Anxiety Is Best Understood Through the Fight or Flight Response


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By Tony Galvin

In my kinesiology practice I have treated hundreds of adults and children with anxiety.

I now view all anxiety as a fight / flight response with a background cause, such as trauma, shock or long-term stress. Fundamentally the anxious person is experiencing a lack of safety. Restoring safety is the key to resolving the problem.

This is the definition of anxiety I like best;

"Anxiety, a feeling of dread, fear, or apprehension, often with no clear justification. Anxiety is distinguished from fear because the latter arises in response to a clear and actual danger, such as one affecting a person's physical safety. Anxiety, by contrast, arises in response to apparently innocuous situations or is the product of subjective, internal emotional conflicts the causes of which may not be apparent to the person himself. Some anxiety inevitably arises in the course of daily life and is considered normal. But persistent, intense, chronic, or recurring anxiety not justified in response to real-life stresses is usually regarded as a sign of an emotional disorder. When such an anxiety is unreasonably evoked by a specific situation or object, it is known as a phobia. A diffuse or persistent anxiety associated with no particular cause or mental concern is called general, or free-floating, anxiety." (Britannica website)

My Anxiety

I had 'free-floating' or general anxiety for years. It manifested at varying levels. In my 20s I started learning to meditate, out of curiosity mostly and to see if it would help me to feel calmer. After a number of months of practice it became apparent to me just how unsettled I was. I noticed that unless I was using a meditative technique like mindfulness, to maintain a calm state, I was not calm. While meditation helped me a lot, especially in gaining an understanding of myself and how to generally maintain equilibrium, at one point I became sick of having to do it all the time. I was in my mid 20s and most people I knew didn't give a fig about meditation and practiced nothing even like it, yet they were far calmer than me in general.

At one point my anxiety hit its peak and I started to get panic attacks. I was also coming in and out of depression. I had gone for counselling and psychotherapy - which was very helpful but didn't really calm my body down. In spite of a regime of exercise, qigong, yoga, meditation and good food my nervous system was still very unsettled. I couldn't seem to bring it under control.

At one point to manage the crises I was in, I took medication for about 6 months. It got me through a rough patch but I didn't like the feeling I had with it. I was groggy and sleepy and my head wasn't clear.

At that time I was living in Australia and I confided in a friend about my state. They said they knew someone that practiced kinesiology and that I should give it a go. In short those treatments were life changing. After the first two treatments, I felt like my whole body calmed down. I often describe it as though I was stuck in 2nd gear, driving at 80 miles an hour all the time. The kinesiology work brought me to 3rd gear and then fourth, etc. Soon without any effort at all on my part, I was just nice and calm.

Now, for anyone that is used to not feeling calm, suddenly feeling calm is dramatic and welcome. The changes I felt were so strong, I wanted to know how this was possible.

That led me to study and then practice kinesiology. The area that I am most interested in, surprise, surprise, is anxiety.

You've read the definition of anxiety above but for those who might not be clear about its effects on people, here are some of the signs and symptoms.

Some signs and symptoms of anxiety?

Here is what happens to your body if you feel anxious;

  • Increased heart rate
  • Shallow, fast breathing
  • Stomach tension
  • Bowel trouble
  • Light headedness
  • Dry mouth
  • Poor sleep

At a psychological level;

  • Poor concentration
  • Feeling irritable and depressed
  • Loss of self-confidence and self esteem

What causes anxiety?

In my experience the most significant causes are your personal history of stress and trauma, known and unknown. Including;

  • Your life experiences
  • How you were brought up
  • Long term stress
  • Shock
  • Distress / shock from ages 0 -3

The greatest changes occurred in my body, when a kinesiologist addressed very early trauma. I had almost died as a 6 month old baby from coeliac's disease. The diagnosis was missed for several months and I became extremely ill. Obviously, I have no memory of this. I believe I was left with a sort of post-traumatic stress. My body was producing huge levels of adrenaline all the time. I was nervous, fidgety, I couldn't sit still, found it hard to focus and concentrate. I was emotionally sensitive and unsettled.

When I addressed this early trauma with kinesiology all of the background distress settled down. I became so much calmer I could hardly believe it.

So now when I work with people, I always look at their issues from this perspective. It's not always factored into the overall understanding of their problem. And even sometimes when it is, there's no solution provided.

Anxiety and the fight / flight response

I now view anxiety as a 'stuck' fight / flight response. In other words, a shock or trauma which caused the body to go into fight / flight has not yet released its hold. The part of the brain that is central to this issue is the Amygdala. Many of our automatic fear responses are controlled here. For example, it is what makes your body jump when you get a sudden fright. You can do nothing to control this type of reaction. If this area becomes overstimulated it will tend to stay this way. Triggers which are even slightly similar to those which caused the initial 'fright' will fire at inappropriate times.

This is exactly the experience of anxiety. For no apparent reason you start to feel like you are in a threatening situation. And even though you know you are not, and you are telling yourself to calm down, it won't always stop. The survival brain is hugely powerful and it's trying to keep you safe. At times of anxiety it is perceiving danger and is trying to make you get away from it.

How does kinesiology help with anxiety?

Kinesiology offers a new way of using Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) techniques. TCM is all about restoring calm to the body and mind. If you've ever had a good acupuncture treatment you'll have felt your body calming down.

I use a range of techniques including acupressure formatting, NOT (Neural Organisational Technique) and meditative visualizations to restore a sense of safety to the body. Because safety is what's missing when anxiety is present.


When anxiety is present in adults or children there is an underlying lack of feeling safe. I believe this lack of safety comes from over stimulated fight / fight responses from previous stress or trauma.

Kinesiology is a fascinating system that allows the practitioner to bring calmness or balance to the emotional states associated with the fight / flight response. When these are addressed the person generally feels significantly calmer. As a result a whole range of physical and emotional issues can be alleviated.

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