Anxiety is a feeling which most of us experience from time to time, but for some it feels like an almost constant state and might vary in intensity from unease to full-blown panic and terror. People will experience anxiety in different ways- mentally, emotionally and physically. If you experience anxiety, you might notice your thoughts are catastrophic, obsessive or confused. Emotionally, you may feel frightened and upset. You may have physical symptoms such as a racing heart, stomach ache, nausea or headaches. You might feel restless, hyper-alert or exhausted and this can impact on day to day tasks, sleep and eating habits.
It can be extremely difficult living with anxiety, as it can often feel as if something dreadful is about to happen at any moment. It can make you feel powerless, overwhelmed and unable to move forward with your life.
Anxiety is the body's natural response to a perceived threat. In the limbic region of our brain, the amygdala stimulates the fight/ flight/ freeze/ fawn response when it detects danger. This is clearly a useful mechanism to protect human beings, and keep us alive. However, it becomes unhelpful when the threat detected is actually historical. There will have been a time in your life when the body was on high-alert to real threat, and this often goes back to the developmental years. Attachment theory, as outlined by John Bowlby, sheds light on how our early moments may impact our sense of safety and belonging in the world. In addition, traumatic life events that shape the way we view ourselves can also make us feel unsafe in the world, alerting us to danger more easily.
Counselling can help with anxiety in many ways. Firstly, it allows space to explore triggers for anxiety and start to notice patterns. You can look at beliefs you hold about yourself, others and the world and begin to ask where these ideas came from. For instance, it may be that you notice you feel highly anxious in job interviews because you have a fear of rejection which is rooted in a childhood experience of being criticised by a parent or teacher. Therefore, the job interview is a perceived threat. The next step might be to challenge and change the root belief that you are worthy of rejection. This is a very simplified example, and often the work of counselling can be complex taking time to identify the roots of issues. However, understanding the problem and validating the reasons for your anxiety can help you to manage it better.
Below are some ideas that might help you to feel calm if you are experiencing anxiety: