11 Sep This September it’s all about Anxiety!!
Wendy Reichental and Giovanna Daniele
The onset of the pandemic has certainly taken its physical and mental toll on Canadians. Fears of new variants, loss of income, tensions among families, fear of illness and limited social interactions have understandably all contributed to Canadians experiencing high levels of anxiety. In this month’s blog, Giovanna tackles the issues surrounding anxiety and how reflexology can calm the body and mind.
Hi Giovanna, I can’t believe September is here. This already has me feeling anxious! Could you distinguish for us the differences between “anxiety” and “depression”?
GD: I could not agree more. The rapid speed of time can definitely be anxiety-provoking. But I enjoy Autumn and its bursts of colour and crisp air.
Anxiety can be described as feelings related to perceived threats and impending doom. People who have anxiety are preoccupied with worry and “what ifs” over a threat that’s still in the future. Sometimes these anxieties are accompanied by exaggerated thoughts that are disproportional to the actual risk or reality. A certain amount of anxiety can be ok in certain situations, but when it becomes debilitating or paralyzing, it could then lead to depression. In depression, the struggles are more focused on feelings of hopelessness and feeling worthless, or like a failure.
There’s no doubt that while this pandemic is ongoing and the virus continues to mutate that people are feeling very anxious and have concerns about returning to their offices, transitioning back to school and to a new norm and routine. With so much unknown and so many questions still unanswered, it’s no wonder that anxieties are running high. What are some tips to keep in mind to curb anxieties and feel less overwhelmed, at least in the short term?
GD: It’s completely understandable that we would see an increase in people’s concerns while we navigate these uncharted times, but the key thing is to separate the real threat from all the other noise. Limit the time you are watching the news. Being informed is important, but being glued to your social media or news all day could definitely leave you feeling more anxious and overwhelmed. I like to think that we are all doing our best and that being kind to yourself is the number one thing you can do while balancing all your other responsibilities. Seek help if you need it and know that it’s ok to not be ok. Looking after your mental health is a priority and a goal worth pursuing. You know I am a big believer in deep breathing, and because reflexology incorporates that into the routine, I see the benefits firsthand. Deep breathing helps you calm down. It really helps you to recenter your mind and bring you back to the present. There’s no quick fix, unfortunately, but following a healthy diet of course and immersing yourself in nature are my tried and true. I love to walk, and just being able to do this every day clears my head and reboots my entire system, mind, body, and spirit.
I love how we get to practice deep breathing while conducting a reflexology session. How would you explain how reflexology works and is beneficial for someone struggling with anxiety?
GD: It’s incredible to witness how reflexology can work its magic and help the body heal itself. Since reflexology can induce deep relaxation, it can ease stiff muscles, it can also cause the client to have improved sleep, which alone can lead to peace of mind and less anxiety. By stimulating pressure points on the feet, reflexology helps to sustain a natural equilibrium in the body or homeostasis – a balance of mind and body. When that equilibrium is threatened, your whole body will feel out of sorts. Similarly, when you are feeling anxious and perceive a threat, the nervous system will respond by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. When these hormones are activated, the autonomic nervous system (fight-or-flight response), causes the body to prepare for emergency action, resulting in your blood pressure rising, and your heart beating faster. For people in an increased state of anxiety, this can take a definite physical, chemical, and psychological toll on a person. When the body is in a constant anxious state, the parasympathetic system cannot do its job of rest and repair. What reflexology aims to achieve is to bring the autonomic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system into balance.
That’s a lot to take in. We know that in reflexology we work the entire body through the feet and do not treat for any specific conditions, but with anxiety, what are some key areas on the foot related to calming the nervous system?
GD: As mentioned, reflexology is best applied within a whole-body sequence. What we like to do is to apply pressure to a few key reflex areas and offer some extra focus to these points at the end of a session. For example, with any kind of stress, tension, or anxiety, we would work on the reflex points corresponding to the solar plexus and adrenal points. When we feel tense, or anxious, our diaphragm and solar plexus will feel tight. This will affect our lungs from not easily expanding, resulting in shallow breathing or even holding our breath. In reflexology, we will work on this solar plexus point and diaphragm, to release the tightness in this area, and to bring about a release of tension and increase relaxation, which will decrease feelings of anxiousness.
The other reflex points that are key for reducing anxiety I touched upon earlier, in explaining the importance of bringing the parasympathetic nervous system into balance. These are the adrenal glands – which are tiny organs that are found at the top of each kidney. These adrenal glands produce many important hormones and cortisol. Primarily, these impact our growth and development, and they help regulate kidney function, as well as affect our ability to cope with stress. When we are feeling stressed, the body produces cortisol, but when we are in a constant state of anxiety or feeling stressed, too much of this cortisol can cause serious damage to the body and lead to “adrenal fatigue” or “adrenal burnout”. In reflexology, we work the adrenal reflex points to help calm the body. An added benefit is that by applying pressure to this area, we are also giving our adrenals an opportunity to rest, repair and recharge.
This brief video showcases some easy self-reflexology techniques – pinpointing the solar plexus, diaphragm and adrenal glands. To begin, sit comfortably in a chair. You could criss-cross your fingers from the heel of the foot all the way to the top of your toes. Whenever you feel ready, locate the solar plexus reflex, which can be found in the middle of your foot on the diaphragm line on the ball of the foot. Apply thumb pressure whilst breathing out deeply 2-3 times. Thumb walk using both thumbs along the diaphragm line.
Locate the adrenal reflex – using your thumb roughly, press and hold under the pad of the big toe. For added calming benefit, breathe deeply and slowly as you press in and exhale as you release.
After a few minutes of working these points, your entire demeanor should shift from feeling anxious and tense to more relaxed, notice your breathing deepening, and an overall sense of calm throughout your body and mind.
GD: It’s also great if these techniques could be done on both feet for balance and, of course, nothing replaces a full professional reflexology session with a certified reflexologist who could offer you the optimal experience and wellness results.
Excellent reminder! Giovanna, in conclusion, what are two quick things we could try to do when anxiety rears its ugly head?
GD: I wish I could reference one guaranteed panacea. The thing to remember is that anxiety affects everyone differently and what might work for one person might not for someone else. I enjoy using a mantra that can shift my mind away from anxious recurring thoughts. My go-to is repeating the mantra – “This, too, shall pass.” The other thing is to redirect the nervous energy into doing something. Go for a walk, a run, bake something for yourself or for someone else. Whatever you do, you need to take control and keep moving forward!
I could not agree more. In these troubled times, we need to hold on to hope, be in the moment, remind ourselves to breathe and remember “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was ending, he turned into a butterfly.” – Anonymous proverb