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In our previous blog on Anxiety During Pregnancy-6 Sensible Advice Sections For You – we investigated the levels of anxiety during pregnancy, the signs of an anxiety attack and what you can do to reduce anxiety, and when you need to seek professional help. This feature really goes into depth about anxiety, as well as reflexology for anxiety in pregnancy. Of course it is not a substitute for a one to one medical consultation, but it may give you some food for thought.

Anxiety In Today's Society

In today’s society the word anxiety covers a multitude of reactions and conditions, and in its mildest form anxiety may be a valid and useful reaction, depending on the circumstances.  However many levels of anxiety, and what are termed anxiety disorders, can be disruptive to a person’s functioning and to their quality of life.  In some cases the disruption can be extreme and serious. To investigate the potential of reflexology to help reduce anxiety we need firstly to take a deeper look at the scope of anxiety, how it affects people in their lives and when it may require treatment of some kind.  Reflexology like traditional acupuncture is based on the fact that all parts of the human body are represented outwardly in locations such as the feet, ears and hands. Each of these is considered a micro-system and through reflexology massage, acupressure or the insertion of acupuncture needles, the parts which do not currently have a healthy function can with a treatment or series of treatments regain a healthy function once again. 

Anxiety v Anxiety Disorder

A healthy helping of anxiety is considered to be a perfectly normal reaction to a presenting stressor and should help the person cope with the demands of the situation.  If however the anxiety remains for longer periods, or encourages the person to avoid some situations, or may be linked to behavioural changes, as well as to fear and depression, then these may be signs that the anxiety could now be classified as an anxiety disorder.

Differentiating Between Anxiety And Fear

Fear is one of the main ingredients of the fight-or-flight response, which is an instinct possessed by all animals and human beings.  It is set up by a sequence of events when two systems are activated by the hypothalamus. Fear is very powerful as it is a natural response to survive and will tell a person what to do in order to escape a potentially dangerous situation. Whereas fear is a reaction to something that appears to be a potential danger in the here and now, anxiety is a relation of fear but manifests mostly due to the thoughts of what threats are perceived to exist, and feelings of what could go wrong in the future.   Some of the effects of suffering from anxiety in the longer term are: •    Irritability •    Headaches •    Problems sleeping •    Lower or a loss of self confidence •    Lack of interest or ability to do work •    Lack of interest or ability to plan for the future •    An underlying nagging fear or sense of fear •    Lack of interest in sex, or sexual problems

Some Statistics

These feelings may last for shorter or longer periods and vary in intensity depending on many other factors.  However surveys, facts and statistics have shown that: 1.    18% of Americans are affected by one or more anxiety disorders. 2.    This means that approximately 40 million American adults (18 years or more) are suffering from one or more anxiety disorders. 3.    In Britain the most common mental disorder is mixed anxiety and depression. 4.    During the course of a year, one out of four Brits will experience some type of mental health problem. 5.    In Australia 14% of those surveyed in a 2007 survey had experienced some type of anxiety disorder in the year prior to the survey.  The ages of those who took part in the survey ranged from 16 to 85 years of age.

When anxiety becomes abnormal

Anxiety may cross over the line of what is considered normal when the reaction is exaggerated, interferes with the person’s daily life and lasts more than 3 weeks.  Feelings of agitation and ongoing worry are characteristics of anxiety.  Cases like this may benefit from some form of treatment.   Main Anxiety Disorder Types

  • A person suffering from an anxiety disorder may be suffering from episodic symptoms or from continuous symptoms.
  • Someone who has an anxiety disorder may have a phobic disorder, panic disorder or a generalised anxiety disorder.

What Causes Anxiety Disorders? The causes of anxiety disorders are often complex.  However the most common risk factors that underlie an anxiety disorder are: •    Brain Chemistry •    Genetics •    Life Events •    Personality

UK Mental Health Foundation

Before looking at the specifics of why reflexology may help reduce anxiety, let’s firstly see what a leading UK mental health charity states about the use of this therapy.  In their summary of research for a variety of complementary therapies, the Mental Health Foundation states on their website: “Reflexology has been shown to aid relaxation, relieve stress and restore energy. It can help to reduce the side-effects of psychotropic medication and can moderate the highs and lows of mood swings.” Therefore according to this British Mental Health Foundation it is possible to reduce stress with the help of reflexology, whilst restoring energy plus regulating moods. Next we’ll look in more detail at the connection between anxiety and our delicate system balances such as hormones, glands,

Reflexology, Brain Chemistry, Glands, Hormones – Healthy Functioning

The system of reflexology believes that the feet, hands and ears contain reflexes which correspond to every part, organ and gland of the human body.  Therefore reflexology treatment can access all parts of the human body by stimulating the corresponding reflexes. Previously this article has investigated only some of the many complexities that contribute to keeping a human being in balance and health, or out of balance, and suffering from anxiety disorders. In the case of an anxiety disorder, the practitioner can manipulate reflexology points (reflexes) that play a part in brain chemistry, hormonal functions and the adrenal glands.   By doing this, proponents of reflexology believe that the corresponding body part/s will be brought into balance and it will be able to enjoy healthy functioning. If the reflexology treatment is being carried out on the feet, there are many important points on the big toe.  A qualified reflexologist will locate a variety of relevant points which will receive extra manipulation during the foot reflexology session. Like acupuncture there are reflexes that will be immediately obvious for a reflexologist to treat to help with an anxiety disorder.  Therefore a treatment will include many or all of the reflexes connected with brain chemistry, hormonal functioning and the glandular system. Also like acupuncture, during a reflexology treatment there may be points that to the practitioner’s touch seem a bit uncomfortable, as if there are crystals under the skin.  These points may coincide with some of the obvious ones according to the manifestation of the anxiety disorder or may relate to other reflexes. For example if someone has been suffering for a while they may no longer be functioning as well as before sexually.  So perhaps reflexes relating to the person’s reproductive system may also need manipulation.

Anxiety And Brain Chemistry

Tension, stress, brain chemistry and hormones are all interconnected.  Hormones affect brain chemistry and glands affect brain chemistry. If you are a woman reading this you may have experienced that mental fog that comes with either PMT (pre-menstrual tension) or the menopause.  This is due to hormones.  In fact hormone imbalances can be a cause of anxiety disorders.  For example low levels of progesterone can be a cause of anxiety disorders. By the way did you know that the word hormone comes from the Greek word meaning excite?  So originally hormones were directly linked to emotions whereas now many people don’t think about this connection. Adrenal glands which have been weakened can be a root cause of anxiety disorders.  Amongst other things, the adrenal glands provide the hormone adrenaline when a person is triggered to act by their fight-or-flight response. Now if a person is suffering from an anxiety disorder this in itself can weaken the adrenal glands, which means that left untreated the chances are it will deteriorate over time.

What Weakens The Adrenal Glands?

Other factors which are known to weaken the adrenal glands are trauma, stimulants, overwork, bad sleeping patterns and habits, chronic disease, age and prescription medications. Coffee is a stimulant that many people drink socially or as part of their daily routine to wake up, keep going or for enjoyment.  In fact the initial stimulation does make a person feel good but the ongoing stimulation leads to the adrenal glands being drained which may manifest in anxiety, sleeping disorders, fatigue and lower back pain.

What Strengthens The Adrenal Glands?

Good nutrition, good work habits, good sleep habits, B vitamins, organic vegetables and grains.

Reflexology And The Adrenal Glands

During a reflexology session the practitioner can stimulate the points associated with the adrenal glands.  This brings them back into a healthy state and encourages a balanced production of stress-related hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol for example can either be a good or a bad thing for us, which depends on how much of it is being produced in our system and also on how long it hangs around in our system.  According to studies, excessive production of these hormones can aggravate the symptoms of anxiety.

Amygdala

Located within the medial temporal lobes are almond shaped groups of nuclei known as amygdale, which process and memorise emotional reactions.  Scientists have discovered that fear conditioning as experienced by sufferers of anxiety disorders, is stored by the amygdale as inappropriate anxious reactions. Through repetition the amygdale can react during the experience of high anxiety to react with even higher levels of anxiety, which can with enough repetition result in an anxiety disorder. By manipulating the amygdale point in reflexology, over time it can be possible to have more balanced and less inappropriate or extreme anxious reactions.

Reflexology Points

Apart from the previously mentioned points, stimulation will occur during the treatment of the body’s natural painkillers and happy hormones which in itself induces deep relaxation and feelings of calmness. Other points that may play an important part in helping with anxiety disorders are the pineal gland.  This gland regulates sleeping patterns which have often been disturbed by the disorder.  Stimulation of this point will also help those who suffer from sleep related issues like insomnia. The pituitary gland is another important reflex as it governs the emotions and instinctual reactions.  It is also called the master gland and when feelings are processed it will send hormonal signals to the other glands to initiate the “appropriate” behavioural reactions. It may also be beneficial to work on the solar plexus reflex point which can help feelings of self esteem and well being. The previous advice and suggested reflex points are by no means exhaustive and like all other articles on this site not intended to replace medical advice.

Research Studies To Support Using Reflexology For Anxiety Disorders

Some of the best studies which may support the use of reflexology for anxiety disorders are in the area of cancer in alleviating anxiety, pain, stress and nausea. There have been positive outcomes in these limited studies and if you wish to find out more click on reflexology research. In conclusion it is possible to reduce anxiety with reflexology.  Like any complementary therapy it is advisable to consult your medical practitioner and inform them that you are going for reflexology.  If you are someone that is not sure as to whether you have an anxiety disorder, remember that the potential with repetition is that things may get worse.  Do consult sooner rather than later with a qualified practitioner. Any feelings of anxiety, depression or any mental illness are not something you need to hide or feel ashamed of, especially as left untreated your symptoms may become worse.

DISCLAIMER

All articles on the blog and website are intended as information only. Please do not consider any of the information provided here as a substitute for medical advice. At all times seek medical advice directly with your own doctor and medical team.