Anxiety is characterised by feelings of uneasiness and heightened worry. It can niggle at the edges of your mind, sometimes flooding in to overwhelm your senses with intense dread, fear or panic. Whenever you’re being threatened – or feeling pressured or vulnerable – anxiety is a completely normal response to stress.
Often your body and mind will respond automatically to a challenging situation – your heart rate increases, breathing quickens, and your sympathetic nervous system releases a surge of stress hormones. Also known as the ‘fight, freeze or flight’ response, anxiety is a red flag that something is amiss. Once the stressful situation has passed, physical symptoms of anxiety usually subside.
Yet for many people, anxiety lingers on long past the time it’s needed. A prolonged bout of anxiety can seriously interfere with your ability to function in day-to-day life, and also take a toll on your relationships. Some people describe anxiety as being held hostage by your mind, like a prisoner in your own body. Counselling can help you to regain control by harnessing your body-mind inner calm, and confidently start living on your own terms again.
Generalised anxiety and panic
Anxiety can be a general response to feeling stressed, or it can be triggered by specific situations or events. Catastrophic thinking frequently occurs with anxiety, leaving you feeling like something awful may happen, or anticipating the worst case scenario in any given situation. You may feel preoccupied with everyday matters such as finances, work or your relationships, and experience compulsive worry and tension.
Anxiety turns the emotional intensity dial up to 11, and is often accompanied by a body-based (somatic) panic response. A panic attack may occur without warning, though is often linked to an accumulation of stress. Panic is an extreme form of anxiety, when the body enters a sudden, intense, fearful hyper-arousal state. People experiencing panic may worry that they’re having a heart attack, have lost control of their bodily functions, or feel like they’re losing their grip on reality. Although the physical symptoms usually resolve after a few minutes, the apprehension and fear that accompanies a panic attack may take much longer to subside.
Common physical symptoms of anxiety and panic:
- Muscle tension
- Easily startled
- Elevated breathing and heart rate
- Hot flushes and/or cold chills
- Feeling dizzy or faint
- Sleep difficulties
- Excessive sweating
- Chest and abdominal pains
Other symptoms of anxiety include:
- Frequent feelings of tension and uneasiness
- Feeling overwhelmed by thoughts and feelings
- Worrying about feeling anxious (rumination)
- Catastrophising about ‘what if’s’
- Issues with memory and concentration
- Dread and unease
- Unwanted, intrusive thoughts and images
- Fear of losing control, passing out or dying
Generalised anxiety consistently interferes with your mood and stress levels, triggering dramatic emotional highs and lows. Although it is common to feel tense or fearful from time to time, anxiety can result in these feelings occurring intensely, and over a substantial period of time. Sometimes it is difficult to explain the way you are feeling to others; anxiety often leads to social withdrawal and isolation if left untreated.
Effective treatment for generalised anxiety
There are a number of evidence-based counselling techniques that are highly effective in addressing the symptoms and causes of generalised anxiety, such as Mindfulness-Based Therapy and Narrative Therapy. However, Clinical psychologist Dr. Pim Cuijper’s 2016 meta-analytic review of the effectiveness of different treatments for generalised anxiety suggests that Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy is the most effective treatment known for generalised anxiety, surpassing the efficacy of other treatments (eg medication, relaxation training) in both the short and long-term.
Social anxiety is the most common form of anxiety, affecting 1 in 10 Australians at some point in their lives. It is an extremely debilitating form of anxiety. The fear of doing something to embarrass or humiliate yourself in public or online can override your ability to enjoy life and your interactions with other people. Common social phobias include public speaking, performing, eating and drinking, using public restrooms, dating, and general social encounters.
Symptoms of social anxiety include:
- Hypervigilance: feeling nervous, constantly on high alert and unable to relax
- Quick to interpret and react to social stimuli, often using a negative lens
- Persistent worry about social interactions (eg conversations, meeting people, being in public).
- Avoidance of social situations (including time off work or school)
- Intense self-consciousness: highly self-critical
- Preoccupied with other people’s responses to you: heightened anxiety about being watched, judged or criticised by others
- Dislike and avoidance of communication with others (in person and online)
- Apprehension about physical proximity to others, avoiding eye contact
Counselling for social anxiety can be extremely effective in reducing feelings of self-consciousness, worry and tension. Avoiding social events and interactions with other people can take a serious toll on your wellbeing, and ability to function in daily life. Professional therapeutic support can help you recover from social anxiety and start living life to the fullest again.
Effective treatment for social anxiety
Social anxiety responds particularly well to effective, evidence-based counselling. Therapeutic techniques to treat social anxiety include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and Psycho-educational Social Skills Training. Depending on your personal circumstances and needs, 6 to 10 sessions of specialist social anxiety counselling can effectively reduce the symptoms of social anxiety in the short-term, with ongoing long-term benefits.
Post traumatic stress
Anxiety often arises after traumatic events, such as experiencing a death, injury or abuse. Experiencing a traumatic event may lead to feelings of extreme fear or helplessness. Sometimes these feelings continue long after the traumatic event has passed. If everyday events start triggering unwanted flashbacks and involuntary stress responses, counselling is the recommended course of action to treat the symptoms of PTSD. Around 10% of people will experience PTSD at some point in their life, with an exceptional recovery rate of 95% amongst those who seek treatment.
Common symptoms of PTSD include:
- Increased, frequent stress arousal
- Hypervigilance: constantly on high alert
- Difficulty concentrating
- Disturbing thoughts and feelings
- Intrusive flashbacks and memories
- Sleep disturbance, including nightmares
- Exaggerated startle response
- Amnesia around the event
Recovery counselling for PTSD can help you to safely process the impacts of trauma, and significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress. There is a significant body of research suggesting that effective counselling is an essential component of recovery from PTSD. Clinical neuroscientists such as Besser van der Kolk have shown that PTSD has a neurobiological base, and responds especially well to a combination of behavioural and relaxation techniques.
Effective treatment for PTSD
There is a strong evidence base for effective PTSD counselling. Approaches frequently include a blend of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy, Mindfulness-Based Therapy, Exposure Therapy, Trauma Recovery Therapy and Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing. These counselling techniques are grounded in advanced neuropsychological research about the effect of trauma on the body, mind and emotions. Effective counselling and specialist therapeutic support is the key to recovery from trauma.
Obsessive thoughts, compulsive behaviours
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) affects around 3% of the Australia population. This type of anxiety can generate unwanted, involuntary thoughts and specific, repetitive behaviours that interfere with daily life. Beyond those who have a clinical diagnosis of OCD, there are many more people who feel that their daily habits may be holding them back from living life to the fullest. You may sense that your thought patterns and ritualised urges are unusual, even irrational. Yet once the habits have been formed, the compulsion to repeat the behaviour can be extremely difficult to resist.
Common ‘obsessions’ (unwanted intrusive thoughts and mental images) include:
- Germaphobia (fear of contamination, preoccupied with hygiene and sanitation)
- Perfectionism (intense preoccupation with symmetry and exactness)
- Fear of losing control (harming yourself or others)
- Fear of losing things (includes indecision about discarding items)
- Fear of being responsible for a terrible event occurring
- Intense preoccupation with becoming sick (e.g. cancer, HIV)
- Excessive attention to superstitious beliefs
Common ‘compulsions’ (repetitive, ritualised behaviours) include:
- Cleaning: excessive handwashing, showering and household/environmental ‘decontamination’
- Repetition: double-checking appliances and locks; tapping, blinking, and touching things in preset ‘safe’ multiples; ordering and arranging items
- Checking: that you didn’t cause harm; loved ones are safe; you didn’t make a mistake; monitoring your physical body
- Excessive praying and performing religious rituals to ward off harm
- Hoarding: collecting items to the point of significant household clutter, accruing an excessive number of domestic animals
Effective treatment for OCD
Specialist counselling for obsessive compulsive behaviours can help you to explore and address the underlying issues that trigger your anxiety, and find effective ways to decrease unwanted thoughts and compulsive behaviours. Effective counselling techniques that reduce symptoms of OCD include Cognitive Restructuring, Gradual Stimulus Control, Worry Outcome Monitoring, Self-Control Desensitisation and Mindfulness-Based Therapy.
Specialist anxiety counselling
Anxiety can seriously interfere with your day-to-day function, and take a heavy toll on your personal relationships, career, and ability to enjoy life if left untreated. Anxiety symptoms may also co-occur with depression. Counselling can help you to identify your existing coping skills, and amplify their effectiveness via a toolkit of evidence-based, practical anxiety management strategies that are tailored to your unique situation and needs. Specialist anxiety counselling has two core benefits – it can significantly reduce and resolve anxiety symptoms, and equip you with lifelong stress management skills to prevent symptoms of anxiety from reoccurring.
1. Cuijper, P. (2016). Relative effects of cognitive and behavioral therapies on generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder and panic disorder: A meta–analysis. Journal of Anxiety
Research and statistics cited on this page are sourced from Australian Government: National Mental Health Report 2013 and Australia Bureau of Statistics: National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing.