Are you anxious enough this week?

Anxiety - we all know what it means. Or, do we? Has it become a word that is so accepted it no longer means anything? What if…? When will…? If I do this, then…? If I don’t do anything at all…? I hear my clients talking about anxiety in every session, in one form or another. Nobody can tell them it doesn’t exist.


Buddhist philosopher, Alan Watts, is said to have written many books along the theme of, "No amount of anxiety makes any difference to anything that is going to happen." Tell that to the next person who confides in you and watch their reaction!

Me? I tend to listen more to trauma specialist, Dr Gabor Maté: "We may believe we’re anxious about this or that - body image, the state of the world, relationship issues, the weather - but no matter what story we weave around it, the anxiety just is." (In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction.)

Being anxious is an everyday fact of life. For you, for me, for everyone.

We all want to understand our own personal anxiety, don’t we? After all, ‘anxiety’ is by far and away the most common search term in Counselling Directory by those looking for a therapist.

In February 2020, author Matt Haig had this to say in a tweet: "I feel like my anxiety is best understood as an injury that flares up when I am not doing the right things - sleeping well, eating well, exercise, yoga, stressing - physically, mentally - about work." Imagine how he then felt a month or two later when the Covid pandemic lockdowns began!

Personally, I’m anxious about the climate crisis and unbridled AI. Also, the likelihood that the team I’ve followed since childhood is about to be relegated. And if I don’t get the potatoes planted this week, I can say goodbye to a crop this year. Is it going to rain today? Will I get the shed painted? Is it too late to put the washing on the line?

Coronations, quizzes, cup finals and contests… Am I just distracting myself with insignificant things? Do I have enough evidence to say I’m anxious? The more I know, the more anxious I get? Ignorance is bliss - is that it?

Psychotherapist Irvin Yalom wrote in his very readable book, Love’s Executioner, "One of the great paradoxes of life is that self-awareness breeds anxiety." He’s not calling for us to be less self-aware. Far from it. His is a call for less isolation and more connection with others. Less self-reflection, more action. And, yes, he knows that it is often relationships with others and connections with the world that seem to produce anxiety in us. Hence the paradox.

Perhaps I should be more like Australian psychologist, Anounchka Grose, when she writes in her A Guide to Eco-Anxiety about the climate emergency: "Being upset is actually part of the solution. Anxious people unite! Denial, distraction and disavowal are the problems… whereas anxiety, unhappiness and even anger are all states that can work against complacency; in themselves, they seem to demand change. So be anxious, be very anxious, because your anxiety can be a brilliant resource."

That sounds very positive in a negative kind of way. There’s something I can do with my anxiety. I can even get angry about what others have told me anxiety is and is not. Writing in Lost Connections, journalist Johann Hari would agree: "We have been systematically misinformed about what depression and anxiety are. The primary cause of all this rising depression and anxiety is not in our heads. It is, I discovered, largely in the world, and the way we are living in it."

Clearly, there is so much to be said about anxiety and very little to be understood, except personally. For those attending therapy, anxiety is often something that has overstepped its human usefulness to become instead something difficult, if not unbearable. I’ll leave with the wise words of British psychoanalyst, Wilfred Bion from his 1961 book, Experiences In Groups: "If there aren't two anxious people in the room, the two being both the therapist and the patient, then there was not much point in turning up to find out what you already know."

The moral of the story seems to be, if you’re more anxious than you care to be, share it with somebody, because you’ll find they’re anxious, too. I hope I’ve written enough words in this article for it to be published. What will the moderator think about all the quotes? Perhaps I should… or maybe not.

Anxious reads:

  • A Guide to Eco-Anxiety: How to Protect the Planet and Your Mental Health - Anounchka Grose (2020)
  • Lost Connections - Johann Hari (2018)
  • The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness & Healing in a Toxic Culture - Gabor Maté (2022)
  • Love’s Executioner - Yalom (1989)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, CV37 6TY
Written by Mark Griffiths, MNCS (Accred)
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, CV37 6TY

LOOK INSIDE a blog series written by Mark Griffiths, Person-Centred Counsellor

Mark wishes he'd known a bit more about counselling before he first became a client himself. He hopes that readers considering counselling will be interested in some thoughtful and occasionally entertaining pieces opening up this mystifying therapeutic world.

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