Navigating anxiety: Embracing wellness and discovering joy

Anxiety disorders are a common mental health issue affecting a significant number of people. They can interfere with daily activities and have long-lasting effects if left untreated. However, the good news is that most anxiety disorders are highly treatable.


There are different types of anxiety disorders, including social anxiety disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. Social anxiety disorder is characterised by intense fear and self-consciousness in social situations, while generalised anxiety disorder involves excessive worry about everyday issues. Panic disorder is marked by sudden, recurrent panic attacks accompanied by physical symptoms such as difficulty breathing and a sense of impending doom.

Treatment for anxiety disorders typically involves a combination of therapy and medication. Psychotherapy, particularly cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), is an effective approach for helping individuals change their thinking patterns and reactions to anxiety-inducing situations. Medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can also be prescribed to alleviate symptoms.

It is crucial to note that anxiety disorders often have a genetic component, but the exact causes are not fully understood. Factors such as genetics, environmental influences, and stress contribute to a person's risk of developing an anxiety disorder. Childhood experiences can also play a role, as many anxiety problems in adults begin during childhood or adolescence.

It's not uncommon to have occasional experiences of physical and emotional distress that are associated with anxiety. Symptoms like rapid breathing, a racing heart, difficulty sleeping, a sense of dread, or persistent worrying are familiar to many of us. In fact, these reactions are a normal part of our biological response to perceived danger, preparing us to face or avoid threats. In moderation, anxiety can serve as a motivator, prompting us to meet deadlines, study diligently, or avoid risky situations.

Feeling anxiety is a normal part of life. In fact, a certain level of anxiety can even be beneficial. However, the issue arises when the underlying systems that regulate our anxiety responses become dysregulated, causing us to overreact or respond inappropriately to certain situations.

Persistent anxiety takes a toll on both physical and mental health. The continuous presence of anxiety can lead to various health problems. For instance, anxiety triggers the release of cortisol, a stress hormone, which can elevate blood pressure over time. This increase in blood pressure contributes to the development of conditions such as heart problems, strokes, kidney disease, and even sexual dysfunction.

In a study published in The Lancet in 2017, researchers used brain scans to measure activity in a region called the amygdala, responsible for rapid responses to perceived danger and the encoding of frightening memories. They found that higher amygdala activity was associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

The researchers speculated that this connection may be due to the amygdala triggering the production of excess white blood cells by the immune system to combat perceived threats. In individuals experiencing emotional stress, this heightened immune response could potentially lead to inflammation and the formation of plaque, contributing to the development of heart attacks and strokes.

The impact of anxiety is not limited to physical health alone; it also affects one's overall quality of life. The hallmark symptoms of anxiety disorders, such as intrusive thoughts, fear of panic attacks, intense self-consciousness, and a constant fear of rejection compel individuals to avoid situations that trigger anxiety. As a result, relationships, work, school, and everyday activities are negatively affected. People may isolate themselves, decline opportunities, and miss out on the joys that life has to offer due to the constraints imposed by their anxiety.

When it comes to overcoming severe anxiety, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is widely regarded as the most effective approach. Many individuals are surprised at how quickly they can gain control over their symptoms with the help of CBT, often after waiting for years or even decades. Typically, noticeable improvements can be achieved within four to six months.

A specific form of CBT known as exposure therapy is particularly beneficial. This therapeutic technique involves engaging in activities that intentionally trigger uncomfortable physical sensations, temporarily causing breathlessness or panic. The goal is to confront and gradually become accustomed to the situations or stimuli that have been avoided due to anxiety. Through repeated and deliberate exposure, the impact of these distressing sensations in real-life scenarios can be significantly reduced. It's comparable to receiving a vaccine - by intentionally exposing oneself to fear-inducing physical sensations, their influence and power diminish over time.

In some cases of situational anxiety, short-acting medications like beta blockers or benzodiazepines may be prescribed to alleviate extreme physical reactions. However, it's important to note that these medications have limitations. They can potentially reinforce the perception that the symptoms are dangerous, and some individuals may not prefer relying on medication as a long-term coping strategy.

Overall, CBT, especially exposure therapy, has shown great success in helping individuals overcome severe anxiety and regain control over their lives. It is a comprehensive and empowering approach that aims to address the root causes of anxiety and provide effective coping mechanisms for long-term well-being.

If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, remember that help is available. As a professional counsellor, I am here to support you  on your journey towards recovery. My goal is to help you regain control of your life and experience a greater sense of well-being.

Through evidence-based approaches like CBT (including exposure therapy), we can work together to address the underlying causes of your anxiety and develop effective coping strategies. CBT has proven to be highly effective in helping individuals overcome severe anxiety, and you may be surprised at how quickly you can see improvements in your symptoms.

You deserve to live a life where anxiety does not dictate your every move. Take that brave step forward, and together, let’s attempt to conquer anxiety and create a brighter future.

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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Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh, EH8
Written by Aaron Kelly, MSc, MSc, MA (Hons) MBACP
Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh, EH8

Aaron Kelly is a psychotherapist who is deeply committed to helping people overcome mental health challenges and live happier, more fulfilling lives. Aaron is known for his compassionate and empathetic approach to therapy, working closely with clients to understand their unique needs and challenges in order to help them achieve their goals.

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