• The theme of this year's Mental Health Awareness Week is anxiety

  • We spoke to Welldoing therapists and counsellors to get their take on managing anxious feelings and thoughts

  • Find a therapist for anxiety here

The theme for this year's Mental Health Awareness Week 2023 is anxiety. The annual campaign, run by the Mental Health Foundation, has opted to highlight anxiety in part because of it's prevalence as a common mental health challenge, but also in recognition of the fact that current external pressures such as the cost of living crisis are currently causing greater anxiety in many. 

The Mental Health Foundation's report, based on a survey on 6000 people, found: 

  • anxiety levels increased during the pandemic and have not dropped back to pre-pandemic levels
  • 73% of respondents had felt anxious in the last two weeks
  • 20% of people feel anxious most or all of the time
  • 58% of 18-24 year olds had felt anxious enough in the last two weeks that it had interfered with their day-to-day activities
  • 45% of people surveyed were keeping their anxiety a secret

Anxiety can come in many forms – sometimes painfully acute, at other times masked behind anger, avoidance, or numbness. It can be a long-term condition or something that knocks you sideways, seemingly out of the blue. 

Whatever your anxiety symptoms, if anxiety is interfering with your daily functioning or promoting behaviours that you find harmful or self-destructive, it may be time to reach out for support from a friend, your GP, or maybe a professional therapist or counsellor.

We spoke to some of our Welldoing counsellors and psychotherapists to find out what they wish people knew about anxiety, their best tips for managing anxious feelings, and also what they think of campaigns like Mental Health Awareness Week. Here's what they had to say.

Integrative psychotherapist Julia Bueno, author of Everyone's a Critic:

‘"Anxiety consumes our mind but please remember that it is also mapped in our body. We need to approach both, with kindness, to give us the best chance of soothing it. 

So while the thoughts drag you upwards, remember to think about grounding, breathing and bodywork to bring you ‘down'."

Humanistic psychotherapist Victoria Oruwari:

"What I wish people knew is that experiencing anxiety may not always be a bad thing. It can sometimes be an indication that you care so much about something in your life that you don’t want it to go wrong. 

Anxiety magnifies all the things that you don’t want to happen, with the aim of protecting you from it, but in effect it holds you back because it causes you to freeze and do nothing. 

Imagine what it would be like if you could see anxiety in reverse by thinking of all the things that you hope and wish for? You start to feel excited instead. Anxiety exists because everything we hope for lies on the other side of fear."

Integrative counsellor Georgina Sturmer:

"It might seem as if anxiety is rising. Perhaps there’s something about our overwhelming 24-hour culture of rolling news and endless scrolling that is making us all feel more anxious. But I think there’s something to be optimistic about here too. 

As we become more open about talking about our mental health, old stigmas and taboos are melting away. Maybe we’re just getting better about talking about our hidden fears and worries. Maybe we’re becoming more comfortable about being vulnerable with one another. And that can only be a good thing."

Existential psychotherapist Lisa Daitz:

"There's no doubt that anxiety is what brings many clients into the therapy room. But the encouraging thing is that more people are looking for support rather than struggling alone. 

My top tip for anxiety? I always say that anxiety is our body's way of telling us that something is wrong or needs addressing. So as a therapist I'm encouraging my clients to stay with the feelings as we unravel the meaning of the anxiety and understand the changes that need to be made. 

It's an exciting journey and one I never tire of!"

Psychoanalytic psychotherapist Ana Mootoosamy:

"Everyone experiences anxiety. Even from birth, we have anxiety about being separated from our parents and about being taken care of, and as we grow up, we will continue to experience anxiety about various settings and relationships (exams, friendships, medical situations, job interviews etc).

Anxiety is unavoidable and normal. However, at times this normal and common emotion can take over so that it makes everyday life unbearable and difficult to live with. It is when this occurs that some clinical support might become necessary, and might become quite important to seek professional help to understand the anxiety in more detail. 

Mental health awareness campaigns have had a positive impact in making stigmatising reactions to mental health conditions more taboo. However, such campaigns, combined with the rise of discussion of “mental health” on some social media platforms, seem to have had the unfortunate effect of self-diagnosis and self-pathologising. 

Stigma against mental health conditions exists, and improving awareness is important; it is also important to seek help from trusted professionals so that you can receive the most appropriate care and support to help you through the anxiety."

Further reading

Doomscrolling: is reading the news bad for my mental health?

How getting to know your 'Ideal Self' can reduce anxiety

My experience of health anxiety

The anxiety loop and how to escape it

Everything you need to know about intrusive thoughts