Counselling for Anxiety, Stress and Worry
Anxiety is a natural part of being human, and without anxiety we wouldn’t be able to survive – it’s our physical response to real danger that helps us leap back from a speeding car (or slam on the brakes if we happen to be driving the car and someone steps in front), that makes us respond to a fire alarm to get out of a burning building quickly, or even what drives us to go and get something checked out at the doctor’s. For our ancestors, the fight/flight/freeze response is what helped them deal with attacks by wild animals and hostile tribes, and even though today we live in a very different world, we still have an “operating system” that hasn’t been upgraded in 100,000 years.
Anxiety is a physical response that leads to chemical changes in the body – hormones such as adrenaline and dopamine are released, the heart beats faster, ready to supply muscles with blood to fight or flee, blood is diverted from higher systems (such as the “thinking” part of our brain), to whatever will help survival in that moment, the lungs start to draw air rapidly (hyperventilation), your appetite is cut off (no point eating if you are about to fight for your life!), muscles tense up, ready for action, fluid is diverted to where it might be needed in the body, which is certainly not the mouth/throat, so the mouth goes dry and the throat feels tight… If you have ever experienced “nerves” over something, you will have experienced some or all of these signs of anxiety!
As well as protecting us from real threats, anxiety is also experienced in the face of perceived threats. This is where things start to become complicated, because what is perceived as a threat is different for everyone. Anxiety can also keep people awake all night before an exam, it can turn perfectly calm people into shaking balls of fear at the thought of speaking in public, or meeting a new person, or having a job interview. People respond to this anxiety in all kinds of different ways, some can harness it, turn it into energy to hone their performance (many sports stars speak of this, imagine the benefits of fight/flight for an Olympic sprinter!). Anxiety, when experienced safely, can even be enjoyable, it makes us feel alive (think scary movies, ghost trains, rollercoasters). The relief experienced after healthy anxiety has its own physical response, and can invoke feelings of pleasure, increased appetite, tiredness, and even increased sexual desire.
However, it’s when anxiety starts to become prolonged or inappropriate that it can become a real problem. People may experience generalised low level anxiety that never quite goes away, and may flare up in the form of panic attacks. Certain situations may provoke unbearable, debilitating anxiety – this is because the body responds to a social gathering or the thought of an exam (or simply every day events and situations such as talking to a shop assistant or getting the chores done) as if there is a life threatening situation, but without the release of either fighting or fleeing, often the only choice is to freeze or avoid the feared situation altogether, which in cases of general anxiety can lead to feelings of wishing to withdraw from the dangerous world as much as possible.
How can Counselling help with Anxiety?
Because we are all unique, the above information is only intended to be a brief guide to anxiety – we all have, in a sense, the same operating system, but each of us have very different experiences of life (or software!) which will have shaped our temperaments and responses to anxiety.
The therapy for anxiety that I offer aims to work with each person as a unique individual. Sometimes, problem anxiety may have been part of a person’s life since childhood, or it may be brought on by a particular event, or a combination of such factors. Sometimes, anxiety can be felt along with feelings of depression, or is ravelled up with other issues and pressures, and responses to the anxiety (such as using drugs or alcohol) may have actually made things worse.
In working with anxiety I offer a safe, empathic, caring environment where we can look at all the factors together and find a way forward. This may involve tracing the source of the anxiety and seeing how it relates to other areas of life (for example feeling anxiety in social situations is often, though not always, linked to self esteem), exploring any life events or changes that may have contributed to anxiety, learning what triggers anxiety, and finding ways to understand, manage, and reduce anxiety. However please note that I work in a relational way, and do not offer Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Many of my clients have been “sent for CBT” and come away disappointed, and while I recognise it works for many, some studies show it may only work for around 50% of people.
I recently completed a Master’s dissertation study of counselling for anxiety, giving me in depth knowledge and experience of this particular area.
If you have any questions that are not answered here, or would like to book an initial session to discuss how I can help you, feel free to contact me.