiazapines which are sedatives to aid calm and sleep. Specialist therapies such as EMDR and hypnotherapy may be accessed privately.

When it comes to reflexology, we are working through the action of touch. Touch calms the body via the C-T afferents which are specialist nerves in the hairy or non-glabrous skin of the body and these nerves go directly to the brain. Slow touch at skin to skin temperature, such as when we do effleurage increases social bonding and brings down stress symptoms such as the HPA axis, while increasing oxytocin response. When we are treating someone who is very ‘on edge’, it often pays to lighten and slow down our touch, increase the effleurage, and aim to soothe, rather than getting into rebalancing the imbalanced areas – at least in the first few treatments. Calming the anxiety can come quickly which can then open the way for more rebalancing in future treatments.