Anxiety disorders - have I got one and how can counselling help?
Anxiety takes many forms. Heart racing, sweaty palms and a dry mouth. Racing, negatives thoughts, worrying all the time, day and night. Being on guard, as if in a war zone, expecting danger around every corner. Avoiding certain places and situations. Taking a lot of precautions going only if accompanied, asking for reassurance all the time.
Anxiety affects how we feel, how we think and what we do. Most of us would rather be without it.
However anxiety is not always a bad thing. Just as pain alerts us to a physical problem, so anxiety sometimes tells us that we are in danger. However, pain needs professional care when it becomes severe or chronic and the usual remedies do not work. It’s the same with anxiety. When anxiety gets out of control or chronic, it becomes an anxiety disorder. It is then that a professional consultation may be advisable.
How common are anxiety disorders? In 2013, there were 8.2 million cases of anxiety in the UK. One in three people have an anxiety disorder at some point in their lifetime. Anxiety disorders can also make you more vulnerable to poor sleep, clinical depression and physical health problems.
An important but not widely known fact is that is there is not one but many anxiety disorders. Does any of the following sound at all like you?
- Worrying about everything and anything, not being able to stop worrying, feeling on edge and nervous. These are symptoms of Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).
- Being very concerned about giving presentations, going to parties or meeting new people. Having a tendency to avoid one or more of these things. Imagining that you are in the spotlight and everyone is judging you. If this sounds like you, you may have Social Anxiety.
- Having persistent upsetting thoughts, for example about germs being everywhere, not locking doors properly or that you are a bad person. Dealing with these upsetting thoughts by compulsively washing, checking or carrying out rituals. These are all characteristic of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)
- Becoming extremely upset or afraid at the thought of encountering certain objects, such as snakes or blood or situations such as being stuck in a lift. This anxiety disorder is called Specific Phobia.
- Anxiety, which may come out of the blue, suddenly spiralling into panic. Anxiety accompanied by extremely frightening physical symptoms such as a pounding heart and feelings of unreality. This is typical of Panic Disorder which can be with or without Agoraphobia, avoiding the places associated with panic attacks.
- Becoming increasingly concerned with your health and convinced that you have a serious illness or disease, resulting in frequent checking and asking for reassurance, which leads to only temporary relief before you start checking again. If this is you, you could have Health Anxiety.
The good news is that effective treatments exist for each of these anxiety disorders. In the first instance you might want to consult your GP or perhaps refer to some self-help material. Counselling and therapy can also be a great help and in many cases is the preferred recommendation of the National Institute for Health And Care Excellence (NICE). Although many types of counselling could help you with anxiety, the type of counselling recommended by NICE for each of these anxiety disorders is CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
A good CBT counsellor could well help you beat your anxiety disorder in a relatively short space of time. In the first place they will indicate whether it is likely or not that you have one of these disorders. If you do, they will work with you to beat it and teach you helpful techniques.
For example, if you have panic disorder your therapist will ask you to keep a diary of the thoughts you have when are feel most anxious, and then help you challenge these anxious thoughts. CBT for panic disorder has a very high success rate and usually requires only about 6 sessions. If you are a worrier and have generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), your CBT counsellor will teach you techniques appropriate for that disorder. With GAD, your counsellor will help you be more aware of when you are worrying, and then teach you to problem-solve if the worry is about something practical – such as how to deal with an unexpected bill – and to ignore the worry if it is purely hypothetical – such as a worry about war breaking out tomorrow.
For each of the anxiety disorders mentioned, a qualified CBT counsellor will know best to overcome it and teach you the appropriate techniques. If you think that you or someone you know is suffering from an anxiety disorder, could it be a good idea to contact a qualified CBT therapist to see if they could help?
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About Tim Lebon
Tim LeBon is a BABCP accredited CBT therapist with a private practice in Central London. He regularly treats people with anxiety disorders as well as depression, low self-esteem and other mental health problems. Tim is a published author of 2 books and an experienced clinical supervisor . He specialises in helping people overcome anxiety disorders.