Anxiety – more than just feeling stressed

anxiety bowen therapy

Anxiety – more than just feeling stressed

Anxiety can be a normal response to a real or imagined threat.  Most people have stress or anxious feelings when they’re in a situation where they feel under pressure.  It can be helpful to enable people to respond quickly in difficult situations.  Those stressed or anxious feelings usually pass once the stressful situation has subsided or the cause of the stress is gone.

But what if those feelings don’t subside ?  What if they continue to exist without any particular reason or cause ?  or the feeling of stress is out of proportion to the situation ?  For someone experiencing anxiety, the feelings can’t be easily controlled, making coping with daily life very difficult.

Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia. On average, one in four people – one in three women and one in five men – will experience anxiety at some stage in their life. In a 12-month period, over two million Australians experience anxiety.  (Beyond Blue)

Anxiety is common, but the sooner people get help, the more likely they are to recover.

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Symptoms of Anxiety

The symptoms of anxiety often develop slowly over time.  Sometimes the signs not all that obvious in initial stages, especially as they are not always connected to an obvious stressor.

There are a number of more common anxiety conditions identified, each with its own unique symptoms.  However, there a number of common symptoms seen with many types of anxiety.

Most obvious of symptoms may be physical.  Panic attacks, racing heart, tightening of the chest, or quick breathing may be noticeable.   Possibly less obvious physical impacts include restlessness, or feeling tense, wound up and edgy.  Over time and if untreated, the ongoing stress may result in even more physical impacts.

Psychological symptoms include excessive fear, worry, or obsessive thinking.  For some, catastrophising takes hold, fearing that the worst will always happen.

Avoidance of situations that make you feel anxious is a common behavioural symptom, which can impact on study, work or social life.

In each of these cases, the body’s nervous system is in overdrive.  The body also becomes stressed, hyper-vigilant, with the body constantly in fight-flight-freeze sympathetic mode.

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There is no one cause for anxiety.

Everyone is different.

Often it’s a combination of factors that might contribute to a person developing anxiety symptoms.  These include family history, personality types, ongoing stressful situations, physical health, and substance use/abuse.

A family history of anxiety or mental health issues may result in a genetic predisposition.  However, this doesn’t mean if there are mental health issues in your family you will develop anxiety, simply that may be more susceptible.

People with some personality traits are more likely to experience anxiety.  For example, being a perfectionist, having low self esteem, easily flustered or the need to in control can make some more susceptible.

Stressful life events or ongoing stressful situations may be triggers to anxiety.  Job changes or work stress for adults, or school stress for younger people, are a common triggers.  Family and relationship problems, and emotional shocks and grief can make many anxious.  Pregnancy and childbirth may be wonderful for some, but trigger anxious times for others.  Those who have experienced physical, verbal, sexual or emotional abuse or trauma are also at risk.

Physical health issues may also be an underlying cause.  Common chronic conditions linked with anxiety include asthma, diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.  Occasionally anxiety symptoms are the first indication of a physical health issue.  Conditions such as overactive thyroid can mimic anxiety.  Conversely, people with chest pain may have a panic disorder, not a heart-related condition.  It’s critical to consult with a doctor to determine whether symptoms felt are medical in nature.

Substance use – such as alcohol, sedatives or other drugs – can trigger anxiety conditions.  Some may use these to help with manage their condition.  But in some cases develop a substance use problem and/or withdrawal-related anxiety.

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Types of anxiety

There are a number of specific types of anxiety disorders, the most common of which are generalised anxiety disorder, social phobia, specific phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and panic disorder.

People with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) don’t just feel anxious in stressful situations, but feel worried most of the time.  The worries can be intense and persistent, and may interfere with their normal lives. Minor worries in everyday life may become a strong focus, leading to uncontrollable worries and a feeling something terrible will happen.

Those struggling with social phobia find social situations can lead to strong, anxious feelings.  An intense fear of being criticised, embarrassed or humiliated, even in everyday situations may be felt.  Speaking publicly, eating in public, being assertive at work or making small talk may cause undue stress for those with social phobia.

Some have specific phobias, feeling very fearful about a particular object or situation.  There are many different types of phobias.  For example, a fear of heights, having an injection or travelling on a plane.  They may go to great lengths to avoid it – for some, the problem is easy to avoid without interrupting life.  But some may make everyday life very difficult, bringing on panic attacks even with small triggers.

With obsessive-compulsive disorder, a person has ongoing fears that cause anxiety. They often try to relieve their anxiety by carrying out certain behaviours or rituals, even though the person may even acknowledge these thoughts as silly.  A fear of germs and contamination can lead to constant washing of hands and cloths.  Fears about safety may result in constant checking that doors are locked or the oven is off.

PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) can happen after a person experiences a traumatic event.  This event may have threatened their life or safety, or that of others around them.  cPTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder) can happen as a result of stress from an accumulation of ongoing or repeated trauma, rather than a single event.   Symptoms can include re-experiencing the past (eg upsetting dreams or flashbacks of the event(s)), hypervigilance, and avoidance of anything related to the event.

Panic attacks can be intense and overwhelming where uncontrollable feelings of anxiety combine with a range of physical symptoms  These are often a common symptom of for people with any form of anxiety disorder. Someone having a panic attack may experience shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness and excessive perspiration.  It can be frightening, with a sudden feeling on intense terror in certain situations – or for no apparent reason at all.

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Recovery from anxiety is possible – with the right treatment and support.

Psychological help with cognitive behavioural therapy is key.  This treatment aims to change patterns of thinking, beliefs and behaviours that may trigger anxiety.  In Australia, low-cost or Medicare-funded help is available by seeing your GP and drawing up a mental health treatment plan.

Breathing and relaxation techniques can be especially useful, including to manage physical symptoms.     Mindfulness and other types of meditation help bring calmness to life.  Mindfulness can be accessed via group courses or through downloadable MP3’s.  A number of yoga studios (at least near me !) have a few community meditation sessions that are also open to non-members.

A healthy lifestyle also supports improved mood.  Moderate exercise (such as a 10 minute walk) can help boost seratonin – the feel-good hormone !  Reducing caffeine intake can also help, with caffeine increasing heartbeat and increasing anxiety for some.  Alcohol is best in moderation only.  Some may increase alcohol consumption if they feel anxious, but this will make anxiety worse.

In some cases, medication (such as antidepressants and tranquillisers) may help.

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Bowen Therapy can support…

Bowen Therapy is another tool that may help many people manage their anxiety.

The Bowen moves work with the body’s nerve receptors to calm the nervous system.  Through a treatment, the body begins to move from hypervigilant fight/flight/freeze mode, to the more calm parasympathetic mode.  In fact, many calm down on the table so much that they fall asleep !

Specific moves can also help manage client’s specific symptoms.  Those with panic attacks respond well to work that targets breathing.  Working with the fascia helps posture – starting to feel upright, rather than hunched over, can also help people feel better.

There’s also a few great things about Bowen Therapy that may appeal to people with anxiety disorders.  Bowen can be done though light loose clothing – no need to undress.   Bowen doesn’t constantly have hands on the body – a few small moves, then the therapist takes their hands off, leaving the body to do the work.  The work is very gentle, no force or manipulation that make many feel uncomfortable.  For some, these small differences can reduce the anxiety of seeking manual therapy as part of their treatment.

No one treatment is the answer to helping resolve anxiety.  A multi-prong approach to support the mind and body can truly help… and Bowen Therapy is a wonderful inclusion in the process of moving forward.


Fantastic resources are available… Beyond Blue and Mind Health Connect are great for support within Australia.  For more on cPTSD, I’ve found Out of the Storm one of the best resources.


Photo credit: amenclinics_photos via VisualHunt / CC BY-SA