A little anxiety can be helpful – it keeps us alert to potentially dangerous situations, so is useful in protecting us. A little anxiety before a performance or a sports event can give us an adrenaline boost that helps us to perform at our best. This is a normal level of anxiety felt in response to a specific situation and once that situation passes, it subsides.
We can also feel stressed and anxious when we are unable to cope with the demands on us, our time, our emotions or our energy. This is a normal reaction that everyone experiences from time to time in relation to stressful events or an increase in pressure and demands on us at home or at work. This usually subsides over time, once the event has passed or the pressure or demands on us decrease.
However, anxiety that persists for longer periods of time, is provoked by non-threatening situations or has no apparent cause, can become a real problem. Too much anxiety is unhealthy, preventing us from living fully and enjoying our lives.
When we experience chronic anxiety our bodies are continually in “fight or flight” mode, producing adrenaline and other hormones which affect many parts of our body. We remain in a state of “high alert” and may react strongly to even minor events as if they were a major threat. The resulting physical symptoms can be very distressing, even frightening. At times a person can actually feel that their life is in danger, visiting their GP or A&E department because they are so worried about what they are experiencing.
Common symptoms of anxiety include:
not being able to stop or control worrying thoughts
feeling unable to think, or process information
feeling tense, nervous or on edge
feeling alert and watchful all the time
irritability with yourself and others
feeling afraid, as if something bad might happen
behaving in ways intended to avoid or prevent the bad thing happening
digestive problems, diarrhoea, constipation, “butterflies” in the stomach
Sometimes difficult situations at home or at work may be ongoing or we may not have enough support to draw on to help us through. We can get caught up in unhealthy patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving in a way that fuels our anxiety, in a vicious cycle which can be very destructive.
Over time, anxiety can seriously affect the quality of life and relationships. It can get in the way of our normal activities at home or work, limiting what we can do or feel able to do and sometimes causing us to avoid or withdraw from contact with others.
We can begin to feel overwhelmed and unable to cope, stuck in a downward spiral not knowing what to do for the best. Over time anxiety can become debilitating to the point where it may lead to depression and feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Counselling can be helpful in breaking out of this cycle and preventing greater problems developing. It provides a safe space to explore your feelings, thoughts and behaviours and can help you to identify the causes and triggers for your anxiety. The process can also help you to find effective strategies for addressing the causes and reducing the symptoms of anxiety.
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