• Adam Rothwell

Understanding anxiety

Updated: Oct 25, 2020

Everyone has times in our lives when we feel anxious (the feelings of nervousness and unease about something specific). But when does someone cross over an invisible line into 'dealing with anxiety'? On the whole, feeling anxious now and then is not necessarily a bad thing - it can alert us to situations that may place us in danger, or show us that we are passionate about something (remember those pre-interview butterflies?) However, for many people, living with anxiety can be distressing and in some circumstances, debilitating. This article looks to provide you with some information about anxiety and support available.

What is anxiety?

As previously mentioned, the passing feeling of anxiety is around a certain situation; giving a talk to hundreds of people, preparing for an awkward conversation or sitting an important exam. Anxiety becomes an issue when the feeling is there persistently, affecting someone's like, including their work, social and family life. Below is a list of some ways people experience anxiety (please note this is not an exhaustive list and should not be used to self-diagnose):

Physical symptoms

  • faster, irregular or more noticeable heartbeat

  • feeling lightheaded and dizzy

  • headaches

  • chest pains

  • loss of appetite

Mental symptoms

  • feeling tense or nervous

  • being unable to relax

  • worrying about the past or future

  • feeling tearful

  • not being able to sleep

Changes in behaviour

  • not being able to enjoy your leisure time

  • difficulty looking after yourself

  • problems concentrating at work

  • struggling to form or maintain relationships

  • worried about trying new things

Credit to: NHS. If you identify with many of the symptoms above, you can take a free mood self-assessment on the NHS website which gives you guidance on support you can receive.


Why do people develop anxiety?

Each person is unique and so their story will be different. There are also different types of anxiety; some people have a phobia of a specific thing (snakes, or heights for instance). Others have what medical professionals call generalised anxiety disorder, where there is no one thing that triggers anxiety for them. Some people suffer with panic attacks.

It is safe to say though that the majority of people are not born with anxiety and it is a response to our circumstances and/or experiences. Examples of this are:

  • Having high amounts of stress or pressure in your life, for instance in your job or if you are a carer.

  • Concerns about your safety or wellbeing, for instance if you are in debt or at risk of redundancy.

  • Health and family concerns, such as a bereavement or receiving a health diagnosis.

Persistent anxiety develops if a person is unable to stop worrying - some of this is their body responding to the worry, a little like the fight-flight-freeze response. The hard thing with anxiety is that it is often unproductive and does not create an solutions for the person. It can also be hard to pinpoint what someone is feeling anxious about, or where it started.


How can counselling help someone with anxiety?

The first reason seeing a counsellor can help is the fact that it can be unclear why someone feels anxious. Counselling offers a safe space with a professional to unbox the anxiety and to look for a root cause for it; it may be a negative experience in the past or current circumstances. Once this is found, work can be done to either resolve the concern, or to create ways to cope.

Although initially attending counselling can be anxiety inducing (for anyone, not just someone dealing with anxiety!) the benefit of seeing a counsellor is that they are impartial and have no agenda other than to support their client. It can be hard to speak to family and friends who are too involved to be impartial.

Dependent on the type of therapy, some therapists may also provide their clients with coping strategies, or ways to increase wellbeing. Examples include breathing exercises, looking at improving sleep and relaxation techniques. They will practice these with clients and then the client can try them on their own, like self-help. Mind have a great guide to self-care for anxiety you can look at.

There is support via the NHS for people who are struggling with anxiety, mainly through the provision of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which looks at the connection between thoughts and feelings and looks to provide relief through changing outlook and beliefs. However many other types of counselling can help those who are concerned about their anxiety, and the important component of good therapy is having a supportive therapist and a collaborative working relationship.


Adam Rothwell MBACP is a registered person-centred counsellor in private practice. He sees clients online and in person in the South Manchester, Stockport and Cheshire East areas of North West England.

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