What is anxiety? How therapy can help relieve the symptoms of anxiety, social anxiety and panic attacks.
Anxiety and stress are experienced both in our mind and body. Each person is unique and therefore their experience of anxiety is individual to them. Some of the commonly described symptoms are:
- overwhelming fearful thoughts
- chest pains
- muscle tensions
- changes in digestion
- tension headaches
- disturbed sleep patterns
Anxiety is a natural primitive response to threat. We all experience it. However when it is sustained it can become a way of life and can severely impair our functioning.
In my approach to working with anxiety and stress I usually begin by exploring with the person what is happening in their body. Often feelings are held in the body by the tightening of muscles and constriction of the flow of energy. This produces many of the symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks. Slowly allowing the tension to unwind brings release of the held in feelings which in turn relieves the physical and mental symptoms of anxiety. This combined with an awareness and understanding of the roots of the anxiety can begin to reverse the tendency of anxiety to control the person and enable the person to begin to take control of the anxiety.
Making sense of the physical symptoms and accompanying feelings can be very helpful as these can be alarming in themselves. Interestingly, Gestalt Therapy connects anxiety with excitement. They are closely related and separated only by breathing. When we are very anxious we tend to hold our breath and this increases the feelings of anxiety and so sets up a vicious cycle. In contrast when we are excited we breathe freely. It makes sense therefore that focussing on the breath can be an important first step to regain control and helping the body to return to a state of calm.
A phobia is anxiety with a specific focus and can be worked with in similar ways. Sometimes it may be useful to learn specific breathing methods, meditation and relaxation techniques as forms of self help to be practised alongside counselling and psychotherapy.
I have worked for many years with clients presenting with anxiety, social anxiety, panic attacks, stress and phobias. My approach aims to raise awareness, release feelings and tension held in the body and help the person bring their mind and body back into balance. Together we may discover various self help methods which the person can experiment with and adapt to their particular needs and lifestyle.