What is anxiety?
Approx 25% of the UK population have difficulties with their mental health. The most common problems are anxiety and depression. Anxiety is the most common presentation we get at UKCN for counselling and psychotherapy. In this blog, UKCN Director Nathan Gould explores the nature of anxiety and how counselling and psychotherapy can help.
Anxiety is a term that covers a range of symptoms. Clients generally feel worried, stressed or panicky. Anxiety symptoms can affect how you think, feel and behave.
If you suffer from anxiety you may have difficulty with negative, intrusive thoughts. Your mind may be full of racing thoughts that you can’t stop. Your thoughts spin out of control and lead to stress and worry.
Anxiety also affects how people feel. You may feel tense or agitated; restless or wound up. You may also feel unable to focus on the task at hand. Others may feel a sense of doom or have panic attacks. Some may feel like they have butterflies in their stomach.
Anxiety can also affect how you behave. You may be hyperactive, pacing around unable to settle or sit still. Or, you may feel lethargic or lacking in energy. Some people try to control their anxious thoughts by repetitive behaviours.
Some of the most common symptoms of anxiety include:
- Feeling nervous, restless or tense
- Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
- Having an increased heart rate
- Rapid Breathing (hyperventilation)
- Feeling weak or tired
- Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
- Having trouble sleeping
- Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
- Having difficulty controlling worry
- Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety
The biology of anxiety
Anxiety is a part of our body’s “fight or flight” system. This is our body’s way of managing threat or distress. When we feel threatened, our body releases hormones like adrenaline. This gives us the fuel to react quickly to our perceived threat. Usually, once the threat has receded, our body returns to a state of relaxation. but when we suffer from anxiety our body stays in a heightened state of alert. We experience a constant sense of threat in our environment.
We can experience this threat as a physical sense of anxiety and panic. Or we may experience this as overthinking.
We are problem-solving animals. We want to find a solution to our worries. Unfortunately, this can lead our minds into overdrive. We can experience an endless stream of thoughts that make us more anxious. We can end up in a vicious cycle of anxious thoughts and feelings.
Our sense of anxiety is dependent on our personal perception of the environment. This means different people will react differently in the same situation.
One person may get anxious because they think their boss has given them a funny look. But another person wouldn’t even notice
So how can counselling help?
At the root of anxiety lies unhealthy beliefs. These core beliefs drive our unhelpful actions and behaviours. These beliefs are often unconscious; they lie outside our awareness. Yet they can be the underlying factors that cause our anxiety.
For example, we may have a core belief that it is unacceptable to make mistakes. We believe we will be criticised, rejected or abandoned. We associate making mistakes with feeling shame or embarrassment. As a result, we will tend to be a perfectionist. Our minds may become finely tuned to spotting potential mistakes or pitfalls. We may expect others to be critical or judgemental.
Unless we address these underlying beliefs they will continue to cause anxiety. Even though we may get some symptomatic relief our anxiety will return again and again.
Counselling can be a powerful tool to help combat your anxiety. That’s because anxiety therapy treats more than the symptoms of the problem. You can:
- learn how to relax
- look at situations in new, less frightening ways
- develop better coping and problem-solving skills
- address the core beliefs that lead to anxiety
Therapy gives you the tools to overcome anxiety and teaches you how to use them.
You can learn how to manage anxious thoughts, reducing their severity and frequency. Counselling can also help you reframe negative thinking, helping you feel more confident.
Therapy can also help you uncover the underlying causes of your worries and fears. Talking to a professional can help you feel better. Counsellors listen in a special way that allows you to process difficult emotions. Your feelings are heard and acknowledged without judgement. This allows you to make sense of your experience. You will feel more in control of your life.