Anxiety can be crippling, but there are strategies to help you cope…
What is Anxiety? Does counselling for anxiety help? And what does it involve?
Louise from Cara Counselling has put together this guest post for us! You can find her here
Anxiety can be a big scary spiral; you feel you’re anxious so you consider getting help, then you wonder what your counsellor will be like? What they will think of you? What if they ask you about something you don’t want to talk about? What if you’re late for your appointment? What if you get lost, can’t find a parking space? What if it all feels too hard!
Take a big belly breath! There is help.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is feeling stress, concerns or other negative emotions in anticipation of some future event (which may or may not be real, and which may or may not be likely to occur). Its worrying even when there is nothing objectively wrong in the present moment, and/or worrying to an extent that is out of proportion to the actual threat. Anxiety can include dwelling on something, or seeking continual reassurances (for example from friends, family, Dr Google). There’s catastrophising, and lots of ‘what if?’ leading to the mind racing ahead, or feelings of dread, feeling restless, unable to concentrate, detachment, the urge to get away from the situation, or the place, sometimes feeling the need to flee from a situation.
In addition to all the things going around in your thoughts, there can be physical symptoms, or sensations, including muscle tension, feeling dizzy or light-headed, feeling hot and/or sweaty, or clammy, shaking or trembling, sleep disruption, tiredness, and digestive issues. It’s all too easy to then worry about these symptoms and believe, “I’m getting sick, or maybe I’ve got high blood pressure, or maybe heart issues; I can’t face going to the doctor, what if it’s really bad?”
This thinking can then turn into worrying about your health to the point where it’s interfering across all aspects of your life; stopping you from eating well and getting decent sleep and ends up actually leading to or exacerbating physical illness.
Types of anxiety
There are different types of anxiety and, while what I’m talking about here mostly relates to General Anxiety Disorder, counselling and psychological therapies can help across the different types. General Anxiety Disorder is reflected by the above description of anxiety, where the trigger of the anxiety can shift and be across multiple aspects of everyday life, for example, work, health and finances, rather than being focused on one specific issue.
Social Anxiety (sometimes known as social phobia) is where social situations or the need to speak or perform a work task in front of other people generates feelings of extreme anxiety. This usually includes a fear of being humiliated, or judged; fear of saying or doing ‘the wrong thing’ and resultant over-analysis of situations.
In addition to social phobia, there are a range of objects, activities or situations that, for some people, elicit feelings of panic, fear or terror. To be a phobia, these reactions would be completely out of proportion to the actual threat. (Reacting in a panic to a dangerous animal in front of you is not a phobia; feeling sensations of fear or panic in response to a stuffed toy, or an animal on TV or in a book would be a phobia).
Other types of anxiety include OCD, PTSD and Panic Disorder, all of which can be helped with counselling support and therapies such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT). Please get in touch if you’d like a bit more information or want to discuss these types of anxiety and see how counselling may help.
Study and exam pressure are a great example of situational anxiety, and pretty topical as kids settle into a new school year, and talk of NAPLAN ramps up’. A few quick ways for parents to support their children in handling the stress and anxiety of exams are:
- Encouraging good study habits, including breaks, nutrition, hydration, and exercise
- Parents managing their own stress; the exams are out of their control
- Try not to project your anxiety onto your kid – they have enough pressure
- Keep a sense of perspective – keep the exams in context and remember there are many paths to success, and indeed many different definitions of success!
How does counselling help?
Counselling can help anxiety in a number of ways; a counsellor can provide information on anxiety, what it is and it’s causes. They can help you identify some of the ‘why’; some of the precursors or stressors that have led you to develop anxiety.
One of the best skills your counsellor will have is the ability to listen and really hear you. In a counselling session, you should feel comfortable to talk about anything and everything that is preying on your mind. You have the opportunity to talk about things that you may have been hiding from your family, your friends, maybe even from yourself! Many of my clients tell me things they say they’ve never told anyone before, and talk of a feeling of relief from just saying it out loud, and being heard. And of course, some of these moments bring tears as well, and that’s fine too. If you’ve been holding it in for a long time, then there can be great relief from letting that emotion out, and I’m comfortable quietly waiting until you’re ready to talk some more.
‘I’m sure you’ve heard worse?’
Sometimes clients will find it really hard to disclose something they’ve felt, or said, or done. And that’s part of the counselling relationship, building up the trust to the point where you’re comfortable to really open up. At times, this is accompanied by ‘I’m sure you’ve heard worse?!’ and this generally comes out as a question, seeking reassurance. I don’t compare the different concerns and situations that clients bring to me; if you’re here to talk about it then it’s a big deal for you. It’s unlikely that you’ll surprise me, and if you do, well I’m always happy to learn something new! It won’t mean you’re ‘the worst I’ve ever seen’, rather it simply underlines that we are all different, with our own issues and concerns, and our own ways of dealing with them.
Strategies to help manage anxiety
Many symptoms, like increased heart rate, more rapid breathing, racing thoughts and tense muscles are due to adrenaline and our sympathetic nervous system and can be countered by deep breathing, engaging our parasympathetic nervous system.
Belly big – breathe in – belly small – breathe out
- Take a slow breath in through your nose for a count of 4, breathing into your lower belly so it inflates
- Hold it for a second or two
- Breath out slowly through your mouth for the count of 5, and feel your belly deflate
- Wait a few seconds then take another deep breath, and find a breath pattern that suits you.
I also often recommend muscle relaxation as potentially helping clients, and which you can practice either lying or sitting down (and it can be a good way to relax and support getting to sleep).
- Tense your body, and then gradually focus on relaxing each part in turn, from your toes to your head (remember to give your jaw a wiggle, as often tension is held here)
- Feel your body relaxing and ‘slumping’ into the chair; imagine you’re actually sinking into the chair, as your body relaxes
Mindfulness is something that I talk to a lot of clients about, and sometimes an App can help you get started. There are lots of apps available, I mostly hop between “Plum Village” and one simply called “Mindfulness”; it generally comes down to finding a voice that appeals to you.
The 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 mindfulness exercise is good to use when you just have a minute and want to ground yourself. I often do this while I’m out walking, and we discussed using it at work. What are:
5 things you can see – aim to notice things you hadn’t seen before, like a pattern or a flash of colour in your surroundings
4 things you can feel – your feet on the floor, breeze, feeling of sun if you’re outdoors, texture of a table or fabric etc.
3 things you can hear – birds, clock, music from a passing car etc.
2 things you can smell – coffee, plants, spices etc. and
1 thing you can taste – notice how your mouth tastes, maybe still a lingering taste from recent food or drink, or have a sip of tea, and really taste it.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)
As I mentioned above, CBT can help across all types of anxiety. CBT looks at your thoughts and looks for patterns or persistent thoughts that contribute to your anxiety, and then supports you to change those thoughts and replace them with new ones that serve you better. CBT with me involves the whiteboard, so you may get a laugh at my efforts to draw! And I share some of my own unhelpful thoughts to illustrate how changes and new thinking habits can help, which hopefully demystifies it a bit and makes it less daunting to make a start.
There are other strategies and therapies, and counselling tailors these to your needs and concerns. I’m happy to have a chat if you have any questions or would like to find out more about how Cara Counselling can help with anxiety. You can reach Louise via her website www.caracounselling.com.au – don’t forget she also offers ‘walk and talk sessions’ so you can pop the kids in a pram (or just bring yourself) and have your session while out walking.
Best wishes, Louise