Anxiety and worry are fundamental human emotions that we all feel in certain situations. The word "anxious" is used in everyday language to mean that we are nervous about something, such as a job interview, a presentation, or the outcome of a medical examination.

Anxiety functions as an internal alarm in the face of danger and allows us to guard against it. If we did not feel anxious, we would put our lives and those around us in danger.

A certain level of anxiety allows us to mobilise our abilities. However, sometimes anxiety sets in over time and appears disproportionate. This anxiety then becomes harmful.

When anxiety becomes a problem

Anxiety is not just a nervousness caused by an external event with obvious causes. Some people constantly experience an uncontrollable sense of worry, tension, even fear that has no rational reason.

It's as if the anxious person is looking at the world through magnifying glasses that make small problems big.

This constant worry sometimes occurs after a traumatic event or is acquired in a hostile environment that forces the individual to develop a hyper vigilance to protect themselves. As no sense of internal security has developed, there is constant distrust of the outside world.

The intensity of the disorder and the discomfort is variable according to the individuals. It may be very strong in some people, and "trivialised" in others.

In some people, anxiety will mainly affect thoughts and emotions, with great anxiety, ceaseless ruminations ... In others, it will give physical signs: fatigue, irritability, muscle tension, nausea . In all cases, generalised anxiety is a real burden that can become unbearable in everyday life for oneself as well as those around him.

If left untreated, anxiety can prevent action, cause blockages, hinder the completion of projects which causes difficulties in personal relationships and problems at work. Anxiety is often the cause of addictive behaviours to psychotropic products (alcohol, cannabis, sedatives, anxiolytics, sleeping pills) that anxious people use to subdue anxiety. When prolonged, anxiety can lead to mental exhaustion and depression. It is also responsible for many somatic symptoms and contributes to the development of functional disorders such as insomnia or functional digestive disorders and other psychosomatic disorders.

Do you suffer from anxiety?

The DSM-5 (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders used by clinicians and psychiatrists) outlines specific criteria to diagnose generalised anxiety disorder.

When assessing for general anxiety disorder, clinical professionals are looking for the following:

  1. The presence of excessive anxiety and worry about a variety of topics, events, or activities. Worry occurs more often than not for at least 6 months and is clearly excessive (no specific threat present or disproportionate to the actual risk). The worry may be accompanied by reassurance-seeking from others. 
  2. The worry is experienced as very challenging to control. 
  3. The anxiety and worry are accompanied with at least three of the following physical or cognitive symptoms (in children, only one symptom is necessary for a diagnosis of anxiety):
  • Edginess or restlessness
  • Tiring easily; more fatigued than usual
  • Impaired concentration or feeling as though the mind goes blank
  • Irritability (which may or may not be observable to others)
  • Increased muscle aches or soreness
  • Difficulty sleeping (due to trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, restlessness at night, or unsatisfying sleep)
  • Many individuals with anxiety also experience symptoms such as sweating, nausea, or diarrhea.

If you have one or more of these symptoms, psychotherapy can help you manage and decrease your anxiety.

When to ask for help for anxiety

People suffering from excessive anxiety are slow in asking for help and tend to minimise their suffering. Especially if they have never experienced a panic attack, they consider that their anxiety will not be taken seriously. However, the panic attack is not necessarily a symptom of anxiety.

Alongside anxiety is often added a feeling of guilt for not being able to confront situations that seem innocuous for others. This guilt lowers self-esteem and increases the fear of being judged. Asking for help to face one's fears requires courage. Starting therapy to understand your fears and go beyond them requires courage.

Do not hesitate to ask for help as soon as you feel that the worry is becoming constant or out of your control.

How does therapy work?

In the treatment of anxiety, the combination of relationship-based therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) all give good results.

In acute anxiety crisis, anxiolitics are often suggested to give some relief, but they do not cure the disorder in the long term and can cause addiction.

If and when anxiety is manageable, therapy is then indicated to understand and control stress and change habits.

Whatever your level of anxiety, it is important to take the time to find the psychotherapist who will listen to you and adapt his methods to your needs and your personality.

In a non-judgemental exchange with the psychotherapist, the patient gains a sense of safety and learns to express and analyse his worries, to express the emotions little by little, without overflowing. With the support and understanding of the therapist, the patient finds his own way to reduce his anxiety.

Further reading

Meet the therapist: Sonia Cerqueira

How cognitive analytic therapy helped manage my anxiety

Overcoming social anxiety and self-consciousness

Can hypnotherapy help with anxiety?

How CBT helped me overcome anxiety at work