HealthSpan Wellness

Ritu Kaushik, DOMP, Manual Osteopath

It’s natural to experience anxiety at certain times in your life: when you have an interview, start a new job, start school, or go on a date, for example. Anxiety is your body’s way of responding to stress, and varies in intensity from person to person and from situation to situation. Most people will experience low to moderate anxiety in their lives, whereas others may have stronger feelings of anxiousness that are hard, or impossible, to control without intervention.

Anxiety can manifest itself in many ways. You may experience physical complaints, or have extreme or different emotions. In more severe cases, anxiety may cause mental health issues. The most common symptoms of general anxiety are:

  • Headaches
  • Difficulty breathing or
  • Rapid breathing
  • Exhaustion
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Digestive issues
  • Muscle tightness, particularly in the chest area
  • Poor posture
  • Increased heart rate


The Effects of Anxiety on Your Body

You will have heard of the “fight or flight” response to stressful situations. It’s caused by stress hormones that your sympathetic nervous system releases and is how your body prepares itself to cope with the situation. It’s also the cause of the anxiety that you feel in these situations.

Let’s take a look at how this response causes some of the above-mentioned symptoms of anxiety.



Although headaches are accepted as a fairly common symptom of anxiety, it’s yet to be determined how exactly they’re caused. The cause could be something as simple as tension in your neck due to feelings of stress or, or more complicated like the release of a hormone that results in anxiety. Both are possible, and even likely, but what’s clear is that if either is left untreated, you’ll be caught in a never-ending cycle of anxiety headaches.

Breathing Issues

When you experience stress or anxiety, your muscles tense up as they prepare to react to a perceived threat. Those deep, cleansing breathes require relaxed muscles for greater movement and are therefore harder to take. The result is that your breathing becomes shallow and more difficult. With less oxygen drawn in on shallow breaths, you need to increase the number of breaths you take, leading to rapid breathing.

Difficulty Sleeping and Exhaustion

Anxiety makes it difficult to achieve the relaxed state needed for sleep. Our body is in a constant state of fight or flight, and it’s difficult to switch off the feelings that lead to this prepared response. Prolonged sleeping difficulties eventually lead to exhaustion, a condition that can persist throughout the day and lead to further feelings of anxiousness as you contemplate another sleepless night.

Digestive Problems

The fight or flight response also affects our digestion. As your muscles prepare for this response, blood diverts from other parts of the body including your digestive system. With less blood and oxygen the digestive process is less effective, causing cramping, nausea and a loss of appetite.

Poor Posture

Anxiety leads to feelings of insecurity and can make you lack self-confidence. This manifests itself in your posture, causing you to hunch over, or keep your head lowered. These are not natural postures and your body is not designed to maintain them for extended periods of time. You will eventually experience muscle soreness, headaches, neck pain and back pain.

Increased Heart Rate

You may have noticed that in stressful situations your heart rate increases. As we’ve mentioned before, anxiety triggers your body’s fight or flight response which prepares your body for action. One of the signs that this response has been activated is an increase in your heart rate. Blood moves through your body at a faster rate, dispersing oxygen and ensuring that muscles are ready for action.

How Does Osteopathy Help?

Osteopaths are trained to evaluate your body as a whole unit. They evaluate the physical elements, while also taking into account your lifestyle and any external stressors that contribute to your state of well-being. In your consultation, the osteopath will take a full a case history, getting as much information as possible. They will also do an osteopathic examination, observing any physical imbalances or asymmetries that contribute to your problem area.

For anxiety-related conditions, an osteopath will pay particular attention to the muscles around the thoracic spine, where the sympathetic nervous system is located. This is the system that is responsible for the fight or flight response to stressful situations. By palpitating muscles in this region your osteopath can identify areas of tension, or knots in the tissue that cause pain and limit your muscle mobility.