Over time, anxiety counselling and therapy can reduce and even eliminate your anxiety. A difficulty with thinking about anxiety is that it manifests in different ways and has different causes. It can include generalized anxiety, social anxiety, panic attacks, phobias, obsessive-compulsive behaviour and Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Appropriate anxiety can be caused by experiences like redundancy, ageing, bullying or cancer but I’m thinking in this section about entrenched anxiety.

What are the symptoms of anxiety?

Among the most common are:

  • A sense of unease, tension, fear, doom or worry – sometimes linked to specific situations but sometimes hard to pin down
  • The feelings may be uncontrollable, intrusive, obsessive and out of proportion to a given situation
  • Restlessness, tension and being on edge
  • Irritability
  • Sleep problems
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of confidence
  • Muscle tension
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sweating
  • Racing heartbeat

As I’ve said, anxiety is also linked to panic attacks, phobias, obsessive-compulsive behaviour and PTSD.

How do I know if I suffer from anxiety?

There are quite a few websites providing tests for anxiety. It’s worth being aware, though, that diagnosing oneself can be misleading. It’s always a good idea to talk to a specialist and your doctor is a good first port of call. Symptoms may also emanate from more than one cause or from a different cause.

If you have some of the symptoms in the list and if they persist or are recurrent, it may be that you are suffering from anxiety. Other indications can include the need for frequent reassurance, being overly alert, finding it hard to relax, trembling, nausea, digestive problems and lightheadedness.

What are the causes of anxiety?

Anxiety-related conditions are diverse and have diverse causes. There’s probably something different going on in a person who feels trapped at cocktail parties and one who’s obsessively hoarding large quantities of garden furniture. Or one who constantly worries. But there are common denominators. There’s some evidence of a biological element in anxiety. And at the psychological level the universal factor is a perceived looming threat to safety – perhaps quite unconscious.

Threats in childhood

For example, the threat may originally have been an overwhelming event or events in the distant past that menaced a person with total disintegration. Instances could include a traumatic birth or an intimidating, even terrifying, parent. Challenging situations in later life can threaten, at a level beyond awareness, to re-immerse the person in a flood of the original annihilating feelings – hence the difficulty or impossibility of mastering them in the present. In psychotherapy, the aim is to find and heal as far as possible the original emotions.

Or the original threat may have been about experiences of separation from a parent, in which case the emotions, while threatening a less total destruction, can still be terrifying: a dread of aloneness and a yawning feeling that one is empty.

Or else the original threat may have been connected with punishment for unacceptable longings. This time there may be no menace of being destroyed but instead a deep guilt and an anticipation of retribution.

For instance

The quality of the early relationship with one’s parents (or other major caregivers) is pivotal here. An example might be of parents who are not attuned to what their child needs at a particular stage of their development. They may be either too present – for instance, a mother who over-protects and offers ‘smother love’ – or not present enough – for instance, a mother who is neglectful.

In either situation, a child might not be able to develop the necessary mechanisms to control their anxiety. In the first case, that’s because the mother constantly protects the child from anxiety and deprives them of the chance to experience anxiety-provoking situations in safe doses and build up a tolerance to them. (In addition, the very fact of stunting a child’s natural drive to stand on their own two feet can provoke anxiety). In the second case, anxiety might take root through the child being ignored and uncontained fear being allowed to spiral out of control. A mother needs to take a child’s fear, ‘process’ it and reassure the child that everything’s all right.

Depending on their severity, such situations can lead to major anxiety linked to one’s fundamental sense of safety and existence.

What can be done about anxiety? Anxiety counselling and therapy

There are different approaches for treating anxiety, including analytic psychotherapy. Bear in mind that psychotherapy usually doesn’t offer rapid change and that, as with most types of therapy, successful treatment can’t be guaranteed. Psychotherapy goes to the roots of conditions (often unconscious) and working with these takes time. But therapy does aim for long-lasting effects. It’s sometimes the case that, where appropriate, people find psychotherapy easier if they are on medication prescribed by their GP.

Other pages which may be of interest

For more information about Depression counselling and therapy
For information on Anger and anger management therapy
See our blog post about stress: All stressed up and nowhere to go