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Understanding Anxiety: Seeking Help and Support

Updated: Jul 22, 2023

What is Anxiety?

It is important to acknowledge that anxiety is a common experience for everyone to varying degrees. It is a natural response that occurs in both the mind and body when faced with challenging, threatening, or unfamiliar circumstances. It manifests as an unsettling feeling, distress, or apprehension before encountering a significant event. While a certain degree of anxiety is essential for keeping us vigilant and cautious, individuals afflicted with anxiety disorders experience a far-from-typical level of unease that can be difficult to manage.

Anxiety is a mechanism designed to protect us from potential harm. When confronted with danger or uncertainty, the body triggers the "fight-flight or freeze" response, a primal survival instinct that prepares us to confront the threat or flee from it. This response involves the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, which boost our energy and heighten our senses. In evolutionary terms, this was crucial for our ancestors' survival, allowing them to navigate a hostile environment filled with predators and dangers. Consider the early humans who had to contend with bears or Sabretooth Tigers when hunting for food. The “flight or fight response” helped them survive.

However, in modern society, our concerns do not revolve around the fear of encountering Sabretooth Tigers (fortunately) but instead are centred on coping with the pressures and expectations imposed by society. These feelings are no less tangible and equally significant as those of our early ancestors.

Some Common causes of anxiety.

  • Financial issues

  • Social situations

  • Presentations / Public Speaking

  • Work / Unemployment

  • Bereavement

  • Housing Problems

  • Changes in life

  • Appearance

  • Loneliness

  • Drugs

  • Medication – Side effects

  • Diet / Alcohol / Caffeine

  • Conflict

What does anxiety feel like?

We have all felt nervous from time to time, but those who suffer from anxiety will experience a more intense feeling of nervousness. While nervousness is usually a temporary emotion, anxiety is often a prolonged state of worry or fear that can persist for days, weeks, or even months, depending on the underlying cause or condition.

Those who suffer or experience anxiety disorders interpret situations as far more perilous than they are, catastrophising situations, leading to an overwhelming and persistent sense of worry and fear. This emotional burden can impact various aspects of their life, interfering with work, sleeping patterns, diet, relationships, and overall well-being.

People with anxiety disorders may experience a wide range of symptoms, both physical and psychological. Physical symptoms can include a rapid heart rate, sweating, trembling, muscle tension, and gastrointestinal issues. On the psychological front, excessive worry, racing thoughts, difficulty concentrating, and a sense of impending doom are common experiences. In severe cases, panic attacks can emerge, bringing intense feelings of terror and a loss of control.

Anxiety has the potential to bring about feelings of isolation in those who suffer from it. The individual might perceive safety and emotional control by keeping themselves indoors. Additionally, they may hold the belief that seeking help is pointless and rather than burden others, they opt to withdraw from social interactions. This further exacerbates their sense of loneliness and frustration.

Types of Anxiety.

  • Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a chronic mental health condition characterized by excessive, persistent, and uncontrollable worry about various aspects of life. People with GAD often struggle to manage their anxiety, leading to physical symptoms and interference with daily functioning.

  • Social anxiety disorder.

Social anxiety, also known as social phobia, is a mental health condition characterized by an intense fear of social situations and interactions. People with social anxiety may fear being judged, embarrassed, or humiliated, leading to avoidance of social gatherings and difficulty in forming and maintaining relationships.

  • Health anxiety

Health anxiety, also known as illness anxiety disorder or hypochondriasis, is a condition where individuals have an excessive and persistent fear of having a serious medical condition. People with health anxiety often misinterpret normal bodily sensations as signs of a severe illness and may engage in frequent checking of their body or seek medical reassurance despite no medical evidence of an underlying problem.

  • Phobias

Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder characterized by an intense and irrational fear of specific objects, situations, or activities. The fear is often disproportionate to the actual danger posed by the phobic stimulus, leading to avoidance behaviours that can significantly impact a person's daily life and well-being.

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition characterized by intrusive, distressing thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive, ritualistic behaviours or mental acts (compulsions) performed to alleviate anxiety caused by the obsessions. OCD can significantly impair daily functioning and may lead to a cycle of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours that are difficult to control.

  • Panic Attacks

Panic attacks are sudden and intense episodes of overwhelming fear or anxiety that can be accompanied by physical symptoms such as a racing heart, shortness of breath, trembling, sweating, dizziness, and a feeling of impending doom. These attacks can occur unexpectedly and may last for several minutes, causing significant distress to the person experiencing them.

Treating and coping with Anxiety.

The treatment for anxiety disorders often involves a combination of medication, therapy and self-care, although either approach can be effective when used as a single treatment method.

When treating a client for anxiety, a General Practitioner (GP) will typically begin by conducting a thorough assessment of the client's symptoms and medical history. They may prescribe medications, such as anti-anxiety or antidepressant drugs, to help alleviate anxiety symptoms. Additionally, the GP may refer the client to Talking therapies. These therapies aim to provide emotional support, explore thoughts and feelings, address emotional or psychological difficulties, and develop coping strategies to improve overall mental well-being.

During therapy, a counsellor will typically conduct an assessment to understand the client's specific anxiety symptoms and triggers. They may be followed by using the Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) approach to help the client identify and challenge negative thought patterns and behaviours that contribute to their anxiety. Therapy may also involve using relaxation techniques, mindfulness exercises, and breathing exercises to help the client manage their symptoms in real time. Throughout the therapy process, the counsellor provides support, validation, guidance and long-term strategies to empower the client on their journey to cope with and overcome their anxiety.

Moreover, lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise, mindfulness practices, and a balanced diet, can contribute significantly to managing anxiety. Engaging in physical activity and a healthier diet not only promotes physical health but also aids in reducing stress and improving your mood and well-being. Mindfulness techniques, like meditation and deep breathing exercises, can help individuals become more aware of their thoughts and emotions, promoting a sense of calm and relaxation.

In summary, anxiety is a normal response that helps keep us safe. However, when it escalates to an anxiety disorder, it becomes a debilitating condition that significantly impairs an individual's daily life. With appropriate treatment, support, and understanding, individuals living with anxiety disorders can find ways to cope and lead fulfilling lives. By promoting mental health awareness and offering compassionate support, we can collectively work towards a more empathetic and inclusive society.

If you're currently dealing with anxiety and need support or more information, then don’t hesitate to contact a counsellor or talk to your GP.

Thank you for reading.


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