Understanding anxiety

When you are in a situation and your life or well-being is under threat, without you having to make any decision, your autonomic nervous system recognises what is happening and floods your body with hormones as it prepares you to fight, flight, freeze or flop. This is because your body knows what is best for you at that time, long before you even recognise what is happening.

For example, have you ever swatted a fly from your face or instantly stopped in your tracks as you step of a roadside curb, without actually deciding to do so.    

When there is no actual threat, all those hormones rushing around your body have no way of being used and so you feel anxious. It’s a little like a car running its engine but without wheels and can’t go anywhere.  

Why does this happen?

This is where the theory comes in. Which means it’s partly my opinion, partly actual known science and partly evidenced through the work with clients.


If you have suffered an earlier trauma in your life, it is possible that something in your current life has reignited the feelings you had at the time. You may not remember or recognise what happened to you as a trauma. This can happen because you have forgotten, you had desensitised to what happened or simply didn’t think of it as a trauma. It might have also been so far back, even before you could speak. It need not be a single event but could have been a prolonged period of being under stress or scared.

A smell, noise, sensation or seemingly unconnected event can set you off. This is because the body remembers even if you didn’t.

As an example, the backfire of a car exhaust could reignite feelings for a soldier or if you pass by a bakery and smell warm doughnuts, you may well be taken back to a memory and feel happy. 

Covering other feelings:

During our early years, we learn how to best fit in with our family of origin. To some extent and before you could even speak you started to learn what feelings were encouraged or discouraged in your family. For example, maybe mum and dad liked you best when you didn’t cry or never showed you when they were angry. You didn’t have to be told. You would have picked up non-verbal messages.

So possibly now, triggered by something you can’t recall, under the surface you may feel angry, sad or scared. The only problem is that in the same way being depressed is because in part when other feelings are being suppressed, it is possible you also are keeping other feelings suppressed, underneath your anxiety.

Either of these possibilities are likely because if you have nothing to be anxious about 'now' it must come from the past.

Of course being anxious about being anxious will add to how you feel.

How can counselling help?

By exploring your feelings, it is possible to create a language for how you feel and in doing so you can identify the root cause. Then by understanding and expressing and working through how you feel, you can free yourself from being locked into feeling anxious.

When you have experienced a trauma and begin to identify this, we firstly work to help you regulate your feelings so you can function each day. As you become more able to cope and control how you feel, we can then decide if investigating your deeper feelings will be helpful. This isn’t the case for everyone because for some, their feelings are so strong, they re traumatize themselves each time.  

We might also use techniques to help you identify patterns of behavior, which initially help, but in the end leave you feeling more anxious and then work to change how you think, feel and behave in those moments.

What next?

If you have any questions, would like to discuss help you might need or are affected in any way please get in touch with a counsellor.

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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Caterham CR3 & Banstead SM7

Written by Paul Lipman

Caterham CR3 & Banstead SM7

I am Paul and a warm welcome. My site: https://wholepsychology.org.uk/) has additional details about me or should you prefer please feel free to call me. No pressure, no obligation just all your questioned answered. Details on couples counselling is much further down the page. Below I’ve...

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