Anxiety can be awful; that nagging feeling of worry or impending doom, churning away in your stomach. Sometimes the feeling is about something specific whilst other times the cause is not obvious. The intensity can vary from mild anxiety that feels uncomfortable but can be concealed and tolerated, to severe anxiety or panic attacks that can be debilitating. Its occurrence can be a brief episode that passes or a chronic condition that endures. At its worst are anxiety disorders such as phobias and OCD. Counselling and psychotherapy are proven to be effective treatments for anxiety.
What is anxiety?
Everybody feels anxious at some time or another and it is often a normal, appropriate feeling when viewed in context. In evolutionary terms it is part of our flight-or-fight response; something uncertain is happening and the feeling of unease creates vigilance which helps us to spot danger. Normal anxiety is when your feelings are informing you about your environment so that you can avoid trouble. For many people though, their anxiety does not fit the situation and becomes problematic. Anxiety can cause people to behave in undesirable ways, as well as getting in the way of normal day-to-day living.
Symptoms of anxiety
Anxiety varies from person to person. However, people commonly describe symptoms such as:
- Sudden feeling of panic, worry, or fear
- Feeling ‘on edge’
- Feeling tense or jumpy
- Constant worry
- Racing heart / palpitations
- Difficulty sleeping
- Inability to relax or be calm
- Racing thoughts – trying to understand or fix it
- Muscle tension – often in shoulders, neck or abdomen
Is your anxiety normal?
Anxiety is subjective so what feels mild to one person might feel intense to another, much like one person might feel the cold more than somebody else. We all feel things differently and what really matters is to what degree your anxiety is acceptable or problematic for you.
Some anxiety is normal and is experienced by everybody to some degree. Routine experiences such as arriving at the office for work, mingling with other parents at the school pickup, finding a seat in a crowded cafe, all produce some mild anxiety for most people. Anxiety is a problem when it gets in the way of normal day-to-day living, stops you doing what you want to do, or makes it difficult for you to enjoy life.
Anxiety can be a problem or a symptom
Anxiety is often seen as a problem in and of itself and indeed, it often is. However, rather than being a problem per se, anxiety might be a symptom of an underlying problem and knowing which it is can make a significant difference to how to manage it. Much like abdominal discomfort after a meal might simply be indigestion, it could also be a symptom of an underlying gastrointestinal problem; in a similar way, anxiety is sometimes a problem that needs to be managed and sometimes it is a symptom of an underlying emotional issue that needs to be addressed.
How we can help you with your anxiety
Anxiety is a broad term and affects people in different ways. As therapists, understanding your personal situation is essential to helping you effectively. We can help you understand your anxiety and then take steps to address the causes or manage the symptoms so that you can get on with enjoying life again.
Understand the context
When we help people with anxiety one of the first things we try to do is understand the context of it. In other words, when does it happen and what causes it? When people understand why they feel anxious they often feel some degree of relief simply because their perception then shifts from thinking they have an uncontrollable problem to realising they are having a response to a situation. For example, if you are about to give a presentation to a room full of people then of course you feel anxious – who wouldn’t? However, it can be problematic when you feel more anxious than the situation deserves and this can stop people from doing the things they want to do. For example, you might want to go to a social function but feel so anxious at the prospect of it that you don’t go. Or you might want to voice your discontent to a friend or colleague but feel so anxious that you remain resentfully stoic. Both these examples will invoke anxiety but there is more to it than just the feeling; there is a context to the feeling. Understanding the context can help you see more clearly when to manage how you feel versus address what provokes how you feel.
Understanding how you really feel
The word ‘anxiety’ is often used as a blanket term for a range of uncomfortable or unwanted feelings. However, it is not uncommon for people in therapy to realise that what they are actually feeling is something more specific such as anger, resentment, fear, shame, guilt etc. When you understand more clearly what you are feeling then you can work at addressing the real problem as opposed to just managing your symptoms.
Address the cause if you can
If your anxiety is caused by an external problem then we can help you understand and learn ways to address these factors. For example, if the stern look on your partners face causes you to feel worried and anxious, improving communication in your relationship may help. Sometimes it is the environment that needs to be addressed rather than your feelings and learning how to recognise your own needs and then take an assertive stance can help you feel better.
Whether your anxiety is a symptom of underlying feelings or a maladaptive response to your environment, most people want to ease the current discomfort they are in. Techniques for managing anxiety symptoms include:
- Relaxation techniques such as breathing or meditation
- Cut down on stimulants such as coffee or energy drinks
- Learn to address external factors – assertiveness
- Realistic thinking – identify and challenge maladaptive thought patterns e.g. “something awful will happen if…”
- Healthy lifestyle – get enough sleep, regular exercise, healthy diet
Anxiety affects many people and can get in the way of living an enjoyable life. Treatment can involve learning to regulate your feelings, finding ways to address the causes, or a mixture of both. Whether your anxiety is mild, moderate or severe, if it is a problem for you then contact us to make an appointment and find out how we can help.