Category Archives: anxiety

Dealing with anxiety

DSCF1098aOne of the most common complaints that bring people to therapy is anxiety. Anxiety is something familiar to all of us. Part and parcel of our human condition it peppers our existence and we develop strategies and learn how cope with anxiety on the daily basis. However, sometimes anxiety can become so intense or so frequent that it severely undermines one’s life.

In order to learn how to deal with anxiety it is important to understand its nature and the role it plays in our life. In this blog article I am going to look at the various facets of anxiety and discuss its underlying neurological and emotional mechanisms, root causes as well as possible treatments.

Anxiety symptoms

What are the signs that you may be suffering from anxiety? There are a number of symptoms, emotional as well as physical, that can help you gain a better understanding of what is happening.

Emotional symptoms include feeling fearful or panicky in certain situations. You may be constantly worrying that something may go wrong. You may be nervous and uneasy about social situations. Sometimes people have difficulty in concentrating or struggle to express themselves in an articulate way. Mood changes, sudden irritability, feeling overwhelmed or feeling that you are out of control are also common.

Physical symptoms may include shortness of breath, heart palpitations, stomach ache, nausea and sickness, headaches and migraines, dizziness, cold sweat, sleep disturbances with difficulty in falling or staying asleep as well as blushing, stammering or nervous coughing.

Anxiety… is your friend!

Anxiety is an uncomfortable psycho-physical state and our instinctual desire is to get rid of it. However, surprising as this may sound, anxiety is not your enemy. Quite on the contrary, the ‘function’ of anxiety is to protect us, to help us keep safe. The feelings of anxiety arise as a result of neurological processes in our brain that responds to perceived danger and issues warning signals. These signals, which we experience as anxiety, make us alert to the possible risks and indicate that we need to be prepared to meet them.

How then does it happen that the same situation may trigger only mild or no anxiety in some people and be absolutely overwhelming for others?

The answer to this question once again belongs to the field of neurology. It turns out that our brain, sophisticated as it is, cannot distinguish between the ‘real’ and the ‘imaginary’ danger. Neither can it always estimate correctly the scope of the perceived danger. It bases its evaluation on our previous experiences.

Notice what situations trigger anxiety in you and ask yourself what you are afraid of. Are you afraid of being laughed at or criticized? Are you afraid of being physically hurt? Or perhaps you are afraid of failure and the ensuing feelings of shame and worthlessness? Whatever feelings come up, the chances are that you have already experienced them sometime in the past in a situation that bears certain resemblance to the current one. In that case, anxiety draws your attention to some emotional wounds that you may be carrying within you and that need healing.

Fear of not being able to cope

Anxiety is usually defined as the ‘fear of the unknown.’ This is true insofar as the ‘unknown’ triggers the feelings of anxiety, suggesting that there might be potential risks if we go in that direction. Very often though what we are really afraid of are not the challenges as such, but that we won’t be able to cope with them or the possible ‘negative’ outcome.

For example, if you are afraid of failing an exam or a job interview, your anxiety is not about the actual failure, but about emotions that this failure may evoke in you. Similarly, if you worry about losing your job, a great deal of your worry is about not being able to deal with the possible situation of financial hardship and the stress of finding another job.

Feelings of anxiety about doing routine things or things that are slightly out of your comfort zone may indicate that you are simply too tired and need to take a break to re-charge your batteries.

As I wrote above, it is very often the case that anxiety is rooted deep in our past experiences, which underlie our current experiences and intensify our emotional response to them. How can you tell whether this is so? If your anxiety appears to be disproportionate in relation to a particular situation chances are that there is something more to it, and in order to alleviate it you need to look at the root cause.

Helping your inner child

Psychological resilience, and trust in your ability to deal with whatever challenges life may throw at you, is the basis for coping effectively with anxiety. We develop this resilience throughout our life, but a foundation for it is created during our childhood. If your needs as a child haven’t been adequately met, if you didn’t feel safe or had to carry too heavy emotional burdens it is likely that you may be more affected by anxiety as an adult.

One of my clients used to suffer from acute anxiety when going more than 10 minutes away from home. When we explored the sensations she was having in her body they led us back to her early childhood. When she was growing up her parents were very busy at work and often left her as young as the age of 6 alone at home to take care of her younger siblings, including a baby. She remembered sitting petrified near telephone anxious whether she would be able to reach her parents and get help quick enough if something happened. A part of her, overburdened early on with too much responsibility, never properly matured, and faced with the challenges of adult life would fly into panic.

It is important to be compassionate and patient with these child-like parts deep within us and help them grow and gain confidence. For this task we need to engage our adult parts that are equipped with knowledge and life experiences. When we perceive our inner children panicking we can gently talk to them, reassuring him or her that they are not alone and will be given the right support and care.

How to deal with anxiety

The first step in dealing with anxiety is becoming more aware of what is going on for you in your mind and in your body, learning to recognize the triggers and pre-conditions (e.g. tiredness). If anxiety is persistent and intense, and stops you from enjoying your life and doing things that you want to do, I would encourage you to seek professional help.

Counselling and psychotherapy in combination with some form of body-mind therapy will help you to understand the root causes of your anxiety and release it from your system. In my practice I work a lot with Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT tapping) and find it very effective for healing past traumas and ‘rewiring’ your brain. EFT is also a great self-help tool for coping with anxiety as you can apply it ‘on the go’ to bring the anxiety levels down immediately.

I see people face to face at my practice in Cambridge and also work online via Skype. You are very welcome to book a session if you would like to try my approach and see whether it can help you become free from your anxieties.