Anxiety: Not coping? Being Held Hostage by Your Anxiety?

What is anxiety?

Anxiety refers an emotional state consisting of worry, nervousness, or a sense of apprehension. It typically arises in relation to an upcoming event where the outcome is uncertain, or where the person feels he or she might not be up to the task. Anxiety is commonly experienced in situations perceived to be high pressure, for example, prior to a making a speech or sitting an exam. Feelings of anxiety can also arise following a stressful event, like an accident where the person is left feeling shaken. Anxious feelings are usually accompanied by a number of signs and symptoms listed below. In some cases, people can become anxious without knowing the cause.


Signs and symptoms

Although the experience of anxiety will vary from person to person, feeling stressed, worried, and having anxious thoughts are common symptoms. Other common symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Mind racing,

  • Difficulty sleeping,

  • Breathing difficulties and choking,

  • Changes in mood, low frustration tolerance and anger,

  • Relationship difficulties,

  • Problems performing,

  • Restlessness,

  • Difficulty concentrating,

  • Changes in memory,

  • Avoidance behaviour,

  • Sexual dysfunction,

  • Rapid heartbeat,

  • Trembling or shaking,

  • Feeling lightheaded or faint,

  • Numbness or tingling sensations,

  • Upset stomach or nausea,

  • Sweating,

  • Increased use of substances,

  • Changes in eating or weight loss or gain.

What causes anxiety disorders?

Anxiety is a normal part of life and can enhance performance. Sometimes, however, anxiety can become overwhelming and negatively impact on our activities and quality of life. Whilst there is no single known cause of anxiety disorders, there are a number of risk factors or triggers that may contribute. These vary between different anxiety disorders too. In general, the following factors may play a role:

  • Genes: Certain anxiety disorders appear to have a genetic component. Some anxiety disorders have a familial history.

  • Physical health and lifestyle factors: These factors can increase a person’s vulnerability to developing symptoms of anxiety.

  • Personality and thinking style: Patterns of behaving and thinking characterised by anticipating the worst, persistent negative self-talk, low self-esteem and unhelpful coping strategies (e.g., avoidance) are linked to anxiety.

  • Stress: Stressful events such as a marriage breakdown, work or school deadlines and financial hardship can act as a trigger for anxiety.

Evidence-based Therapies

The following strategies can be used to assist people better manage their anxiety:

  • Relaxation: Learning relaxation techniques such as simple breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation, and practicing them regularly, is a component of effective treatment for anxiety.

  • Problem-solving: Problem-solving skills help a person develop better insight and understanding. Problem-solving skills also enhance our ability to cope with situations or thoughts that cause us to be stressed or anxious. Structured problem-solving involves: identifying the problem; exploring, selecting and implementing a solution to the problem; and evaluating its helpfulness. Counselling can assist identify issues and develop better problem-solving skills.

  • Mindfulness: Mindfulness-based therapy focusses on being in the moment and aware of the emotional distress and thoughts associated with the experience of anxiety, rather than anxiety itself. The person is assisted to focus on bodily sensations and thoughts that arise when anxious instead of avoiding, withdrawing or fighting against these symptoms. This results in the person becoming more open and accepting of thoughts and sensations associated with anxiety and less overwhelmed by them. This allows the person to engage more fully with life. Mindfulness practice also allows us to learn the skills to better manage feelings and thoughts that trigger anxiety.

  • Cognitive restructuring: Feelings of anxiety sometimes stem from an individual’s negative or unhelpful thoughts. Cognitive restructuring is a technique used by counselling psychologists to help a person challenge negative thoughts and develop more helpful and constructive ways of thinking.

  • Exposure therapy: Exposure therapy involves the counselling psychologist guiding a person through a series of real or imaginary scenarios to confront specific fears. Through a gradual process of exposure, the person learns to cope more effectively with these fears, and with practice, the anxious response naturally decreases.

In addition to the above psychological techniques, making simple changes to a person’s lifestyle can help lower stress and anxiety. Lifestyle changes can include: regular exercise, a healthy diet, lowering or eliminating unhealthy coping skills, reducing or eliminating alcohol and caffeine, engaging in enjoyable activities, finding your flow, improving time-management skills, and having quality sleep.


How a Counselling Psychologist can help?

Through assessment and counselling, counselling psychologists develop an understanding of the factors that might be contributing to anxiety. A therapy plan is developed in collaboration with the client. For anxiety disorders, this can involve relaxation, mindfulness, CBT, exposure therapy and other helpful strategies.


The counselling psychologist can also assist making lifestyle changes to enhance resilience to cope better and reduce symptoms of anxiety.


When to seek professional help?

If anxiety is affecting a person’s work, school, home life, or relationships, psychological assistance should be considered. iflow psychology can assist. Just call 02 6061 1144 and chat with our friendly administration team to find out more and book an appointment.


Partial Medicare rebates are available for up to twenty sessions per calendar year with a Mental Health Treatment Plan from your treating doctor.



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