I was rather taken aback recently when I saw that in October this year 22,573 searches were carried out on the Counselling Directory using the keyword ‘anxiety’?
I don’t know why that surprised me.
We all know that one in four of us will experience some sort of mental health problem each year, and anxiety is certainly the most prevalent issue that brings people to my counselling and coaching practice.
If you’ve read some of my earlier blogs, you’ll know that generalised anxiety and panic disorder plagued the first three decades of my life. A feeling of worry, nervousness, and unease accompanied me everywhere. And every now and again these feelings would crescendo into full-blown panic. Fear ruled my mind, body and life. It was like a dark cloud that was constantly at my back and that I just couldn’t shake off.
Until, that is, I stopped, turned around and faced it down.
I sought help, found solutions, and made a concerted effort to do the inner work.
I didn’t stop until I’d sorted myself out.
Looking back, I can see that the road to my recovery was somewhat convoluted. I wish I’d known back then what I know now: that not all anxiety is the same.
We all know that if you want to find the right solution you must first properly understand the problem.
Therefore, if you suffer from anxiety you must gain some understanding of what’s causing your unease.
Here are the five causes of anxiety that I’ve identified in my work.
Research has shown that some babies are born with an anxious temperament. Babies who are observed as being edgy and oversensitive have been seen to develop into edgy and oversensitive adults; in other words, anxious babies grow up into anxious adults. (I believe I was one of these babies).
Biology, however, is not a sentence to a lifetime of anxiety.
Firstly, biological anxiety waxes and wanes over the years and tends to become problematic mainly during times of transition or stress.
Secondly, you can learn to manage your biological anxiety using anxiety-management techniques. You can:
- become mindful of your underlying stress levels;
- learn how to actively relax the mind and body;
- gain an understanding of your stress triggers;
- learn about the connection between your thoughts, feelings and behaviour (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a good place to start);
- learn breathing techniques which calm the emotions and still the mind (download a free recording here: Breath Awareness Meditation)
- learn how to meditate (click here for information on my e-course);
- and, engage in energy work that gets to the root cause and eliminates discordant energies which are being held deep within the mind, body and soul.
I think we can all relate to this as a cause of anxiety. This emotional response arises when you’ve been doing too much for too long.
The pace of modern life creates stress and, whilst we can all manage intermittent bursts of high-frequency mental and physical activity, few of us can maintain that kind of momentum for very long.
This type of anxiety is literally the mind and body screaming, “Stop! I can’t cope any more.”
Experienced over a long period of time, feelings of overwhelm can result in physical symptoms such as:
- digestive complaints,
- aches and pains,
- tense muscles,
- and, general irritability, amongst other things.
It also induces intense feelings of not being able to cope with the demands of everyday life.
Solutions for addressing this sort of anxiety include all the ones listed above, as well as a serious review of the pressures operating in your life. This includes:
- evaluating your workload;
- reviewing your expectations of yourself;
- learning effective time-management skills;
- gaining an understanding of, and applying, appropriate boundaries;
- learning to ask for help;
- and, importantly, learning to speak up and say ‘no’.
This type of anxiety essentially boils down to how you handle your feelings – and is the one I see most frequently in my practice.
If you’ve been through difficult or traumatic experiences and, for whatever reason, were unable to process your feelings appropriately at the time, those feelings simply got pushed down or suppressed.
This is a common response in children who have difficulty making sense of what is going on in their lives.
Adults also resort to using this psychological strategy to deal with difficult emotions that get in the way of their life and happiness.
Many people think they’ve managed to control their feelings at the time, but in reality all they’ve done is split them off and buried them somewhere deep inside.
These difficult feelings don’t simply disappear. Instead, they remain there - buried. They pool together under the surface, and become a diffuse form of anxiety.
This can be very confusing because the conscious mind has no idea where these disturbing feelings are coming from. They are often so repressed that the mind struggles to draw the link between them and past events - especially as they appear randomly without any obvious trigger.
This sort of anxiety also seems to come and go at will and can manifest as a range of symptoms: anxiety attacks, insomnia, night terrors, a general feeling of malaise, and low mood.
Generally speaking, people suffering from this sort of anxiety find themselves experiencing one of two states: they either feel anxious, or they feel nothing at all. Those in the latter group have become so disconnected from their emotional self that their psyche numbs everything out - even the good feelings.
The best solution for this type of anxiety is to gently break through the wall between yourself and the pool of blocked-off emotions.
This involves talking about your past experiences whilst paying particular attention to your feelings. The goal is to reconnect with your emotions through expression, and then allow the feelings to flow through you so that they can be released.
A word of caution is required here though. It’s easy to ask you to talk about the difficult experiences you’ve had but, if you’ve been traumatised by these experiences (which is why you repressed your feelings in the first place), you could be in for a rough ride while you’re doing the inner work. This type of work is best done with a trained professional who can hold a safe space for you, help you to moderate your response, and keep an eye on your well-being.
This is one of the most powerful, and yet least talked about, forms of anxiety. It’s the natural anxiety that’s built into virtually every step you take during the course of your lifetime that leads to your emotional or psychological growth.
I’m sure you can relate to the fear you felt when you did something significant for the first time.
This anxiety arises when you’re about to step out of your comfort zone and make a healthy change in yourself. It feels as though the anxiety is pulling you back to a safe, familiar place within. It can be particularly intense when you’re trying to let go of an emotional coping mechanism that you learnt in childhood.
The most helpful strategy for managing this type of anxiety is to simply recognise what it is. When you can accept that it’s only your body warning you against something that’s not dangerous, you can accept the feeling, and then override it.
Susan Jeffers book "Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway" is an excellent read. As she says, the more you do something in spite of the fear, the more the fear subsides, until it eventually disappears.
This approach is essentially about re-programming your brain to recognise that the new behaviour is not dangerous, but adaptive and healthy.
5. Spiritual Clearing
Finally, there is a type of anxiety that is linked to spiritual growth. It appears when you’re experiencing a spiritual awakening.
Just as a hot air balloon needs to shed some of its sandbags to get off the ground, so too do you need to let go of low-frequency energies from the past if you are to ascend into the higher parts of yourself and evolve spiritually.
Anxiety, palpitations, aches and pains, insomnia and inner turmoil are often symptoms of deep inner clearing.
Like the effervescence that arises to the surface from the bottom of a glass of fizzy drink, we can view anxiety as bubbles of low-frequency energy coming up from deep within for release.
Many clients that seek out my practice are experiencing such an awakening. They are usually very distressed and disorientated. They come with the belief that they are having some sort of mental breakdown when, in fact, what’s really happening is that they’re experiencing a spiritual breakthrough.
Understanding what is going on is the key here.
This type of anxiety and discomfort requires a patient, kind, self-caring and accepting attitude. It always passes and, when it does, people are amazed at how wonderfully clear, light and bright they feel.
Anxiety is a complex emotion. It is acutely distressing, disorientating and life inhibiting. But, it can be relieved and resolved.
I know that with the right knowledge, support and determination you too, like me, can move to a place of inner peace and balance.
If, having read this article, you decide that it’s time for you to stop suffering and start moving towards greater peace and well-being, then do check out the range of services I offer from the home page of my website.
I’m here to help.