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Anxiety May Be Activated by Reflex Codes

If you, or someone you know experiences frequent bouts of anxiety, you are not alone!  According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety is prevalent. In fact,…

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) affects about 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the U.S. population.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) affects 15 million adults, or 6.8% of the U.S. population.
  • Specific phobias affect 19 million adults, or 8.7% of the U.S. population.
  • Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) affects more than 16.1 million American adults, or about 6.7%of the U.S. population and is a leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15 to 44.3.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) affects 2.2 million adults, or 1.0% of the U.S. population.
  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), closely related to anxiety disorders, affects 7.7 million adults, or 3.5% of the U.S. population.

Symptoms of anxiety often start in childhood or adolescence.   Children find clever ways of hiding their anxiety.  As they grow older, anxiety builds until eventually it becomes too hard to disguise.   Unfortunately, anxiety builds quickly, and a once happy child may become a trapped adult.  Trapped by the inability to break through the restraints of relentless feelings of never-ending stress to intense fear.  These emotions can cause barriers limiting one’s ability to joyfully engage in many of life’s great opportunities.

According to ADAA, only 36.9% of those suffering from anxiety ever receive treatment.   One surprising, but highly effective form of therapy is reflex integration therapy.   This therapy approach retrains the nervous system by targeting primitive reflexes that may be at the root of many anxiety disorders.

Primitive reflexes are movements that occur automatically without thinking.  There are several primitive reflexes that emerge in sequential order during development.  The first ones can be first seen as early as 5 weeks gestation of a growing fetus.  Each reflex acts as a type of neurological code that has a specific purpose in developing our brains and coordinating our bodies.  Primitive reflexes are controlled by the oldest most primitive part of our brain, the brainstem.  These reflexes have a significant role in our physical and psychological development.

Primitive reflexes are most active in utero and for the first year of life.  After that, our brains developed enough not to need their activity.   At that point, the primitive reflex codes become integrated with higher level brain functions and their activity becomes inhibited until they are no longer active.

However, it appears that more and more children are growing up with retention of their primitive reflexes.  Their continued activity to any degree causes some interference with vision skill development, listening skills, balance, coordination, attention, emotional regulation, and psychological development.

There are many things that can interfere with the developing nervous system, causing primitive reflex activity to persist into childhood or adulthood.   Examples include a traumatic birth experience or birth by C-section, lack of tummy time, lack of belly crawling, chronic ear infections, or unknown food allergies.  Even if reflexes were integrated by the first birthday, their activity can return after a brain injury, psychological trauma, concussion, stroke or even from a significant amount of unmanaged stress.

Fortunately, vision therapy programs that provide primitive reflex integration therapy can identify and treat persistent primitive reflex activity.  By treating the underlying neurological activity, and maturing our neurological foundations, anxiety is reduced while our visual skills, attention, balance, coordination, and cognitive functions improve.   Life is more enjoyable when you feel confident and emotionally balanced.   Contact your optometrist for more information about adding reflex integration therapy as part of your vision therapy program.

  • Patti Andrich, MA, OTR/L, COVT
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Patti Andrich will be giving a OEPF course educating optometrists and their staff on the topic of “Reflex Foundations for the Emergence & Rehabilitation of Vision.” The course information can be found here. You can also learn about reflex integration