What is anxiety?

To feel some level of anxiety at times throughout life is normal. However, for some people, feelings of anxiety are more frequent, and affect their daily lives. If you find yourself frequently plagued by anxious, low moods you may be suffering from anxiety, depression, or perhaps a combination of the two. Anxiety may cause feelings of irritability, dizziness, nervousness and tension. Anxiety can also cause women to miss periods. Anxiety affects one in 20 people, and is more common in women than men. It becomes a matter of real concern if feelings of high anxiety are frequent or severe.

Characteristic of most of these symptoms is an overproduction of adrenalin. Those with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) may feel constantly restless, have difficulty concentrating, suffer from a sense of dread, and be impatient. Heart palpitations, shaking and sweating are common physical symptoms when someone is apprehensive of oncoming anxiety. This unfortunately promotes further production of adrenalin, thus creating a vicious cycle. Anxiety can therefore become a long-term issue which vastly impacts on the sufferer’s lifestyle and relationships.

People with anxiety may withdraw from social and work situations, their anxiety working hard to convince them that they are incapable and inadequate. Relationships can become difficult to maintain as partners feel pushed out by what they perceive as the anxious person's rejection and often their chronic lack of self-confidence. There is a cyclical nature to most anxiety disorders and therefore in many ways it feeds on fear and self-doubt. For many sufferers even imagining the situational trigger can inspire anxiety, let alone coming into contact with it. For these reasons counselling is considered to be a good form of treatment for anxiety as a good counsellor can equip an anxiety sufferer with the tools to build constructive thought patterns. Several approaches are used to treat anxiety, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and mindfulness. Medication may also be used to treat the condition, on both long and short term bases.

There are various situations and reasons which may provoke anxiety, some of which we’ve outlined below.

NHS Choices has made a podcast about anxiety you can listen to here

My anxiety is real


Situational anxiety is often an acute reaction to stress. Symptoms may appear before or after the stressful situation. This can occur at times of severe life stress, such as a bereavement or following an accident, but also in more common situations such as an upcoming exam, presentation or interview. In these cases the symptoms of anxiety tend to calm down within a few hours of the event, but for some people the symptoms and the accompanying feelings may linger for longer.

Anxiety can also be brought on in times of adjustment, such as the breakdown of relationships, being made redundant or starting a new job. In these situations, the symptoms are similar to the case of acute situations mentioned above, but the anxiety may occur much later than the event, as you adjust to a new way of life. (See Stress for more on this subject)

Social Anxiety Disorder

Phobias are often labelled as irrational, as from an outsider's perspective the fear is disproportionate to the situation. This is irrelevant however as a phobia is something which inspires genuine fear. A phobia can often lead to feelings of anxiety, if you fear you may have to come into contact with the situation, but even just imagining the situation could bring about feelings of anxiety.

One of the most common phobias is social anxiety disorder, or social phobia. This is characterised by a conviction that people are judging you and observing you, whilst also being convinced that you are worthless and not of much interest to others. This can cause sufferers to become isolated and withdrawn, in a bid to avoid social situations in which they fear they will come across as embarrassing or inadequate.

Other phobias which are commonly linked to anxiety: agoraphobia, claustrophobia, fear of being alone, fear of choking, fear of driving, fear of public speaking, fear of animals and fear of needles. (See Phobias for more on this subject)

What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is a sudden and intense experience of fear and anxiety which usually lasts between five and 10 minutes but can seem much longer for the sufferer. It can be triggered by something specific, but sometimes it seems to have no real reason behind it. After a panic attack a person might feel physically weak, emotionally drained and vulnerable.

The physical symptoms of a panic attack include:

  • shortness of breath
  • heart palpitations
  • trembling
  • feeling faint
  • feeling either hot or cold
  • chest pains
  • numbness, feeling disconnected

How can counselling help with anxiety?

Counselling can help with anxiety by making it manageable, teaching tools to enable life to go back to normal. Regaining control over anxiety can greatly increase self-esteem and quality of life. An anxiety therapist will work with you to define and reframe your common anxieties, helping you to understand the problem itself, your triggers and expectations and therefore help you to be firstly accepting of your limits and needs, and be better informed as to how to manage them. Anxiety counselling can also be a helpful setting to re-expand one’s perspective, as often with anxiety disorders the focus becomes very narrow and it becomes hard to understand the wider context. As part of anxiety therapy, CBT is believed to be good for providing tools and reframing the problems, while longer-term psychotherapy is valuable for rooting out the cause.

Find a therapist or counsellor for anxiety online

Last updated on 21 September 2015