Perspectives on Anxiety by Donna Ray, M.A., M.F.T.

Anxiety shows itself in many ways. When people remember traumatic events like a car accident or loss of a loved one, at the moment of recollection there can be an overwhelming sense of reliving the experience, muscles tighten up, posture and breathing change and the fear or anxious feeling can be gripping. Others experience anxiety when they imagine the future, the thought of speaking at a friends wedding can color it with apprehension destroying the joyful event. The feeling of approaching an unsafe situation creates undue muscular contractions, holding of the breath, chronic tension and pain. This state of excitation in the nervous system contributes to anxiety, depression, fatigue, and interferes with clarity of thought. This is often referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ syndrome. This is an indication of self preservation, which is in fact helpful under the appropriate conditions. For instance, seeing a bear while hiking in the woods, or dodging a reckless car. However, when people experience this at inappropriate times they feel out of control and at the mercy of their psycho-physiological reactions.

The coordinating center of the brain, including the amygdala and the orbitofrontal cortex, plays a dynamic role in coordinating perceptions, memory and behavior. This complex system of the brain and nervous system determines our emotional responses. Whether the emotion of fear is from a past trauma or an imagined future it is experienced in similar ways with varying degrees of intensity. According to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 18% of adults in primary care were found to have anxiety disorders and of these 30% suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Less than half of those suffering with PTSD were receiving treatment. If you are periodically or chronically experiencing some of the following symptoms, you could be suffering with generalized anxiety or Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD): Shortness of breath, difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating, irritability or angry outbursts, exaggerated startle response, hypervigilance or emotional numbing. You may also feel detachment from others, loss of interest in activities, or a lack of expectations for the future. When the anxiety is related to a specific trauma, intense physiologic or psychological distress is experienced. Triggers that remind the person of the traumatic event can set off the response. Emotion directly influences the entire brain and body from physiological regulation to logical thinking. As a Feldenkrais teacher and psychotherapist, I have found that supportive counseling, education and the Feldenkrais Method are very beneficial in treating anxiety and PTSD.

The evolutionary Feldenkrais Method was developed by Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais. It is a mind/body movement approach that re educates the nervous system so that we learn to respond differently to events or memories that stimulate anxiety. Our sophisticated appraisal system is trained to experience our thoughts, feelings, sensations and actions in the present moment responding to our current experiences rather than past or future images. Thus our behavior is congruent with our present experience and our belief system is updated by the information at hand. In other words, you can gain control of your physical and emotional responses.

Not only does The Feldenkrais Method, help us overcome fear and anxiety it teaches us to focus on lifeís pleasures. Pleasant movement and intensification of the present time often go unappreciated. After participating in Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement lessons people report feeling comfortable, alert, elegant and youthful during simple daily activities, like conversing with a friend, driving, walking, playing tennis or golf.

Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais was a renowned physicist and judo master. He is known for saying “What I’m after isn’t flexible bodies, but flexible brains. What I’m after is to restore each person to their human dignity.” There are two approaches of the Feldenkrais Method which bring about “learning how to learn” through movement. One is the Awareness Through Movement Lessons during which a sequence of movements are verbally directed breaking down complete actions Into smaller movement components, varying the order and types of motion. These mentally involving but virtually effortless exercises break up habits and can lead to immediate improvements in breathing, flexibility, posture, and comfort which create a change in self-image. This effects how we behave on a daily basis. People learn how to reduce and alleviate their anxiety and to move free from pain. Functional Integration is a hands on technique where the teacher gently moves the student and uses touch to teach the mind and body how to work together more smoothly, and with more ease and control. Both of these approaches are gentle, non-threatening and easy to do.

Donna Ray, MFT, has a private practice in Cardiff by the Sea where she works with individuals and small groups.