Anxiety Therapy


Everybody experiences anxiety from time to time; in fact about 1 person in 20 in the UK suffers from severe anxiety of some kind. It generally occurs when people feel frightened or threatened by something, for example, going to the dentist, hospital, job interview, exam or a first date. Sometimes the cause of anxiety is obvious and other times it can seem to not relate to any clear cause. When the cause is not evident, it can sometimes be the cumulative result of many smaller stressors having built up over time or perhaps the result of a previous anxiety provoking experience that the person felt traumatised by and has not dealt with.

As with stress, there are times when a certain amount of short term or mild anxiety can be helpful in motivating a person to perform to their best or to get things done. Severe anxiety however, can feel overwhelming and can have a debilitating and paralysing effect, preventing them from living the way they want to and enjoying themselves.

There are many causes of anxiety.

  • If something frightening happened in a particular situation earlier in a person’s life and they were not able to effectively deal with their feelings or resolve the situation, they may get anxious about being in a similar situation again. 
  • Anxiety can be learnt. If a person grew up in a family that tended to see the world as a dangerous and frightening place or where the parents were themselves anxious, then these attitudes and traits can easily be passed onto the next generation. 
  • A person might be faced with something that is out of their control, for example, developing a serious or life threatening illness, losing their job, a relationship breakdown or being attacked.
  • Other factors that can lead to feeling anxious include: stress, exhaustion, poor diet, caffeine, cigarettes, alcohol, use of recreational drugs and the side effects of prescribed medication.

Sometimes a person can experience periods of anxiety that will keep recurring over a long period of time. When this happens they can feel powerless, begin to dread its return and become anxious about getting anxious. This then becomes a vicious cycle whereby each period of anxiety provokes the emergence of the next.

Common symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Fearfulness
  • Worrying
  • Apprehension
  • Unrealistic appraisal of danger
  • Belief in personal inability to cope with stress
  • Fear of impending death
  • Fear of having a heart attack
  • Fear of going crazy
  • Feeling faint or dizzy
  • Rapid shallow breathing and breathlessness
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Palpitations
  • Hot and cold flushes
  • Sweating
  • Feeling sick
  • Chest pain
  • Feeling of choking
  • Being irritable
  • Avoiding difficult situations
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Being easily startled

Panic Attacks

Panic attacks are common in our society. About 1 in 10 people will have a panic attack at some point in their life. Although they can occur at any age, the most common age is between 15 and 25 years old. A panic attack will usually feel like it has ‘come out of the blue’. It occurs extremely suddenly and is a mental and physical experience of intense fear and physical discomfort. It feels absolutely overwhelming and will reach its peak of intensity within minutes. It might be as short as 1-5 minutes and some symptoms can last up to 30 minutes before they begin to fade.

Panic attacks can sometimes arise when there are difficult feelings or emotional conflicts that lay unresolved inside the person and they start to feel those feelings re-emerging. Because the person may have shut off or desensitised the original experience a long time ago, it is entirely possible that they have no idea that this is the cause of their experience.  In addition, because the intense physical sensations of the panic attack can deflect attention away from the original unresolved feelings, the person remains unaware of the reason for the attack.

More specific causes or triggers of panic attacks can include:

  • On going generalised anxiety
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Over-breathing (hyperventilating)
  • The association of particular circumstances or events with having a panic attack
  • Having a phobia and coming into contact with the object of the phobia
  • Use of caffeine, alcohol and other recreational drugs
  • Side effects of anti-depressant medication
  • Withdrawal from tranquilising medication

People commonly describe the following symptoms:

  • Sweating
  • Palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feelings of choking
  • Trembling
  • Feeling sick
  • Stomach pain
  • Muscles becoming tense
  • Chest pain
  • Feeling faint or dizzy
  • Fear of dying/feeling like you are going to die
  • Fear of going mad or losing control
  • Hot flushes or chills

The counselling and psychotherapy process usually involves a person learning in detail what they are feeling and experiencing, understanding what triggers their anxiety or panic, discovering why the trigger is so disturbing and learning effective coping strategies.

Of particular benefit are:

  • Locating the origin of the anxiety and assessing whether there is real and current threat
  • Talking through feelings and worries in a safe environment with someone that understands the problem
  • Learning to accept the anxious feelings – this can greatly reduce their power
  • Learning relaxation techniques
  • Learning breathing techniques
  • Learning visualisations that support feelings of wellbeing
  • Reviewing lifestyle choices
  • Time prioritisation and planning more effectively
  • Identifying things that can comfort and soothe when feeling anxious