Anxiety is not your enemy

Anxiety is a complex emotion. It’s that pit in our stomach, the constant worry, the dread, the racing heart. It’s uncomfortable. So, it is completely understandable why you would want to get rid of anxiety, why you might be looking for tools to fight it.

But as much as anxiety is uncomfortable, it is also a very helpful emotion. Anxiety is part of our body’s alarm system that helps to keep us safe. Anxiety is part of the fight or flight reaction which helps us to be more alert, look out for threats and avoid dangers. Without anxiety, we would constantly put ourselves in dangerous situations and make unwise decisions.

Imagine what our lives would be like without any worry or fear! We could be crossing a busy road without looking, leave our front door wide open when we leave the house or send an overly candid email to our boss because we would not worry about the consequences. Our lives would quickly become utter chaos.

So, some anxiety is helpful to keep us safe. But what if our anxiety is getting out of control and stops us from enjoying our life? Should we fight it then?

The short answer to that is: no, we shouldn’t be fighting anxiety, instead we would learn how to manage it. Why?

  • Anxiety is part of being human, which means we will never be able to get rid of it completely (neither should we).
  •  Fighting anxiety may lead to 'anxiety about anxiety'. You try so hard to get rid of the anxiety that you are getting stressed and worried about the fact that you have anxiety. You end up in a vicious cycle it is hard to get out of.
  • When you notice that you can’t 'win' against anxiety, you might end up beating yourself up about it. And feeling bad about yourself will only cause you more distress.

Rather than seeing anxiety as an enemy that you are fighting against, how about seeing it as an overprotective companion?

This anxiety companion means well, ultimately it wants to protect you, and it does a good job sometimes. But, unfortunately, it is oversensitive at times and alerts you when there is no real danger. Instead of trying to get rid of your anxiety, let's get to know it better and learn how to manage 'false alarms' and overwhelm.

How is managing anxiety different from fighting it?

Managing anxiety means accepting that anxiety is part of your life and cannot be fully eliminated. Managing anxiety is about finding tools to help you become more aware of when you are getting anxious or stressed, listening to what your body and mind need, and knowing what to do to reduce your anxiety to a manageable level.

How can counselling help?

If you feel that your anxiety is impacting your day-to-day life, it might be time to speak to a therapist about how you can learn to manage your anxiety. A very powerful and evidence-based type of therapy for managing anxiety is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

CBT can help you change your relationship with your anxiety, reduce worry and catastrophising thoughts, and teach you coping skills that help you manage your anxiety long-term, without making it your enemy.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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London EC2A & N1

Written by Lisa Mueller

London EC2A & N1

Lisa Müller is a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and founder of WayWiser Coaching. She specialises in helping people manage anxiety, stress and low self-esteem using evidence based psychology tools and mindfulness techniques. Lisa has worked for the NHS for many years and held lectures at University College London.

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