Anxiety – What it is, What it Means and What You Can Do About it

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Anxiety is like looking in a broken mirror because the image is fragmented. If it serves a purpose, then what? And can you get rid of it?

Typically, you feel fear, stress, apprehension, uneasiness, disquiet, and trepidation and can’t stop worrying when you have anxiety. You may also experience relationship problems, depression and low self-esteem. 

This shows that anxiety can affect all areas of your life. Nevertheless, you can access anxiety counselling, and it might help you feel a little more confident if you read this article.

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What is Anxiety? ^

Normal anxiety is temporary. You tend to experience it often because it’s a healthy response to daily challenges and readies you for action. 

Neurotic anxiety is when fear takes over your life. Indeed, you can’t stop worrying, and intensely negative emotions overpower you. You feel a loss of control that increases anxious feelings, and you lose confidence in yourself. 

For the rest of this article, I will be referring to neurotic anxiety as “anxiety”.

If you’re aware of it, your stress will increase as you naturally worry about its impact on you and those close to you. The above sensations are merely symptoms of anxiety but are usually intense feelings. However, the underlying anxiety is pretty vague and difficult to overcome.

In answer to this question, Rollo May, psychologist and author, wrote 

But what characterises anxiety is the feeling of diffuseness and uncertainty and the experience of helplessness toward the threat.

Dr Rollo May (1950) – The Meaning of Anxiety

There are different types of anxiety; hence it can be hard to diagnose, but more of that later in this article. 

Symptoms of Anxiety ^

You would have some idea you might have a problem because you’d not feel comfortable with yourself. However, the intensity of feelings or how often you have those feelings determine whether this is a problem.

Psychological Symptoms

These are some of the things you might notice.

  • Excessive worrying
  • Difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep
  • Problems concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Unease or shaky sensations
  • Needing frequent reassurance
  • Becoming tearful

Physical

If excessive, you might also have physical symptoms that can be embarrassing or debilitating.

  • Heart palpitations
  • Faster breathing or difficulty breathing
  • Pounding heartbeat
  • Panic attacks
  • Nausea
  • Chest pains
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headaches
  • Sweating hands/feet/general sweating
  • Feeling faint
  • Needing the toilet more than usual

Social Effects

You experience discomfort and don’t want others to know.

  • Worrying that others might judge you
  • Thinking you are ‘not good enough.’
  • Oversensitivity to social situations because you focus on your worries
  • Poor performance at work because you are tired, which makes you even more anxious
  • You dare not go out

Types of Anxiety ^

This condition includes three main types.

Generalised Anxiety Disorder (“GAD”)

You might think your anxious reactions to everyday events are out of proportion or you often sense something terrible is about to happen. Indeed, these are signs you suffer from GAD. 

  • Difficulty focussing
  • Listlessness
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Tearfulness
  • Excessive worry
  • Constant feelings of stress
  • Thinking the worst (“catastrophising”)
  • Mental exhaustion
  • Irritability
  • Muscles aching and soreness

You may not even know your triggers if you feel generally nervous.

Perhaps you latch onto things you can worry about, like an adrenaline addict. Either way, you will probably worry about yourself even more because you won’t understand why you behave like that.

If you suffer from GAD, life will soon become an endless cycle of worry and fear that will impede your ability to focus on the essential tasks you need to do every day. It may impact your relationships and all areas of your life.

Social Anxiety

If you feel particularly nervous when in social groups, so much that you try to avoid them, you likely suffer from social anxiety. An alternative name is “social phobia”. You might clam up when talking to others or even talk too much, funnily enough.

  • Shyness
  • Intense fear of being judged
  • Blushing
  • Self-consciousness
  • Crying

Eye contact may be uncomfortable, and you could notice sweating, choking sensations or a pounding heartbeat.

Social anxiety usually starts in childhood but can also grow from being persistently bullied. Moreover, it affects you long-term, lowering your self-esteem, producing negative thinking, and being sensitive to criticism.

Panic Disorder

A panic attack occurs when you feel intensely afraid for your life with no warning or perceived trigger and suffer affected hearing. It’s hugely disorientating if your spacial awareness is impacted too.

You likely have Panic Disorder if this happens more than a couple of times. It’s not uncommon and comes with a raft of characteristic symptoms, but it is extremely unpleasant.

  • A feeling of impending doom
  • Pounding heartbeat
  • Shaking
  • Unable to breathe
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Dissociation from reality
  • Absolute dread fear

Possible Lifestyle adjustments can help.

High sugar diets or regular eating of junk food can increase your threshold levels of anxiety so that it takes very little to push you over the edge.

However, just talking to someone lowers your stress levels, so this is recommended and adjusting your lifestyle if you want to make your recovery work.

Lifestyle Affects Anxiety ^

Since a part of your anxiety is experienced physically via your central nervous system, your lifestyle choices play a role in increasing or decreasing your anxiety.

These and other addictive behaviours may be ways of avoiding challenging situations, but they increase the intensity of anxious feelings in the long term.

Panic attacks can be caused by too much junk food
Photo by Robin Stickel on Unsplash

Diet

If you’re feeling stressed out by anxiety, it takes a toll on your mind and body. Hence, focusing on looking after yourself is crucial. It should make sense to you that not looking after yourself is probably due to having low self-esteem.

As I’ve already said, unbalanced eating habits can make you susceptible to physical symptoms and panic attacks. Conversely, a balanced diet containing a range of correct nutrients can help give you extra oomph when trying to feel better and undertaking therapy.

Substance abuse

That doesn’t sound very nice, does it!

And it’s not good if you’re abusing yourself. My main point is that taking narcotics and some social drugs, or too much alcohol, is self-destructive.

Alcohol increases anxiety
Photo by Lance Anderson on Unsplash

It’s not hard to see that the effects on your physical health from alcohol or drugs like cocaine will affect your mental health. 

Other Addictions

Other behaviours, such as internet addiction, pornography and gambling, are usually the results of avoidance strategies linked to anxiety. In common with the above addictions, they allow you to distract yourself from the uncomfortable sensations you experience in anxiety. It’s no surprise you create a “comfort zone” because then you have some degree of control. However, if you rely on short-term fixes to feel better, there are two problems you will encounter.

  1. You will have to repeatedly take your drug or drink because the “good” feelings don’t last.
  2. The long-term cost to your finances, social life, and health will catch up with you.

However, if you’ve got to the stage where you are physically addicted and want to get life back on track, you’ll need to bring that under control, as it will impede your recovery.

Anxiety and The Flight Response ^

Avoidance is a recurrent theme in anxiety because it is a part of the “fight-or-flight” response system.

It is part of your brain’s mechanism to protect you. Significantly, if you have been subject to a threat for any period, the Amygdala, the brain’s smoke alarm, becomes oversensitive and gets triggered very easily.

You might not have shown your anger because of the situation back then. In that case, your coping strategy would be to hide your feelings, causing stress which is bad for your health long-term.

As a result, you may have grown afraid of confrontation. Moreover, you avoid situations that can result in you not being heard and feeling isolated. You might develop further coping mechanisms, like self-pity or being secretly angry, which is bad for you and your relationships.

A Spiritual Insight ^

Who are you really?

Overall, you would very likely develop a lack of confidence. Basically, in trying to make sense of everything, you had to adjust how you saw yourself to fit in with others.

Compare and despair!

For example, you would probably need others to validate you if you created a false sense of self. However, that would lead to people-pleasing because your self-worth would depend on others.

Lack of avoidance, or “engagement”, is the crux of the matter when conducting your life as you truly wish.

After all, it would help if you could stop looking like your false image and discover who you really are – a person full of compassion and understanding for yourself and others.

The Meaning of Anxiety ^

As I have shown, anxiety is a natural way of getting ready for action against a threat. However, finding meaning in life or purpose helps you become stronger and anxiety weaker.

Viktor Frankl was a psychologist who survived the Auschwitz concentration camp in WWII. He said that finding meaning in life reduces suffering.

Frankl disagreed with the downward-looking views of atheistic philosophers, such as Jean-Paul Sartre. He also disagreed with the idea, put forward by St Augustine of Hippo, that children were inherently “bad”. Instead, he believed that we were born as a blank sheet and were subject to various traumas we adjusted to when young. Frankl realised that meaningfulness or having a purpose made life worthwhile.

Viktor Frankl Talking on Meaning in Life

You can do better than just getting the “old you” back. I’ve heard many a client say how glad they were to get rid of the old self and be much more – a “new self” – one who is happy and resilient and loved.

Tools to Help You See Clearly ^

It’s fair to say that self-knowledge is a key player in informing you of what’s you and what’s not you. Of course, a clearer view of what’s going on can reduce panicky feelings as it would enable a better understanding of your behaviours.

Your behaviours are manifestations of what lurks beneath the surface. Self-knowledge or awareness is often referred to as a “sense of self”.

I believe a better term is consciousness. After all, self-knowledge lets you steer clear of the unhelpful patterns of behaviour that you have acquired. It enables you to navigate the many choices you make throughout daily life like a lamp showing the way.

Healing from Anxiety ^

A course of anxiety counselling could help you process those hidden feelings.

Putting a bigger picture together by telling someone what you’ve experienced allows you to rationalise and make sense of past traumas. Chiefly, this “mending of the mirror” helps you to move on. What you would learn about yourself should empower you to see yourself more clearly than ever before and grow in confidence that you know your own mind.

I have worked with many people who have recovered from anxiety within just a few weeks. Some have even been able to stop taking medication to calm their anxiety faster than they thought – with their GP’s consent, of course.

Healing and, therefore, health is available, and it’s not getting rid of the anxiety you need. Anxiety is a natural response, and it would be harmful not to feel it sometimes. However, you might see that reducing its impact on you would be a realistic goal.

Summary ^

To conclude, anxiety is a natural response to a threat.

It produces intense and uncomfortable feelings that motivate you to do something drastic. Through counselling, you can examine your core values and beliefs and make the necessary adjustments to enhance your life.

As I’m sure it will make complete sense to you, and you’ve read as much above, the way to overcome it is to find your identity and become.

  • Fully you.
  • Whole.
  • Complete.
  • Authentic.
  • Creative.
  • Content

YOU ARE ENOUGH. Enjoy.

Main photo by Isi Parente on Unsplash

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