How moving towards your anxiety can help you to reduce it

The feelings of anxiety are recognised by most people and most people will experience anxiety from time to time in their lives. However, when anxiety starts taking over, stopping you from doing the things you enjoy or connecting with people it may be time to stop and think about how best to support yourself.


Humans developed anxiety and worry as from an evolutionary perspective it has helped us keep ourselves safe and ensured humans continuation of the human race. If you imagine in the stone age where life was much more difficult and there were a range of dangers from being killed by a wild animal, to running out of food or being unable to find adequate shelter.

The focus was on staying alive and being able to meet your basic needs. It was the humans who worried the most who were able to anticipate danger and plan for it were the ones that were able to remain alive.  We all have ancestors therefore who worried and experienced anxiety and we are likely to have inherited some of these traits.  

The problem now is in the modern world we live in our mind does not recognise that we are no longer in danger, it just responds to different cues of danger in the same way it would have done in times gone by, evoking the same feelings and sensations of anxiety in the body and often producing the fight, flight, fawn or freeze response.

In the past being chased by a lion may have provoked this response but today, having a long to-do list, or having a tricky conversation could lead to the same anxiety response in our mind and body.

The experience of anxiety

People who experience anxiety often find it difficult to stay in the present moment and find their minds thinking about future events and how they could turn out badly.  Or they may be ruminating about the past and difficulties they have experienced.

People can feel anxious about many things, they may experience social anxiety where they fear finding some social interactions difficult. They may find it difficult to go to the supermarket, attend a party or give a presentation at work. Other people may experience more generalised anxiety where they may not even realise what they are worried about but feel anxious and uneasy or always fear the worst-case scenario and worry about a range of things.  Many people also experience health anxiety where they are worried about their health and can worry obsessively about getting unwell.  

The experience of panic attacks is also common for people who experience anxiety and can be a very frightening and difficult experience.  For some people experiencing a panic attack, they may feel as if they are about to die, faint or lose control.  

For many people anxiety can make it difficult for them to relax, they may feel tense or have physical symptoms, aches and pains in their body. People who experience anxiety feel constantly worried, tired and stressed, they may find it difficult to work, relax or sleep.

The physical and psychological difficulties of anxiety/panic can be difficult to cope with, but with therapy and support it is possible to reprogramme the anxiety response and therapy can help you to manage and reduce anxiety and panic attacks.

The natural reaction to anxiety

For many people, the natural reaction to anxiety can be to move away from it. It can be to avoid it and isolate themselves at home where they are safe. This is a logical and understandable reaction, however, in moving away from anxiety and avoiding it we are strengthening it. The further we move away from it, suppress or avoid it the worse it becomes.

For example, a person who experiences anxiety around doing an office presentation may avoid it. By doing this they feel safe and do not provoke feelings of anxiety, but the fear remains and they may be even worse when they are asked to do one in the future.

A person who fears exams may avoid them but not miss out on being able to complete the college/university course they would like to and the fear remains and is strengthened making it more difficult to confront on the next occasion. Or it could be a person with a fear or phobia, the more they avoid the thing they are afraid of the stronger the fear grows and the cycle of panic is strengthened further.

Moving towards anxiety 

However, doing the opposite and moving towards anxiety can help overcome it. In counselling this can be done in several ways. It can be through talking about the difficulty you are experiencing, and acknowledging and accepting your feelings around anxiety.

For people who experience anxiety, it can be difficult to talk about and acknowledge.  But in bringing the issue to light, accepting and talking it through it helps you to work through the issue with support at your own pace. Many people feel a sense of relief when they can share their anxiety or difficulty in the safe, confidential and non-judgemental environment counselling offers and it gives them the lift needed to harness their internal resources to overcome the difficulty they are experiencing.

Counselling helps you to identify your natural innate resources and how you can strengthen and harness them to help you overcome the difficulty you are experiencing.

Exposure work in counselling can help you to gradually experience the feared situation, in a controlled way at your own pace. This work can be very challenging, but the brain learns from experience and exposure to feared situations. It is possible to rewire the circuity in the brain to reduce anxiety, but this is done by moving towards the feared situations, experiencing them and teaching the brain that they are safe.

Counselling can be effective in helping you do this, at a pace that is right for you. This can take time as the brain needs to learn from new experiences, but with persistence and the right support anxiety can be reduced and managed.

Cognitive behaviour therapy can also be very effective at challenging thinking patterns and how they can impact feelings and behaviours. Very often difficulties from our past, past events or traumas can be impacting on us and our behaviours in the present. Counselling can support you to have an understanding of the root cause of your current anxiety difficulties, this understanding can help you understand your difficulties and how to overcome them.

The cost of anxiety

It can be helpful to think about the cost of anxiety and how it may be affecting your life. Examining the costs and ways it is affecting you can help you to decide whether the cost is too high for you and whether you are ready to move forward in tackling the difficulties you are experiencing with anxiety.

For some people, anxiety may be costing them their ability to leave the house, meet people or the ability to carry out everyday tasks. For others it may be standing in the way of them doing the things they enjoy in life, it may be stopping them from reaching their goals or having the career they want.  For others, it may stand in the way of them meeting a partner or having the relationship they want.

If you are experiencing anxiety and it is impacting your life, it is worth asking yourself the question, what is anxiety costing me? And are the costs worth it?

Talking about anxiety

For people who experience anxiety, they may find it difficult to talk about it or acknowledge it. However, there is power in being able to openly express yourself and your difficulties in the safe space of the therapy room, by bringing it into the light you can deal with it and find ways of managing it so you can live the life you desire.

If you are at the point where you feel that anxiety is costing you too much in your life, there are many counsellors who are able to support you on Counselling Directory. Or if this article resonates with you and you would like to work with Claire please send her a message through her Counselling Directory page.

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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Birmingham, West Midlands, B43 5SB
Written by Sunflower Empowerment, Prof.DipPsyC, DipCST, CertHypCs, BA Hons Social Work
Birmingham, West Midlands, B43 5SB

Claire runs Sunflower Empowerment and is a qualified Counsellor, Hypnotherapist and Social Worker who specialises in working around anxiety, stress and sleep. If you are interested in working with Claire please send her a message through Counselling Directory.

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