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Understanding Anxiety

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

Many people attend my clinic because they are struggling with feelings of anxiety. It is important to understand that anxiety is a normal human emotion that everyone will experience at some point in their life.

As difficult as it may be to think about anxiety as a part of life, all of our emotions exist for very helpful reasons.


The picture contains the drawing of a woman sitting down holding her legs with her arms and looking sad and worried. There is a thought bubble with a scribble in it.

We sometimes can have a tendency to classify our emotions as "good or bad", "healthy or unhealthy". It is something we all do to some degree but it can be an unhelpful way of understanding and relating to our emotions.


It is true that some emotions can be unpleasant to experience because of the physiological responses triggered in our body because of those emotions but they still play a very important role for our survival.


Understanding anxiety as a helpful emotion


Let's think about anxiety for a minute. Can you think about why anxiety might be helpful or even essential for our survival?

The picture contains a series of round faces with different emotions e.g. smiley face for happiness, the picture of a sad face.

Anxiety as an emotion is there to protect us from threat, help us stay alert, make us aware of potential risks around us and motivate us. Imagine for instance that you have an important deadline at work for a report you have to complete that will support your company. Experiencing some anxiety about the deadline and report will often help motivate you to dedicate time to researching and writing the report. Anxiety in this case is key to our motivation system, as without some anxiety/worry we might not care about the report and never actually write it.


However, in the same scenario, if the anxiety we experience is excessive, this might actually impact on our ability to focus and may even cause us to procrastinate and leave the report until the last minute, when we don't have enough time to write it. This is when anxiety gets in the way of our lives and when it might be helpful to seek out professional help like psychological therapy.


Symptoms of anxiety


Anxiety can trigger a range of different symptoms that can affect your thoughts, how you feel physically and how you behave. Some people find it difficult to recognise when they are feeling anxious or when anxiety might be the reason why they are feeling or acting differently.

Physical symptoms of anxiety

Psychological symptoms

Changes in behaviour

Anxiety can sometimes cause a panic attack. Feelings of a panic attack can include:

  • heart racing

  • feeling faint, dizzy or lightheaded

  • worrying you might be dying

  • sweating

  • shaking

  • shortness or breath / breathing very quickly

  • tingling in fingers or lips

  • feeling sick

Panic attacks can last between 5 to 30 minutes. They can be very frightening but they are not dangerous and should not harm you.


Anxiety is a symptom of many different mental health difficulties including:


Types of treatment for anxiety


If you feel anxiety is affecting your daily life and functioning, it might be helpful to consider accessing psychological therapy with a qualified professional. The focus of therapy for anxiety is usually on understanding the links between your thoughts, feelings and behaviours and understanding how vicious cycles of anxiety are maintained in your life.


Your therapist will support you to think about ways in which you may be able to shift your negative thoughts and/or change your behaviours (e.g. through exposure therapy) to reduce feelings of anxiety and achieve positive changes in your life.


Different approaches work for different people. We will discuss and recommend the approach we believe you might most benefit from during your initial assessment.


If you want to discuss the possibility to access psychological therapy, please get in touch with us by visiting our contact page.




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