Anxiety: Bad Guy or Good Guy?

4 min read

Photo: Aaron Blanco Tejedor

How do you always get the best of me?
I’m out here living in a fantasy
I can’t enjoy a goddamn thing
Why am I never where I am supposed to be?
Even with my lover sleeping close to me
I’m wide awake and I’m in pain”
-Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit


Why am I anxious?

Often viewed as a “negative emotion,” anxiety is frequently featured in today’s conversation topics in songs, blogs and even TED talks. Despite the uncomfortable feelings that come with it, there is a biological function to its existence in our human body that is not always a bad thing.

Anxiety has several beneficial functions. It protects us from potentially dangerous situations, or creates an anticipation for a stressful event. The responses that we feel are designed to assist us in responding to danger, engaging our “fight or flight” response. It can also motivate us, either to perform well, grow out of our comfort zones, or help us stay connected to others because we don’t want to be isolated and lonely. Typically, in these situations, the anxieties are short-term and situational.

When it’s a problem

When anxiety about danger slides into a constant state of hyper vigilance, or if our motivation turns to perfectionism, excessive worry or interferes with our healthy relationships, then it becomes disordered. The human body was not designed to sustain these fight-or-flight responses in an acute, prolonged way. Instead of being able to resolve the “dangerous” problem, the body is unable to distinguish between real threats and perceived threats.

I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened. Mark Twain

Anxiety can manifest as a variety of symptoms within the body, which can have significant long-term effects and a risk of development of chronic physical conditions. In some cases, this also raises the risk of other more serious medical issues over time. Not every bout of anxiety results in it becoming a disorder; various risk factors include genetics, life events, brain chemistry and individual personality.

Who is affected

Anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults and one in three adolescents ages 13-18 in the United States alone. Many anxiety disorders have co-occurence with other disorders such as depression, ADHD and other related illnesses.

For both adults and adolescents, females are more frequently susceptible to anxiety symptoms. There is also an overlap between anxiety, depression and pain. Individuals suffering from anxiety may experience pain that is more intense and long-lasting than in those individuals that do not.

Despite the availability of treatment, only approximately 37% of adults actually do seek help to manage it. Cognitive behavioral therapy, exercise, nutritional modifications or medication are just some of the options available.

Treating anxiety

In addition to numerous integrative and alternative treatments for anxiety, it has been proven that massage therapy is very effective in alleviating both anxiety and depression. In 2004, Christopher Moyer, PhD published a meta-analysis of massage therapy research and concluded that those who received massage therapy had lower levels of anxiety than those who did not.

Though we do not understand the mechanisms as to why massage therapy alleviates anxiety, it can absolutely help clients to relax, help improve sleep quality, and allow clients to let go of anxious and fearful thoughts, whether the anxiety is a short-term incident or a longer-term issue.

By inducing a relaxation response in the body, massage can counteract many of the negative physical feelings of anxiety by slowing heart rate and blood pressure, and thus reducing the “fight or flight” response. The feeling of calm that often comes with massage therapy is a really nice way to increase an overall sense of well-being. Even if the mechanisms of “how and why” are not fully understood, receiving massage therapy is a safe option to helping to decrease stress and promote a sense of calm and relaxation.

Are you dealing with anxiety, and are interested in adding massage to your self-care routine? Our experienced team is available to help you relax and rejuvenate!


Need Some Resources?

Though it is always advisable to contact a professional health practitioner for concerns about long-term issues, there are resources for where to find help:

Crisis Text Line: Text CONNECT to 741741
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Article Sources:

Why we worry: Understanding anxiety and how to help it

Exacerbation of Pain by Anxiety Is Associated with Activity in a Hippocampal Network

A meta-analysis of massage therapy research

Affective Massage Therapy, Christopher A. Moyer, PhD

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