Integrative Responses for Anxiety

 July 7, 2016
Posted by M&LAdmin4

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Hello everyone, and welcome to this week’s blog post!

Today, we are fortunate enough to be able to feature another article written by ILO Participating Family Member Barbara Goldschmidt. Barbara has written a number of pieces for M&L over the past few months, mainly focusing on her experiences and perspective as a parent going through the ILO community building process. For this article, Barbara has drawn on her experience as a licensed massage therapist and also as parent of an individual with a disability to discuss something that each one of us has more than likely experienced over the course of our lifetimes: anxiety. Throughout the post, Barbara discusses a number of ways to help alleviate anxiety, both in ourselves and as caregivers for others. We encourage anyone that has experienced anxiety or has wished to help others that are experiencing anxiety to read this wonderful post.

So, with that being said, please read on to hear more about this topic from Barbara herself.


Stress and the anxiety that comes with it are common for everyone, but are even more prevalent for those who have cognitive disabilities (1). Conventional interventions for anxiety have limitations and as a result researchers have been exploring “alternative” methods such as massage, yoga, and meditation (2). I appreciate that research tries to place a value on results, but many times these modalities go beyond what we can know objectively

As a licensed massage therapist, I learned early on how useful touch could be when children are upset. When our daughter came home from school in a grumpy mood I would ask what was wrong and she would inevitably reply “nothing” and storm away. Instead of trying to force her to talk, I waited until bedtime. Then, as I tucked her in, I would take a few moments to make gentle, circular strokes over her abdomen. I stayed calm, not trying to “do” anything. After a couple of minutes she relaxed and then the hurt of the day would surface. Maybe recess had been taken away, or she’d fallen off her chair, or someone was mean. She might cry. The muscles that had flinched and tightened in defense would release, so she could let the sorrow she was holding in come out. She fell asleep with a better chance of renewal. And so did I.

The story is simple, but it illustrates everything I learned in my years of exploring gentle mind-body approaches for family care: I had to begin by calming myself; I could provide immediate comfort; there would be a cumulative effect.

Bring body and mind together

If someone is feeling anxious, I have to let go of my own anxiety (at least temporarily) if I want to help them. For certain, I can’t have an agenda, like wanting them to “calm down”. That only creates more tension. Instead, I focus on our connection. I attune myself to the other person by observing them, getting a sense of their breathing, posture, muscular tension. It’s like waiting for a door to open, without knocking on the door or ringing the bell impatiently. The connection is the bridge to what to do next. This connection happens between two people. It also can start with the self, which is the basis for mindfulness or meditation.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction and meditation have shown some benefits for adults, as well as for children and adolescents. However, it may not suit those with a tendency toward hyperactivity. For them, more body based approaches might be easier to practice.

Anxiety makes people feel scattered and unable to focus. Yoga and Tai Qi exercises, by combining mindfulness with movement, help to ground participants. Research in schools shows yoga can improve learning and behavior. In a study with children with autism, relaxation yoga improved behavior (3).

Comfort through touch

As little as five minutes of calm, caring touch can change the physiology of the body by reducing stress hormones and activating inner pain relievers. The key to success is awareness, rhythmical gentle contact, and enough time (at least five minutes) to produce a response. Anyone can do it.

Family caregivers who want to provide comforting touch will find it easier if they start by focusing on a small area of the body. The hand is an acceptable and accessible area for most people to massage. The fingers are sensitive and correspond to important areas of the brain (4).

Massage over the abdominal area will enhance the body’s “rest-digest” mode. There are millions of neurons located in the abdominal area that play a vital role in immune health and brain function (5). A basic abdominal massage consists of placing a warmed hand on the abdomen and making slow, clockwise circles around the navel. Family members taught to provide abdominal massage subsequently taught their children to do it for themselves as well. It gave the child a healthy way to respond whenever they felt stressed.

An alternate to massage would be just resting the hand on the abdomen while breathing into the area. There is an important acupuncture point there called “Sea of Qi”, just below the navel in the front midline of the body. Stimulating the point, whether through acupuncture, massage or breath awareness, is said to help restore energy.

There is a great deal of research that supports the ability of massage to reduce anxiety in the general population. I couldn’t find any research on massage for developmental disabilities, but there is research into massage for autism spectrum disorders. One review of the literature looked at the ability of massage to increase connectivity to others and reduce overall arousal. Reported results included significant reductions in symptoms such as repetitive behaviors, disruptive behavior and anxiety. Reviewers concluded that “massage therapy appears safe, easy, cheap and sensible. If parents are trained to administer it, it is likely to improve the parent-child relationship, and is therefore recommended” (6).

Find your fountain of creativity

Whether integrative care is provided by trained family members or by licensed professionals, it will always aim to educate not just alleviate. The beauty of integrative care is that it offers ways for the individual to be empowered in their own healing process. Hopefully our children can learn techniques to alleviate stress that will become part of their self care in the future. By doing so they will find something meaningful that is highly personal, yet universal and timeless.

There is no one sure path.. We are pioneers in this endeavor, so we have to be willing to experiment, observe our findings and share them with each other as a creative collective.

Would you Like More Information?

Again, thank you all for taking the time to visit our website and read our blog today. We welcome all questions and comments on this topic – please submit them through our comments section, or contact page. If you would like to learn more about ILO and the work we do building intentional, inclusive communities for adults with disabilities please contact them

That’s all for this week – please join us again next Thursday, as we provide you with an update on  ABLE Account availability across the country.


1. Chan, Agnes S., Sophia L. Sze, Nicolson Y. Siu, Eliza M. Lau, and Mei-chun Cheung. “A Chinese mind-body exercise improves self-control of children with autism: a randomized controlled trial.” PloS One 8, no. 7 (2013): e68184. Accessed July 6, 2016

2. Levy, Susan E., and Susan L. Hyman. “Complementary and alternative medicine treatments for children with autism spectrum disorders.” Child and adolescent psychiatric clinics of North America 17, no. 4 (2008): 803-820. accessed July 6, 2016

3.  Rosenblatt, Lucy E., Sasikanth Gorantla, Jodi A. Torres, Rubin S. Yarmush, Surita Rao, Elyse R. Park, John W. Denninger et al. “Relaxation response–based yoga improves functioning in young children with autism: A pilot study.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 17, no. 11 (2011): 1029-1035. Accessed July 6, 2016.

4.  Goldschmidt, B and Van Meines, N. Comforting Touch in Dementia and End of Life Care: Take My Hand. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2012.

5.  Nasrallah, Henry A. “Psychoneurogastroenterology: The Abdominal Brain, the Microbiome, and Psychiatry: Neuropsychiatric Researchers Have Long Ignored the Enteric Nervous System and the Microbiome; It’s Time for Them to Focus on How to Exploit These Entities.” Current Psychiatry 14, no. 5 (2015): 10. Accessed July 6, 2016

6.  Lofthouse, Nicholas, Robert Hendren, Elizabeth Hurt, L. Eugene Arnold, and Eric Butter. “A review of complementary and alternative treatments for autism spectrum disorders.” Autism research and treatment 2012 (2012). Accessed June 8, 2016

Share and Enjoy:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Add to favorites
  • Print
  • email


Leave a Comment

Error! This email is not valid.