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  Anxiety

'No worries' (Popular phrase)

 

Anxiety is an epidemic.

At least, that’s how it sometimes seems, People may repeat the catchy no worries phrase, but how many can mean it? Anxiety is in the air. We breathe it in all the time.

However, definition is vital.   In fact conditions once described as ‘low level depression’ or equally dismissed as ‘chronic worrying’ are now more likely to be classified under this label. Equally, volatile states of feeling that may quickly lead to full blown panic attacks, severe stress and can even become life-threatening may be lumped into the same category.  It’s hence vital to make some distinctions.

  • Firstly, normally healthy people do have worries and may experience periods of heightened anxiety, especially as difficult circumstances pile up. For many, these will pass by as conditions ‘out there’ alter.
  • Secondly, a degree of anxiety about possible outcomes can be positive, allowing a person to be sufficiently focused to perform well. Being keyed up at the right time is essential to all kinds of activity, from sport to business to many forms of creativity to socialising and all sorts more.
  • Thirdly, it’s generally when anxiety becomes particularly intrusive that it’s seen as a problem. It’s unwanted and useless anxiety that can prove problematic and for which people seek help.

It’s just the way I am: Whilst it is true that people vary in temperament and hence in proneness to anxious states, it’s not true that either acute or chronic anxiety states need to be tolerated. There is always something that can be done about them.

 
 
What is anxiety?

People use a variety of phrases to describe anxiety states – being ‘on edge’, ‘always on the alert’, ‘weighed down with worries’ and so on. Anxiety states often interrupt sleep, deplete energy, make people more vulnerable to illness as well as to phobias and fears and can affect digestion and bowel movements, Unchecked anxiety can lead to panic attacks, depression, heart attacks and distressing skin conditions amongst other things.

It is important to realize that many of the symptoms of anxiety are also symptoms of the triggering of the so-called ‘fight or flight’ mechanism in the emotional brain - the mind/body system is on automatic pilot, acting as if there were an immediate physical threat: it really is on edge and alert. Anxious thoughts plus difficult and traumatic circumstances plus perhaps fear, frustration or anger plus in some cases hormonal and other chemical changes within the body– all of these have been tripping the alarm system.

Should I take medication?

Doctors prescribe a variety of medications for acute anxiety states. In the majority of cases, these can be effective in the short term though many studies have shown that they do not provide long-term answers. Anyone taking prescribed medication should, however, consult his or her medical advisers thoroughly before stopping it or reducing dosage. If medication is like a sticking plaster, bear in mind that you don't abandon plasters whilst the wound is still smarting.

Should I take counselling or therapy?

Again, definitions are essential. Traditional psychodynamic forms of therapy and counselling encourage introspection, which generally fuels anxiety. Studies have shown their effect on anxious states to be negative and sometimes dangerous. By contrast, counselling/therapy that focuses on practical solutions, teaching definite skills, setting regular targets and encouraging intelligent understanding of the emotional system has been found to be highly effective.

Good therapy for anxiety
  • teaches the client practical ways to handle anxious states
  • encourages understanding of how anxiety works
  • shows clients how to balance needs more effectively
  • will address any past traumatic experiences in effective ways
  • involves neither psychobabble nor ‘confessing all’
  • does not encourage excessive introspection
  • should not take long.
How many sessions?

This depends on necessity. Many clients learn to handle their anxiety sufficiently in 3 sessions. Others find that more sessions are needed – sometimes as many as 7 or even rarely 10 where there are multiple accompanying concerns. You will be encouraged to measure and monitor progress from the beginning and should notice immediate improvements. Therapy is ended when goals are achieved, though counsellors are usually available for occasional ‘booster’ consultations.

 

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