Anxiety Counselling and Support

Published on
June 12, 2024
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This blog will explain what anxiety is, how it can affect your health and daily living as well as how our counsellor team can help you to manage it.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a natural and instinctive response to a perceived threat, you could say it is a survival mechanism, designed to keep us alive. If we are in a dangerous situation, we need to respond.

You might have heard of the fight or flight instinct. We might want to fight off the threat or we feel the urge to escape the danger zone and get out of there. There are also the responses of freeze/fawn/flop or friend. We might freeze or shut down or try to befriend the threat or reach out for support.

What are symptoms of anxiety?

There are many physical symptoms linked to anxiety. Symptoms can vary in the individual and in their strength, but here is an overview:

  • Feeling restless and on edge
  • Rapid breathing and feeling breathless
  • Feeling the need to go to the toilet or stomach upset
  • Dizziness, shaking and sweating
  • Tearfulness and feeling on edge
  • Struggling to concentrate and remember, impacting our decision-making abilities
  • Catastrophising – thinking that something awful will happen
  • Ruminating over past events – worrying you have done something wrong
  • Sleep difficulties and/or insomnia
  • Tiredness and exhaustion, irritability and difficulties to switch off and relax
  • Muscle tension and tightness
  • Body aches in the head, joints and digestive system
  • Raised and irregular heart beat
  • Nausea
  • Change in appetite
  • Panic attacks 

Anxiety feels horrible and you might have heard of phrases like “crippled by anxiety” or “floored by anxiety”, showing how severely anxiety can impact a person.

While we all feel anxious at times and it is an essential emotion to keep us safe, anxiety can become a problem if our response is inappropriate, distorted, and not proportional to what is actual happening in the situation.

If we got bitten by a dog in the park and even a year after we are unable to visit a friend with a dog, despite us knowing the animal for years then it might be that we haven’t been able to process our experience and find ways to manage our anxiety.

So, if our anxiety persists for a long time and is intense, feels out of proportion and is difficult to cope and regulate, we often feel anxious and distressed, affecting our functioning and daily life = our anxiety is a problem and we might need help. 

What treatments are there for anxiety conditions?

Overview of seven anxiety conditions as defined by the WHO

Everyone experiences anxiety at some point, as it serves as a natural response to potential threat, activating the amygdala and triggering our survival responses as described earlier. Persistent and excessive anxiety can significantly impact our daily lives.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) identifies several anxiety conditions, each characterised by distinct symptoms and patterns:

  1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder: persistent and excessive worry about daily activities or events
  2. Panic Disorder: panic attacks and fear of continued panic attacks
  3. Social Anxiety Disorder: high levels of fear and worry about social situations that might make the person feel humiliated, embarrassed or rejected
  4. Agoraphobia: excessive fear, worry and avoidance of situations that might cause a person to panic or feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed
  5. Separation Anxiety Disorder: excessive fear or worry about being separated from people with whom the person has a deep emotional bond
  6. Specific Phobias: intense, irrational fears of specific objects or situations that lead to avoidance behaviour and significant distress
  7. Selective Mutism: consistent inability to speak in certain social situations, despite the ability to speak comfortably in other settings, primarily affecting children)

Furthermore, it is important to note that individuals may experience several anxiety conditions at the same time and these can co-occur with other mental and physical health issues like depression or chronic pain. Environmental factors like trauma, abuse, bullying and stress can also influence our anxiety levels.

If you are concerned you might struggle with an anxiety condition, please reach out and seek help.

Generally speaking, there are three treatments for anxiety conditions:

  1. Talking therapies – psychological support to understand and develop coping mechanisms
  2. Medication – there are specific types of anti-depressants, used to treat a variety of anxiety conditions, which can be prescribed by a health professional like your GP
  3. Self-help strategies – training and courses, support groups and networks, healthy lifestyle routines including things like balanced eating and exercise, good sleep regimes, generally looking after your physical and emotional health.

How can counselling therapy help with anxiety?

At the Tunbridge Wells Counselling Hub, all our counsellors are experienced and trained in supporting clients struggling with anxiety. They work from an integrative approach, combining a variety of techniques and skills to be able to offer client-focussed support.

Once you reached out and had a free initial chat with one of our counsellors, a hard step to do – anxiety inducing in itself – and you feel we can help you, you will be on your journey towards better mental well-being and start counselling sessions.

Initially, there will be a period of getting to know you as to understand what is happening in your life and how the anxiety affects and impacts you. But it also a time to familiarise yourself with your counsellor and start to build a good and trusting relationship. Let’s face it can be nerve wracking to meet a stranger anyway and then to share your struggles as well is challenging.

At the same time, it might be necessary and beneficial to develop calming and grounding strategies to help you to start to feel more stable in yourself. Depending on your preferences and capabilities, this might include things like a daily walk, meditation, breathing exercises, grounding tools like weighted blankets or leaning into your support networks, e.g.talking to a family member or friend, or spending time with your pet. For some clients, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) strategies can be useful and this is often the recommended therapeutic approach by GPs and the NHS.

CBT strategies like thought diaries and challenging, questioning unhelpful thinking styles and beliefs as well as restructuring your cognitive processes and with that changing your mood and behaviours.

The aim will be to develop a toolbox of strategies, you can come back to when needed even after the counselling sessions have ended.

There often also will be a stage of exploration of underlying possible reasons for your anxiety. What is going on for you? What triggers you fears? What has happened to you in the past and when did your anxiety start? Once you start to be more aware of yourself, your experiences and triggers, you will be able to process these and with that change how you see and experience your anxiety.

We can feel embarrassed of why we feel anxious about something we know on a rational level we don’t need to be. Coming back to the dog example earlier, we understand on a logical level we don’t need to be afraid of our friend’s dog, but we are. We might feel embarrassed to admit and start to avoid visiting. This is because our brain perceives any dog as a threat and sends signals to the body to stay safe. Through therapy, we can learn to process our anxiety and to change our feelings and thoughts.

We understand living with anxiety is hard, we can offer a caring and validating space where you will be supported by caring and experienced counsellors to find and develop helpful strategies to manage better and live healthily.

If you are struggling, please reach out for support. We are here for you.