Healing anxiety: A quickstart guide

Anxiety is different from fear. It’s more pervasive and confusing as it doesn’t have an obvious focal point. Fear is in response to a stimulus. I’m fearful of… [enter stimulus]. Anxiety can often persist without any noticeable object of anxiety.


Anxiety can be related to a tangible threat, or it can be rooted in a past experience and be completely un-useful. If you’ve ever had an anxiety attack while watching a movie, you’ll know what I mean. So, it's our threat detection system that has gone awry. It's working overtime and is yet to settle down and function more effectively. But fundamentally it is a part of us that is on guard and trying to help.

Let’s call this part ‘our guard’. And ‘our guard’ is ready to mobilise us against any threats with its button on the adrenaline and cortisol trigger to get us running, freezing or fleeing to safety at a moment’s notice. However, ‘our guard’ is trigger-happy. Additionally, the baffling thing is sometimes ‘our guard’ pulls the trigger during a genuine threat and is very useful!

On top of this, the threats being detected don't have to be anything tangible or external, for the body stores everything in somatic memory. And by that, I mean: ‘our guard’ may detect an inner sensation and pull the trigger.

For example, whenever I’m tired, I feel the sensation of heaviness in my body, if I have a coffee, I feel an internal buzz and ‘my guard’ responds to these sensations with anxiety – unsure of what will happen next – 'am I going to have a heart attack?' I then observe this anxiety and the symptoms [sweaty hands + increased heart rate] with my conscious mind and start freaking out: ‘Oh my! Look I'm anxious my hands are sweating! There must be a real threat, maybe I really am dying’ and thus the cycle of anxiety begins.

So often we’re responding to stored feelings with anxiety e.g. I remember feeling anxious when I felt this sensation so I will feel anxious again.

There is no 'cure' for anxiety 

It's a fundamental part of life and a response to the human given: uncertainty. As humans, we also have the ability to project into the future using our imaginations so we can create scenarios in our heads that we get anxious or fearful of. It’s part of the reason we’ve survived as humans.

So, getting rid of anxiety isn’t optimal for survival. But neither is being in an excessive state of anxiety. However, rebuilding our relationship with anxiety is possible and optimal. Once we do this - anxiety can become our friend and help guide us through life rather than be a hindrance and burden to carry. 

Is anxiety draining you or guiding you?

So, the first part of rebuilding our relationship with anxiety is to realise that your threat detector is trying to protect you. It's your friend. But your friend needs some help reconfiguring your current reality. Talk with your friend. Ask it questions:

  • What do you need from me today?
  • Is there anything you want to tell me?

Listen for answers. You might get some very valuable information. To take it a step further: You can call your amygdala a name.

The amygdala is the part of your brain that detects and reacts to potential threats - fun fact: it's shaped like an almond.

For example, mine is called Dave. And I’m going to take my amygdala for a walk in the park.

‘Hey Dave let's go!’

When Dave is starting to activate you can simply observe him mindfully and carry on, taking no real notice as you have an understanding that Dave isn’t responding to a real-life threat. Dave just needs to learn this.

It takes practice and time to rebuild this relationship and after a while, Dave will get the message: 'Ah there is no threat!'.

Important note: If we end up avoiding situations due to fear of anxiety then Dave will start to think 'I was right there was something to be anxious about!' and Dave will continue to be activated. This process is literally rewiring your brain. We can talk about why we're anxious but ultimately without this rewiring process, Dave will continue to respond the way he has been.  

Be gentle with yourself and do as much exposure as you can handle. 

If things ever get overwhelming you always have your breath. Send a signal to your nervous system that you're okay this can only be done via the breath.

  • Box breathing: You can do this by breathing in for four, holding for four and then breathing out for four. 
  • Double inhale: Take two inhales through your nose and out your mouth. 
  • Five senses: Look around and identify five things you can see. Breathe. Listen carefully and identify four things you can hear. Breathe. Pay attention to three things you can touch or physically feel. Breathe. Identify two things you can smell. Breathe. Finally, notice one thing you can taste. Breathe. 

If you need support please seek a professional who is experienced in treating anxiety disorders. We're here to help. 

Wishing you well on your anxiety journey! 

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

Share this article with a friend
St. Leonards-On-Sea, East Sussex, TN37
Written by Will Adolphy, MBACP | Integrative Counselling and Coaching
St. Leonards-On-Sea, East Sussex, TN37

Will specialises in treating anxiety, panic attacks and obsessions.

Website: www.willadolphy.com

Show comments

Find a therapist dealing with Anxiety

All therapists are verified professionals

All therapists are verified professionals