Anxiety is one of the most common reasons people seek counselling. Perhaps you've been wondering if your experience can be classified as anxiety. Do you:
- Plan things down to the last detail to avoid something going wrong
- Rehearse conversations before they've taken place
- Feel intensely self-conscious and awkward when you're around people
- Deliberate endlessly over even minor decisions, and then fret that you've made the wrong choice.
- Worry about everything
- Have difficulty committing to people?
- Feel tense and jumpy in your body
- Frequently have the feeling that something bad is about to happen?
- Avoid situations that you can't predict or control
- Become easily irritated
Anxiety, which can also be understood as an intolerance of uncertainty, is what results when we perceive and overestimate threat in social interactions and regular activities. It seeps into many aspects of your life, and feels like a constantly nattering fellow traveller that you can't seem to stop listening to. While some anxiety is part of the package deal of being human, an excess of anxiety drains the joy and spontaneity from our lives.
Stress is a bit different. While anxiety does not depend on a stressful event to be activated (next to anything can provoke worry in an anxious person), stress is a heightened response to a triggering event. While some stress is completely normal and can even be good for us, when we are maxed out on stress it is difficult to effectively problem solve. We feel like we are spinning out of control, or, alternatively, paralysed and stuck. Chronic stress can lead to burnout, irritability, and impair our close relationships.
Anxiety and stress are normal, but there are some ways in which both nature and nurture leave us particularly susceptible. These include historical experiences, such as early experiences with threat and inconsistent support; personality factors, such as sensitivity and conscientiousness; external pressures, such as difficult relationships, social comparisons, and lack of support/resources; and simply living in an uncertain and unpredictable world.
In my Vancouver counselling practice, a significant portion of my clients experience stress and anxiety to the point in which it interferes with their lives. This includes social anxiety, generalised anxiety, excessive stress, and perfectionism.
Does anxiety counselling help?
Counselling and psychotherapy are known to be effective treatments for anxiety-related issues. An abundance of good research shows that both therapy and Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction are more effective than medication when it comes to treating anxiety and regulating the brain's response to perceived threat (which often goes into overdrive). When I provide anxiety counselling, my clients and I explore their patterns of stress and anxiety, drill down to the underlying core beliefs and fears that drive their worries, and create between-session tools to practise that help to loosen the grip that anxiety and stress have on their lives.