Anxiety: Statistics, Symptoms and Treatment
Updated: Jul 23, 2018
We all know anxiety in one way or another, whether it’s fear of giving feedback at a large staff meeting; walking down a street late at night or an overwhelming and debilitating fear of being in public spaces.
Like every emotion anxiety is there to help: to get us to avoid situations we perceive as dangerous. This makes sense when our lives contain a lot of risk, but not so much when we live reasonably secure and predictable lives.
Anxiety gets left twiddling it’s thumbs looking for something to focus on.This can become a problem as we start to worry about things that really aren’t a threat.
I once heard a therapist, who was also a buddhist, describe his approach for coping with his own anxiety as being similar to the way you might approach an overbearing, overprotective old friend- “I know you care, but I’ve got this.”
Are anxiety disorders common?
For many people anxiety remains a useful communication between body and mind, but for some of us it develops into a problem.
Statistics on anxiety provided by the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2014 showed that 5.9 % of the UK population was identified as having General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) the week before the survey was conducted, the most of any single identified mental disorder.
All types of common mental disorder were more common in women than men, with anxiety disorders (GAD, phobias, OCD and panic disorder) being highest in women aged 16-24.
What is Anxiety and When is it a Problem?
Our anxiety is often linked to a situation or event and the stress will pass as soon as we are free from it. It is very useful for perceived threats to make us feel uncomfortable as this prompts us to take action, easing the discomfort and hopefully making us safer. This is extremely useful when we run a high, regular risk of being eaten by a sabre-tooth tiger.
In those situations anxiety would provide the desire to escape the tiger and the burst of adrenaline needed to make survival more likely. It is important to remember this, that even when anxiety becomes a problem it is still trying to keep us safe.
Unfortunately for some of us we become anxious over things that are no longer a threat or never really were. In some cases a person can have no idea what they are anxious about the experience that started it being forgotten or suppressed.
Sometimes the feelings can be so overwhelming that people start to avoid situations they think likely to make them anxious. Avoiding situations though a short term fix is eventually problematic:
Avoidance reinforces your fear, convincing yourself that you really should be anxious.
Avoidance prevents you from discovering that a situation isn’t dangerous which can help you overcome anxiety disorders, for example people with phobias of spiders holding tarantulas.
Avoidance makes your world smaller limiting your activities, relationships and in some cases your ability to leave the house or do other simple tasks.
What are Common Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety can affect us both physically and psychologically. And whilst everyone reacts differently some common symptoms you may experience are:
Increased heart rate
Shaking in legs
Pins and needles in the hands and feet
Hyperventilation or breathing heavily
Upset stomach, going to the toilet
Some of the common thoughts and perceptions (psychological reaction) you may be experiencing:
Worried that you are out of control or going “mad”
Worried that you might die
Worried that you may have a heart attack, faint, or have a brain tumour
Feeling detached from your environment and the people in it
Feeling like wanting to run away or escape from the situation
Feeling that people can see that you are anxious and are staring at you
Feeling as though things are speeding up or slowing down
Feeling on edge and aware to everything around you
Can counselling help with anxiety?
There are lots of treatments for anxiety and counselling is just one of them. Many people use self help techniques such as mindfulness or in some cases medication which can help you long term or give you space to make changes in your life that will improve your ability to cope.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is often suggested for anxiety. This can help you to cope better and give you confidence in situations that have previously made you anxious.
Unfortunately for many of us there there is an incident or experience such as a violent attack that is the foundation of our anxiety. For many counselling can be a place to examine these feelings and start to take away the power they hold over us.
This doesn’t always mean going over the details of what happened, that can actually be harmful if you don't want to, but it is important to understand how trauma affects our body and minds. Work such as this should be done with a trained individual who won’t rush you and will work safely.
How would we work together on anxiety at therapy5?
First and foremost we would get to know each other, develop trust. This is the firm bedrock that will support all our work together. It maybe that we work out some relaxation or ‘grounding’ techniques that will hopefully ease some of the pressure that anxiety is putting you under.
These can be different for different people, together we will work towards what suits you. We will more than likely cover what is happening in the mind and body when you are anxious. And when you are ready we will start exploring the beliefs, thoughts and events that led to your problem with anxiety.
It’s important to me that you find the right counsellor for you, and if at those early stages I think that you need something different such as CBT, I will do my best to support you into finding someone more suitable.