What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is an unpleasant feeling that we all experience at times. It is often a word used to describe when we feel nervous, uptight, irritable or ‘on edge’. What most people don’t realise however, is that to feel a certain amount of anxiety, is a normal healthy reaction. When we find ourselves in situations of danger or worry, the defending limbic system is activated. Your body systems speed up, meaning that you are ‘ready for action’ and ready to respond accordingly. The job of the defending limbic system is self-preservation. This reaction is often referred to as ‘fight’, ‘flight’ or ‘freeze’. This survival reaction prepares the body to either stand and fight/avoid danger, or to run away from it. In certain circumstances, this can be a definite advantage – even life saving.
When Anxiety Becomes a Problem
Anxiety becomes a problem when it starts interfering with our ability to function or our everyday lives. This is when it is important to learn what is causing you to feel anxious, what is keeping it going and how you can best control it.
There are many causes of anxiety and these can vary from person to person, for example: your own personality; the environment in which you were brought up; a tendency to worry; unhappy or unpleasant events; or major upset or changes in circumstances. Anxiety can often develop if we experience many different pressures all at once. For example: if someone is experiencing pressure at work coupled with difficulties in their personal life, this can often result in the person becoming anxious.
Anxiety and Confidence
Anxiety reduces self confidence, because it makes it difficult to do the things that were normally once easy, for example: going into a shop, going on public transport, going to a party or applying for a new job. We normally feel good about ourselves when we do things well and lose confidence in ourselves when we fail or avoid situations. We can find ourselves in a vicious circle when, because we feel less confident we avoid a particular situation, and because we avoid, we feel less confident. Take for example the ‘going to a party’ scenario; we may be feeling anxious about going to a party. It’s all too easy to spot potential ‘dangers’ – ‘what if no one talks to me’, or ‘what if no one likes me’. We end going over the scenario in our heads and often choose to avoid the situation. This in turn causes our confidence to reduce further and can end up fuelling our anxiety.
The Three Systems of Anxiety
Anxiety is often referred to as a single phenomenon, but this is not the case. There are three parts to anxiety:
- Physical:when we are anxious we normally experience a variety of uncomfortable physical sensations. These include: irregular breathing, increased heart rate, sweating, trembling and muscular tension.
- Psychological:this may involve worrying about things for long periods of time, so that or thoughts often escalate and our worry feels out of control. Furthermore, this also includes our ideas and beliefs; how we view ourselves, others and the world; what we imagine might happen and our internal dialogue, that is: how we talk to ourselves.
- Behavioural:anxiety can influence how we behave. For example: we may choose to avoid certain situations for fear of how they might turn out.
Looking at each part separately and learning new techniques in each area, is an important part of anxiety management.
How Can I Reduce My Anxiety?
There are a number of strategies that we can use to help reduce our anxiety. These include:
- Understanding more about your anxiety;
- Learning how to challenge your unhelpful thoughts and look for a more balanced way of looking at things;
- Increasing your resources and problem solving skills;
- Learning how to reduce the length of time you worry;
- Learning how to relax more, both mentally and physically;
- Learning to feel the fear and face it anyway;
- Learning how to regulate your breathing;
- Learning how to ‘ground’ yourself.
How Counselling Can Help
Talking to a counsellor about your anxiety can help in a number of ways:
- Talking to an independent and professional counsellor who is removed from your situation can help to put a different slant on things, or help you to look at your situation from another perspective;
- A counsellor can help you to explore and make sense of your anxiety in an accepting, contained and safe environment;
- A counsellor can enable you to understand where your anxiety originates from and what is keeping it going;
- Counselling can help you look at what steps you need to put in place in order to reduce your anxiety;
- Counselling will help you explore and understand what happens in your body when you become anxious. A counsellor can help you to develop grounding and breathing techniques, which will enable you to control/manage your anxiety more effectively and in so doing, reduce its impact;
- A counsellor will explore your thought processes with you, enabling you to identify and challenge unhelpful thoughts;
- A counsellor will help you to look at your patterns of thinking and establish if they are limiting you in any way;
- Counselling will help you to increase your resources and problem solving skills. A counsellor will enable you to identify your problem and support you in coming up with possible solutions;
- A counsellor will help you look at how you relax and support you as you discover what works best for you;
- Counselling sessions can help you consider ideas to help distract you when you’re experiencing unhelpful thoughts or anxiety;
- A counsellor can enable you to manage your anxiety and support you to move forward.