Anxiety can affect people in different ways, and this analogy might not work for you but I believe it will work for a lot of people. I’ve always been fond of understanding anxiety as a sort of miscalculation of two things – the perceived or potential threat; and of yourself. It seems to be a fairly consistent narrative, that whatever it is that is causing the person distress (or anxiety) is presently understood as a BIG threat, and that the image of the person is that they are small and incapable, especially in dealing with the threat. I am not trying to over-simplify the matter (as anxiety can often be crippling and all-consuming) but if we can work out how to adjust the perception of both those things then I believe we can reintroduce a bit more control and stability into your life.
One of the things that we can explore is your self-image. How you see yourself can play a big role in your level of anxiety. If you believe yourself to be untrustworthy, unreliable, incapable, ‘not good enough’ then you are quite likely to feel anxious at the idea of tackling a problem. These messages might not be something you actively choose unfortunately, but nonetheless are messages you carry. They may have been given to you, or forced upon you, by others – this may be intentional or not. The messages may have been given to you by the media or the culture you grew up in. Regardless, it’s important to address the beliefs you have about yourself. It is important to develop a more realistic and positive sense of self. You might not be aware of those thoughts, in which case we can look at your inner, deeper beliefs about yourself of which you may not be consciously aware. These deeper beliefs affect all of us in endless ways, and it is important to be aware of our own beliefs if we are to ever live more honestly and in the present.
A lot of counselling can be about self-image and how you see yourself, and challenging those statements in a non-judgemental way. And that’s important – it’s done so in a supportive and encouraging way so that you don’t feel attacked. It’s about bringing awareness to the unhelpful, unhealthy ways in which you may see yourself. The deeper work, if that’s necessary, can be about exploring where the beliefs came from and introducing other beliefs – that you are capable and have managed things this far.
Another part of counselling is exploring the perceived threat – what about that thing is so scary or overwhelming? What makes that thing so intimidating? Where did that idea come from? Is there another way to look at the thing, the object, the event? Or, is it simply a matter of problem solving, and working out a way to tackle the problem head on. Through counselling, it is possible to develop your confidence, your problem solving skills and, with a little practice, your resiliency. The latter refers to moments when it might go wrong but you acknowledge it and try again – there is often a fear around those things that cause anxiety, a fear that says that it’s not worth trying. And when we don’t try something, we reaffirm that belief that we are incapable, that the threat – the thing that causes us anxiety – is, in fact, threatening and impossible to overcome. It is a slow and steady exposure to the thing that causes anxiety, to failure, that reminds us that we are alright, despite what the anxiety is trying to tell us. That if we fail, it’s ok and we are safe and things are going to be alright.
Counselling for some forms of anxiety, can be about
- Exploring and addressing how you see yourself
- Developing your self-esteem and confidence
- Challenging beliefs that you have of yourself, and introducing healthier ones
- Exploring and dissecting the event or thing that causes anxiety
- Identifying strategies to manage the anxiety or navigate the event/threat
- Gentle and appropriate exposure to the event or thing to demonstrate your abilities
There will be other ways to develop the way you manage anxiety, including mindfulness and being more present, rather than getting stuck in a future of potential ‘worst case scenarios’. Once the anxiety is talked about, it slowly becomes less present, less significant and you can realise your potential to manage things without an overwhelming sense of not being good enough.