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Understanding Anxiety

Updated: Feb 21

It is important to start by saying that anxiety is a normal part of being human. We can all feel anxious from time to time. There are also some positive aspects to anxiety: it can be linked to excitement, help us achieve deadlines and be pro-active.

Anxiety is on a spectrum from light to mild, and then more severe, such as experiencing fear and panic attacks on a more regular basis. Below, I will explore - within the context of counselling - the type of anxiety that has become an issue and obstacle in your life.

Rather than seeing anxiety as something negative (yes, anxiety feels very uncomfortable and sometimes crippling), I understand anxiety as a healthy/organic sign that something needs your time and attention. Anxiety asks of us to pause and reflect. You can either ignore it and hope that it goes away (unfortunately for us, problems don't just disappear when pushed aside, but instead, tend to accumulate) or you can become curious and ask yourself: 'What is my anxiety trying to tell me?' 'What needs addressing in my life?' or 'What am I avoiding?' These are the main questions we can explore together in therapy.

Anxiety can sometimes feels like it has come out of nowhere and can manifest when we are relaxing on holiday for example. So our natural reaction is to feel confused as to why this is happening to us when nothing seems to be triggering it. Anxiety does not come out of nowhere and for no reasons. In counselling, we work together at understanding the triggers, roots and causes of your anxiety. We also learn new skills to manage it.

Sometimes, anxiety can be rooted in our habitual and adaptive ways of being. These ways of adapting usually start in our childhood. In order to be loved and accepted, all children learn to adapt to the demands of their environment (their family, the culture they are born into, their school, etc.).

Here are some examples:

  • I might have learnt in my family of origin to always put other people first and ignore my own needs. 'Pleasing others' might have provided me with a lot of praise in my childhood and hence reinforced this behaviour. As an adult, always putting others first can often feel draining and depleting, later accumulating in feelings of anxiety, resentment, the inability to say no and weak boundaries.

  • I might have learnt in my childhood that feeling sad equals being weak. Therefore, in my adult life, every time I start to feel sad (for good reasons), I fight the feeling off and berate myself for being so weak. Casting away healthy emotions, such as our sadness for example, can be one of the many causes of anxiety, depression, anger issues, etc. All of our emotions are useful to us. Sadness, for example, helps us heal after we have lost something or someone important to us.

I am not able to go through all the possible causes of anxiety as this would be an endless list. Anxiety can also come from feelings of low self-esteem and not feeling good enough. In therapy, we can explore the roots of those beliefs. Trauma (an overwhelming single or repeated distressing events where we have felt powerless) can also be a major cause of anxiety.

Anxiety is not only about the stuff from our childhood but can also be situational. In therapy, we also explore your present situation such as your relationships, profession, living situation, sexuality, age, race, etc.

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