You can beat anxiety

Do you suffer from anxiety? Does it affect your daily life/routine? Do you have a sense of worry or impending danger? Feel nervous? Have a rapid heart rate? Sweating? Trembling? Feel a need to run to the toilet for bowel movements? Feel weak or tired? Numbness in your limbs? Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)? Trouble concentrating on anything but your present worry? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may have an anxiety issue.


The good news is you don't have to feel this way, you have a choice. It might not seem like it in the depths of your anxiety but with counselling or EFL (equine facilitated learning), you can beat anxiety.

Anxiety can be beaten. It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of being too strong for too long.

Every time you bury your feelings, thoughts and emotions it builds up in your system and, down the road, it can appear as anxiety. It can develop suddenly, brought on by a specific event or it can develop over time. The latter can be harder to figure out as it may creep up on you until there is no longer any room left to bury your feelings, thoughts and emotions.

Think of a bucket. If you fill it with water, it can only take a certain amount before it overflows. It’s important to realise that everyone has a different size bucket, different rates of flow of water and different tolerance levels. Some people have a small bucket, some a large bucket, some a fast flow of water and some a slow rate of water.

At the end of the day, this is just a metaphor for anxiety. The point to take from this is that everyone is different; everyone can tolerate different levels of stress. Two people with anxiety may deal with it in very different ways. There is upwards of over 100 different symptoms for general anxiety alone. Not everyone experiences all of these at the same time, which is why, for doctors and medical professionals, it is so hard to diagnose and often takes multiple visits to a doctor to get a diagnosis and even then it’s not an exact science.

How can we beat anxiety?

Remember that bucket and water I mentioned earlier? Well, imagine emptying the water from the bucket. Now you have an empty bucket, you can tolerate a certain amount of stress again before your bucket becomes full. This emptying of the bucket of water is the process a person might go through in counselling or EFL.

Counselling and EFL can help you explore the reasons behind why you might be anxious; the events that led up to this, what happened for you to feel like you have to bury your feelings, why they build up inside like they do, and how they exhibit themselves as anxiety. More importantly, they can give you the tools to move forward in your life, to no longer be paralysed by worry, to start living your life again.

What happens in counselling?

Counselling comes in many forms but the main format it takes is a client and a counsellor in a room for 50 minutes to an hour. The counsellor will support the client in that time with what the client wishes to explore. This is done through many professional skills one, of which is active listening.

This is by no means having a conversation with your friend. This is a trained professional using their years of training and knowledge of theory to help you explore issues. You (the client) bring your expertise on your life and the two of you meet in the middle. When this happens, the experience can be unique and profound in nature, especially if you have never had anyone in your life really listen to you before.

You may want to spend a session or more exploring what this is like and your expectations of counselling before you dive right into the issues at hand. Either way, your counsellor has your well-being and mental health as their top priority. It can seem scary to reach out for help but, once you have taken that first step, a phone call, an email even a text to discuss your concerns with your counsellor and set up that crucial first appointment, you won't look back.

How can equine therapy help?

The other option I mentioned earlier was EFL (equine facilitated learning). Just one session can be as effective as six regular counselling sessions.

Simply put, a professional relationship between a counsellor and a client takes time to build. A counsellor takes time to understand your life as you do, and you as the client spend time understanding the reasons behind why you might be experiencing the things you are experiencing.

Therefore, when in relationship with an equine (horse) in an EFL session, the work is of a quicker pace. Sure, the horse and the client spend a little time getting to know each other just the same as a counsellor and a client. However, I think we can both agree that, unless you are Dr Doolittle, the conversation in terms of words is likely to be a little one-sided. This is why the connection is more immediate in EFL.

A horse is a prey animal and, as such, they are uniquely tuned into their environment and everyone and everything in it because they are trying to establish what is going to eat them and what is safe to be around. So, we can assume that you would be in the horse’s environment for these sessions. Therefore, the horse knows you are there, and it probably will know your intentions before you do.

Ever heard the saying 'they are more afraid of you than you are of them'? Perhaps as a kid, your parents told you something similar when you were concerned with a spider or other insect of some description. Well, the same can be said for horses.

I say this as I'm aware not everyone likes horses and some may have a phobia of them. But I want to tell you now that your EFL practitioner can work with this. It may mean that you will be introduced to horses slowly over time and build up to this interaction through small interventions, such as seeing a picture of a horse. It’s important you share your concerns with your practitioner so they can work with you to facilitate the best session for you.

How does equine facilitated learning (EFL) work?

EFL works because a horse is an animal, a prey animal. In order to be around horses, you have to be mindful of the nature and natural behaviour of horses (your practitioner will teach you these things). You will work on your thoughts, feelings and emotions with your facilitator in order not to spook the horses. Once you have learned to regulate these for yourself, you will explore this around horses in session.

The horses give immediate feedback. For example, if you go into a paddock and are angry, the horse is not likely to hang around to find out if you're angry at it or not. This immediate feedback teaches you a lot and your facilitator will explore what is happening for you in the moment.

The L in EFL speaks of learning. Imagine this learning is the therapy in counselling, except you are learning about yourself and how you interact with the world around you. Learning in this way is for the purposes of self-development. EFL also does not always have to be therapy-based. So, I would suggest contacting your practitioner whether you are looking for therapy with horses or some sort of team-building exercise and beyond. EFL is very wide in scope, so it can suit many different issues.

In conclusion, what I want you to take from this article is, you’re not alone - even though you may feel like it at times. There is help out there - even though it may not seem like it at times. And, finally, you can beat anxiety. Reach out to your local counsellor and or EFL practitioner today.

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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Leeds LS1 & York YO23
Written by Kai Manchester, BA (Hons) Integrative Counsellor MNCPS (Acc) Supervisor
Leeds LS1 & York YO23

Kai is a fully qualified Integrative Counsellor and Equine Facilitated Practitioner who works with anxiety, generalised anxiety disorder, trauma, ptsd and more.
Kai did his degree in Integrative Counselling at Coventry University and went on to do his specialist training in EFL at Athena Herd in Kent.
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