What is anxiety?
We may think of anxiety as being a bad thing and it really can feel that way when we experience anxiety. Anxiety can present in so many different ways and you might find that if you experience it that it may be individual to you.
Some symptoms of anxiety can make us emotional, make us think (cognitive symptoms) a lot about something, behave in different ways or even make us have physical symptoms. These can be normal symptoms of anxiety and we may or may not know why we are experiencing the symptoms. We may be worried about something that is going to happen or something that has happened. We may even not know why we are getting anxiety symptoms.
Physical symptoms of anxiety can include rapid heartbeat, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, muscle tension or fatigue.
Emotional symptoms can include worry, mood swings, difficulty concentrating, feeling tense, fear of losing control or feeling overwhelmed.
Behavioural symptoms can include avoiding situations, difficulty sleeping, compulsive behaviours, restlessness, seeking reassurance, social withdrawal or difficulty making decisions.
Cognitive Symptoms can include self-criticism, negative self-talk, catastrophising, difficulty concentrating, intrusive thoughts, excessive fears or overanalysing situations.
Types of anxiety
There are several types of anxiety that have names we can use to describe the symptoms of anxiety and use as a diagnosis. Some people are happy to use the diagnosis and others may not be and this is a personal choice. The types of anxiety are listed below with descriptions of what they may entail.
General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) people may worry excessively and have anxiety about a variety of different situations or events leading to symptoms of those anxieties.
Panic disorder can display as sudden or intense episodes of fear we can sometimes name as panic attacks presenting in physical symptoms.
Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia) can feel like fear of social situations or being judged by others so they may avoid being in these settings or around others.
Phobias are irrational fears of specific objects, situations or activities.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is when someone has intrusive and unwanted thoughts which lead to repetitive behaviour to try to alleviate the anxiety that is felt.
Separation Anxiety disorder is usually associated with children when there can be anxiety when they are temporarily separated from their caregiver or loved one.
Why do we have anxiety?
Anxiety is a natural defence mechanism. You may have heard the terms fight, flight and freeze. Those mechanisms are there to protect us when we need them but sometimes the anxiety displays itself when we don’t need it or it is overly active for the situations.
If we were in genuine danger then our fight mechanism would protect us with aggressive words or action to defend ourselves. Our flight mechanism would protect us by making us run away from danger. Our freeze mechanism will protect us from danger by staying still or hiding from the threat so they don’t see us.
Sometimes our brain works in such a way that anxiety pops up more than we would like or is overactive for the situation we are in.
A simple understanding of how anxiety can present itself is explained below.
The information outside of the body comes in through the senses we have, for instance the eyes. Then parts of the brain will make what we see conscious but the information from those senses go through a part of the brain called the Amygdala which can perceive danger and may put us into anxiety if it is perceiving danger outside of the body. The Amygdala decides this milliseconds before the information becomes conscious and so sometimes we don’t know why we are anxious.
What may happen then is we start to experience the anxiety symptoms which is preparing us to fight, flight or freeze. Our front part of our brain is our logical part and our personality part, this gets shut down because we don’t need this running. If this is running while we are in anxiety it may prevent us from surviving the perceived threat.
The key to remember is this is a perceived threat as the Amygdala is using information stored from previous situations and maybe picking up on snippets of information and believing this is a threat so let us hit anxiety and actually it may not be.
If you have been around horses then you might see behaviour like fight or flight with them because their Amygdala is running to protect them. They may kick out which is their fight mechanism or they may run away which is their flight mechanism.
Some of the symptoms are preparing for the fight or flight. The heart may start to race more because we need blood at the muscles to fight or flight in a minute, we may breathe more rapidly because the body needs more oxygen for the muscles also. The diaphragm will be moving more rapidly to bring in that oxygen as this is the action for breathing. We may feel butterflies, we may want to be sick, we may feel like we need to go to the toilet or we may actually have to go.
The body knows if we can become lighter then we can use less energy which means we can fight or flight for longer so we can defend ourselves or run from the threat for longer. The only place we can be lighter quickly is our digestive system so this is why we may feel those symptoms.
In light of this information then in the right place or situations anxiety can be good for us.
How do I help with Anxiety? How do I control my Anxiety? How do I reduce Anxiety? What can I do about my Anxiety?
These are some of the questions we may have when we or a loved one is having anxiety and feel we have tried everything or don’t know what to do to relieve the anxiety.
Sometimes simple deep breathing can help with anxiety because what we are doing is slowing down the diaphragm and that simple action is telling the brain we don’t need to be in anxiety because we are breathing slowly so the brain starts to go back to a calm way of being.
Other things we may try is mindfulness, relaxation techniques, physical activity, healthy lifestyle habits or even trying to limit the stressors if we can. Social support might help, limiting media consumption and time management could add to things we can do to reduce anxiety.
Counselling for Anxiety
Counselling can help talk about, process and relieve some of the symptoms. It can also help to build coping mechanisms or strategies to help reduce anxiety if it is affecting our daily lives.
If we are struggling with anxiety and we have tried many different things we may find talking to a counsellor can help by finding ways of helping to reduce the symptoms. I tend to think if we have a space we can offload things in a counselling session then this can start to alleviate symptoms because people that are close to us try and help and in some cases this doesn’t always work for us.
We all come across anxiety at some stage in our lives and it was one of my reasons to become a counsellor and help others with their anxiety because I found counselling helped my anxiety.
I can provide counselling sessions online, on the telephone or in person. I am based in Somerset, UK but I do also provide counselling across the UK and Europe. I see adults and young people from age 10 and up. In Somerset I am providing counselling local to Bridgwater, Burnham-on-Sea, Glastonbury, Taunton, the Somerset Levels and Weston-Super-Mare.
You can see my qualifications and experience on my website or if you would like to discuss booking or more about what I offer then please don’t hesitate to get in contact with me via phone, email or WhatsApp.
I hope this has helped to provide a bit more understanding around anxiety.