Anxiety & Feeling Anxious

Anxiety is the feeling we experience when we perceive the presence of a threat of some sort.

Threats exist in many different forms both real and imagined and we are not always able to differentiate between the two.

However, anxiety is a normal and mostly automatic reaction that is controlled by the Limbic system in the brain which is responsible for emotions, memories and behavioural arousal.

It is important to recognise, therefore, that anxiety is NOT an illness or a fault of any kind, on the contrary, it is a life saving response designed to prepare the body and mind to for whatever threat response is deemed appropriate.

Nervous looking young woman with anxiety.

Anxiety Responses

There are THREE anxiety responses to threats;

  • Freeze
  • Flight and
  • Fight

which usually occur in that order, but can sometimes be ‘conditioned’ (consciously changed through repetition) to occur in a different order.

For example, professional boxers have conditioned themselves to react to the threat of a punch coming their way by throwing a punch back rather than freezing or running away (the fight response takes precedence over freeze and flight).

Anxiety, therefore, is a behavioural outcome, a response to the perception of a threat.

You will not, therefore, experience an anxiety response to a Grizzly Bear about to attack you if you do not perceive the Grizzly Bear to be present in your environment.

In general terms then, anxiety only occurs when a threat is perceived.

Types of Threat

There are, of course, many different types of threat and also many different perceptions of what represents a threat, including:

  • Existential threats
  • Social threats
  • Emotional threats
  • Economic threats
  • Psychological threats

Existential threats are those threats that one believes represents a danger to life (to existence), for example the imminent attack of a Grizzly Bear.

Social threats are situations in which one perceives that some sort of social or cultural punishment or exclusion might occur. For example breaking the socially governed rules regarding the use of swear words in a busy restaurant or ‘disobeying’ a parent.

Emotional threats are those situations in which one perceives that love, for example, might be withdrawn if one does not do what a partner wants one to do.

Economic threats are situations that one perceives might result in the loss of employment or wages rendering one unable to meet any financial obligations, such as paying the mortgage or re-paying debts and the potential consequences of such defaults.

Power, Threats and Meanings

Threats are intimately linked to the idea of power because if the threat a person is faced with has no negative consequences associated with it, then it is unlikely to be attributed with sufficient meaning to require a threat response (an anxious response).

For example, if William wants Sarah to do something that she really does NOT want to do and uses the threat of breaking-off the relationship if she refuses, Sarah may agree to comply as she fears losing William more than doing the thing she does not want to do.

In this example William’s threat to ‘leave’ Sarah represents a power imbalance in Williams ‘favour’ and Sarah may feel extremely anxious about the idea of being ‘dumped’ (this is an emotional threat).

On the other hand, if Sarah has been thinking about breaking-up with William for some time, she may regard William’s threat as an opportunity to do just that and feel relieved not anxious.

Although the threat is the same, Sarah’s threat response depends on who holds the power.

So a threat is only likely to lead to an anxiety response if the threat has the power to produce unwanted outcomes.

If a threat doesn’t have this potential then it is known as an ’empty threat’.

Recovery from Anxiety image

Recovering from Anxiety

Whilst it has already been established that anxiety in itself is NOT some sort of illness or faulty response, elevated levels of anxiety over protracted periods of time is both uncomfortable and ultimately bad for overall health.

Feeling anxious all of the time is highly stressful and there is a well researched relationship between stress and the body’s ability to fight off illness and infection known as Psychoneuroimmunology.

Recovering from anxiety then involves differentiating between what might be called ‘appropriate anxiety’, which we all experience from time to time, and ‘inappropriate anxiety’ which we may be experiencing due to past negative experiences that remain largely unresolved.

All of our psychosocial counselling approaches follow a similar pattern in helping people to recover from their distress and include:

  • Developing a formulation with the client based on what has happened during their lives and what they seek to achieve.
  • Exploring coping mechanisms, adaptations and meanings that have been attributed to experiences and learning new ways of thinking and coping that are more adaptive in today’s context.
  • Recovering and sustaining recovery through the normalisation of new coping skills and practical application of new knowledge.

The CORE Programme

The CORE Programme was devised and written by Paul in 2020 and combines all the best elements of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy with additional knowledge drawn from research in Personal Construct Theory, Attribution Theory, Self-Determination Theory and Social Constructivism.

It is particularly well-suited to Anxiety related problems due to the prevalence of cognitive ideation in the creation of anxiety responses.

It is a 10 module course normally taken over a 10 week period with weekly hour long counselling sessions (either face-to-face or using Zoom), but can also be followed as a ‘teach yourself’ course for those with more manageable levels of anxiety.

Initial Consultations for Anxiety Image

Ready to Begin a New Journey?

If you’d like to find out more about overcoming or recovering from your emotional distress or mental health difficulties then why not arrange a free initial consultation with us.

During this consultation we will discuss your particular problems and the potential solutions in a safe and confidential environment without you having to commit to any counselling programmes or sessions going forward.

It is our view that not only do you need to decide whether the Lee Psychology approach suits who you are and what you have been through, but also whether or not you feel you will be able to work effectively with us as individuals.

To arrange your free initial consultation please contact:

Paul@LeePsychology.com

or

Joan@LeePsychology.com