Piglet, companion to A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, is familiar with the feelings of fear, dread and apprehension that we label as “anxiety”. Piglet is aware of danger and threat and easily connects with thoughts and imaginings of “what if….” when facing the challenge of the water. He anxiously begins to ruminate and contemplate what may happen, and concludes:
“Here am I, surrounded by
water and I can’t do anything”.
In this blog, we’ll take a look at what anxiety is, and the purpose it serves for us as humans. We’ll consider ways to find freedom from the unpleasant and sometimes life-impacting consequences of anxiety. For many people, working with a therapist to find ways to understand and manage anxiety can be powerful. There’s also a lot of self-help ideas and techniques that can be useful in finding relief from anxiety.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is the unpleasant feeling of fear, worry or dread. It’s thought that the word “anxiety” stems from the Latin word “angō”, which means “I cause physical pain” or “I torment or distress”. Alternatively, the English word anxiety may also have developed from the Latin ‘angere’, meaning to choke, or strangle. Either way, the etymology of anxiety helps us to have a sense of what anxiety feels like and how it can impact a person’s life. Anxiety can cause physical discomfort and pain, leading to tense muscles, difficulty breathing and tension headaches and digestive issues. The troubling thoughts and endless rumination often associated with anxiety can really feel like torment or torture, especially when such thoughts disturb sleep or rest. There is not doubt about it, anxiety can cause real distress.
Anxiety is defined by the NHS as a “Common Mental Disorder”. Research shows that 5.9% of UK adults experience Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) within a given week. Other anxiety-based conditions such as phobias, OCD and Panic Disorder means that over 10% of UK adults have symptoms of anxiety that may or may not be treated and managed.
Counselling for anxiety
As a Psychotherapist, I’m interested in finding out what a person’s own relationship to their unique experience of anxiety. I’m curious about what your anxiety is like for you, and what purpose or meaning it may hold for you in your unique environment and situation. I certainly don’t want to treat you as a medical diagnosis, or presume your experience of anxiety has one simple cause and one simple solution. You are far more than a label, and far more that “a person with anxiety”.
Most people feel anxious or scared at times, and it’s natural to feel anxious when facing change and stressful life events. In terms of evolution, a certain amount of anxiety is useful to humans and other mammals. An anxious response to some perceived danger or threat results in the release of certain hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones alert us to be responsive and attuned to threat so that we can act. For example, heart rate increases to carry blood quickly to reach the parts of our body needed to run or fight the threat and that can result in feelings of wobbliness and breathlessness. This response is useful when we need to take prompt action to ensure our survival. However, for some people, the warning and action system of anxiety remains on high alert when a threat has passed, or the threat is assessed by others as “minor”. It’s easy for others around us to dismiss you as “over-reacting” or that you are “too sensitive”. Yet, such responses risk shaming and blaming.
I wonder what sort of beliefs and messages you carry about your own sense of safety in the world? I wonder what might have happened to you that has resulted in feelings of fear and anxiety in the present? In what ways do you feel, and have you felt, out of control and unsafe? I am also curious about the messages you tell yourself when you experience anxiety. I’m interested in discovering what we can learn together about your own needs and wants.
Freedom from anxiety
Whilst anxiety, with all its various symptoms can impact on a person’s day-to-day functioning and quality of life, and positive news is that, with support, you can can find ways to better understand and then make choices that can help you to find relief from debilitating anxiety.
The NHS recognises a range of responses can help manage anxiety. These include education about anxiety, Talking Therapy and psychological approaches, self-help and medication. Therapy can sometimes explore practical self-help approaches and allow space for consideration and discussion of self-help approaches. In this blog, we’ll take a look at 3 well-known self-help approaches for anxiety that you can consider using, whether that’s to complement or as an alternative to counselling for anxiety.
Mindfulness & meditation for anxiety
Mindfulness and Meditation are ancient practices that have received a great deal of attention and interest in recent years. Recent research points to mindfulness as an effective tool for promoting mental health for many people. Mindful meditation is essentially a way of paying more attention to the present moment and to your own thoughts and feelings and well as to the world around you. Mindfulness and meditation practices encourage awareness and noticing. Whilst mindful meditation may not be everyone’s cup of tea, or indeed may not be effective for everyone, mindfulness for anxiety is a accessible tool that requires zero financial investment. There’s simple mindful meditations available online. For example, the HeadSpace App provides a range of free resources via the HeadSpace YouTube channel. There’s also the Waking Up App, developed by neuroscientist, Sam Harris, which combines mindfulness meditation theory and practice in accessible chunks with free access to a range of resources.
Step-into-nature to manage anxiety
Time in the natural world can help relieve stress and anxiety and boost overall wellbeing. Taking a walk outside, cultivating nature in your garden, or a trip to the coast to watch the waves are all ways you can benefit. And, even if you can’t get outside you can still find ways to benefit from nature. A recent study showed that visualising natural scenes helped in reducing anxiety symptoms.
Eat your way to freedom for anxiety
We know that certain foods or drink can increase anxiety levels. Excessive caffeine, alcohol and refined sugars are commonly cited triggers for anxiety. A healthy diet can, by contrast, support both our physical and mental health.
A 2018 research study demonstrated that a Mediterranean diet, high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish, and unsaturated fats, can support mental wellness.
A study in the journal Psychiatry Research has shown a possible link between probiotic foods and a reduction in symptoms of social anxiety. Eating probiotic-rich foods such as pickles, sauerkraut, and kefir was linked with fewer symptoms.
So, if you feel a little bit, or even a lot, like Piglet at times, have hope. There are many accessible self-help strategies out there that you can consider. Psychotherapy and counselling are effective ways to find freedom from anxiety. I’d be interested to hear from you about what has helped you with any experience of anxiety that has impacted you. Feel free to comment below……