“You may come to counselling believing that something is wrong with you when you are experiencing anxiety. However anxiety is as much a social issue as a personal one. We live in a world full of pressures and obligations. So if you come to therapy with high anxiety, the first step is to help you realise that your anxiety is part of a bigger social picture that you operate in, and secondly that deep down anxiety is often a symptom of something else…”
Sometimes it feels like there is an abundance of things to feel anxious about in our current times. Money, housing, relationships, our kids, family, work, living up to expectations (both other peoples and our own), the environment…the list could go on to infinity.
Sometimes that anxiety can be event or time specific…for example living through a global pandemic! At the minute I see a lot of people (including myself) experiencing conflicting feelings and anxiety about life returning to ‘normal’. Worries that now we have had an opportunity to live in a different way over this last year, that we don’t want to go back to exactly the way things were before.
At other times, we can feel anxious for no particular reason that we can identify at all. Even in times when on the surface everything is going well.
Anxiety is often about uncertainty and feeling out of control. The anxious mind craves certainty. It wants to know exactly what is going to happen at all times. If you’ve ever found yourself playing out future scenarios, in your head, or paralysed about making decisions, you will know this all too well.
Whenever I read anything about anxiety, the consensus is generally that some amount of anxiety in life is normal, standard and common. It’s when that anxiety becomes a preoccupation and prevents you from doing the things you would like or indeed need to do, and sucks the enjoyment out of life, that’s when it is a problem. When anxiety significantly impairs your quality of day to day life , that’s when it slides into the territory of potentially being an ‘anxiety disorder’.
So in summary, Anxiety; it’s a thing. People experience it. It can be related to things about our social environment, about feeling out of control, uncertainty, rigid expectations, or deeper, existential fears such as loneliness and our own mortality. All of us live with some degree of anxiety, but for some people, at some times it can range from a feeling of general unease (often described by my clients as a ‘sense of impending doom’) or it can be utterly debilitating.
How can counselling help with anxiety?
Well, I really like this article from the Awareness Centre on how counselling can help with anxiety (the quote at the top of this post is from this article). It sums it up pretty well.
I think one of the most helpful things about counselling, especially when it come to anxiety, is that it can create a feeling of safety. This is counter to the feeling of unsafety that is often a feature of anxiety.
In this safe place, clients can then begin to try to understand the causes or triggers of anxiety, and work on techniques such as self soothing and grounding to try and help dampen and anxious thought pattern before it spirals out of control.
I really like the part in the article about understanding the bigger social picture that we are operating in. As I have mentioned in my earlier posts, I am big on understanding the context in which we live our lives, and in which our mental health operates and I think this is also helpful in developing a greater self-awareness about our experiences of anxiety.
I also really like and wanted to share this NYT article, which specifically address anxiety related to the pandemic, and the ‘re emergence’ anxiety that a lot of people seem to be feeling right now.