Anxiety is a normal, healthy emotion we’ve all experienced. For example, you may feel anxious about a job interview, exam, or any situation where the outcome is important. A little anxiety can be a good thing – it can motivate us to be conscientious, try hard and give our best effort to a challenge. But when anxiety becomes so great that it interferes with a person’s ability to concentrate or when it consistently stops someone from sleeping, for example, then it’s a problem. Rather than being a motivating force, anxiety can come to have a limiting effect – someone might find themselves avoiding being in situations or doing things that they know will make them feel very anxious.
When anxiety becomes a part of everyday life it can become hard to distinguish between low anxiety and high anxiety because the biological systems that respond to anxiety become fatigued and the nervous system looses the ability to accurately assess perceived threat or respond proportionately. The body tends towards a vicious cycle whereby anxiety, or the fear of it simply produces more anxiety: we can become anxious about being anxious. I call this self-reinforcing process the “anxiety spiral”. There are usually certain situations that cause a person to get into an anxiety spiral very quickly. I call these situations “trigger situations” and they vary from person to person. Often people don’t realise they are in an anxiety spiral until they have the opportunity to truly relax. It’s rather like wearing a pair of shoes all day that are a little too tight – you forget just how uncomfortable they are until you take them off.
Counselling may help you recognise the thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations associated with anxiety. I offer to guide clients through simple techniques intended to reduce anxiety and, once the client feels calmer, I may help them explore the underlying causes of their anxiety and find a new perspective that may help them avoid getting into anxiety spiral when trigger situations present themselves.