Anxiety is very common - in fact, it’s universal.
WHAT IS ANXIETY?
Anxiety is very common - in fact, it’s universal. It is part of being human and living a human life. However, as a mood state, it can be extremely distressing. For some people, it only occurs in certain situations whilst for others, it seems like they feel anxious more or less constantly.
ANXIETY IN THE 21ST CENTURY
There are lots of reasons why living in today’s world can make a person feel anxious. First of all, we are creatures that are biologically primed for threat - we weren’t always top of the food chain! This means that we have a brain and a nervous system that are extremely threat-focused and can overreact to real or imagined threat scenarios.
Importantly, in terms of access to information, our 24/7 diet of outside stimulus, whilst giving us the odd endorphin rush when we see a post or message from someone significant to us, often exposes our emotions (and our broader physical nervous and hormonal systems) to quite a wild ride.
Our ancestors, despite living shorter and more disease-prone lives, were potentially less psychologically compromised since they lived slower-paced existences, largely dictated by the seasons of the agricultural calendar.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF ANXIETY?
Being anxious can feel as if you are constantly on edge: as if something known (or even completely unknown) is likely to be unpleasant.
For some people, these states only occur when they have something ahead like an exam or a dental appointment. This can mean that thoughts about this unpleasant event intrude into the person’s thoughts, reminding them. For people who have had traumatic experiences in their past, anxiety can trigger memories and sensations of those experiences (read the PTSD and Childhood Trauma pages for more information on this).
Once triggered, an anxious state causes a chain reaction in mind and body since both are inextricably linked. To take the exam example, the chain reaction might look something like this:
THOUGHT: “I have an exam. I don’t feel ready.”
EMOTIONS: Fear, hopelessness, inadequacy, anger, self-criticism.
BELIEF: “I don’t do well at this subject. I’m going to fail.”
BEHAVIOUR: “I need to distract myself from these thoughts and change how I feel. I’ll go and eat/drink something I like/watch a YouTube video about how to pass this exam/go for a walk/message a friend.”
PHYSIOLOGICAL SYMPTOMS: the exam can feel like a “threat” - this can trigger areas of the brain that are primed for threat to alert the ‘fight or flight' response. We may suddenly feel:
Hot and cold: this is the introduction of stress hormones into our bloodstream. Adrenaline is pumped into our system so that we can run away from what would, in our evolutionary past, have been a predator but now is any “threat”.
Tingly hands and feet: blood retracts from the limbs and stored around the heart, brain and other vital organs in case the limbs experience a major injury.
Fidgety: adrenaline again.
Stomach-churning: all the stress hormones that are circulating are likely to be impacting your digestive system in some unwelcome ways. Since it feels under threat, the body thinks it needs to get rid of any excess material that could impede escape.
Headache, nausea, blurred vision, heart palpitations: these can all be in the mix combining to make a fairly unpleasant experience.
HOW TO DEAL WITH ANXIETY SYMPTOMS?
Anxiety exists for everyone at certain times. Our evolution primed us for survival but as our brains developed and societies became more complex, we also inherited the capacity to imagine.
Imagination can be wonderful but it can also project us into imagined scenarios where all sorts of catastrophic outcomes are possible. To the extent that we start to believe they are going to happen.
If you feel your anxiety is prolonged - the exam is over but you still feel incredibly anxious - and doesn’t seem to be lessening, you may need some help in getting it back under control. The most important thing to do is to decide that you could do with some help. This might include things you could do yourself such as:
Recognise your stressors: understand that this person, place or thing tends to make you anxious. Give yourself some understanding, patience, compassion. Some people call this ‘self-soothing' and it can be simply being kinder to yourself when you feel anxious or can involve having an object or practice, such as ‘grounding techniques’, aimed at refocusing your attention back into your body and wider surroundings: the here & now.
Recognise that, unless it is an extremely stressful situation that might be ongoing, it is likely to lessen or even end completely at some point. Try and imagine that point and what it might feel like.
Practise relaxation techniques: there is now a wealth of material you can access via YouTube, podcasts and online articles and blogs on the subject of relaxation. Gentle exercise, such as a walk, is also an excellent way to regulate your stress levels and balance your mood.
HOW TO HELP SOMEONE WITH ANXIETY SYMPTOMS
If your anxiety feels like it is becoming unmanageable, then you might need the support and skill-set of a therapist or counsellor. Just knowing that support is there can do a great deal to dampen anxiety and make it feel more manageable. Additionally, a therapist or counsellor may have a number of techniques that could be useful for you:
Helping identify ‘safety behaviours’ - ways in which we habitually try to reduce feelings of anxiety. On the face of it, these seem like a good idea but in the end, they often make anxiety worse because they can increase the sense that what we are anxious about is worse than it actually is.
Developing ‘coping behaviours’, on the other hand, allows the person to engage with situations that feel frightening and explore ways to make them more manageable. One way is to monitor anxious thoughts, feelings and behaviours by keeping a record in real time. Engaging with anxiety in this way is sometimes called ‘exposure’: the theory is that the more you interact with something, the less anxious you feel about it. Think back to when you first started a particular job and how daunting it seemed at the start. Chances are that feeling lessened over time as you became more used to things.
HOW TO STOP ANXIETY SYMPTOMS
There is no way to stop anxiety entirely, for all the reasons we’ve already talked about. But understanding the things that make you anxious and developing the skills to cope with your anxiety are key things you can do to help you cope better.
HOW MUCH DOES COUNSELLING FOR ANXIETY SYMPTOMS COST?
Therapy lasts for 50 minutes and tends to cost between £50 and £60 for individual sessions and £75 for couples.
Counselling is most effective when conducted weekly for as long as feels helpful and productive. Your therapist will agree with you on the number of sessions that are likely to prove most effective but normally 6 sessions would be the optimal number for achieving lasting and sustainable results. The first initial session is free.
Click on the link below to book a 30-minute free consultation to see if we are a good fit to successfully work together.