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stress and anxiety

Katalyst Counselling

Generalised anxiety is worry, stress and tension which interferes with daily life. It is much more than the usual anxiety everyone experience in day-to-day life; generalised anxiety means anticipating tragedy and often worrying extremely about family, money and health. Other minor issues such as chores or appointments can also cause chronic anxiety and for some, just getting through the day can be exhausting or even impossible.


If you are suffering from anxiety, some of this information might help put it in context and make the feelings a little less fearful. Anxiety is a natural function but it can bring disturbance to our everyday lives. As human beings the function goes back to our early ancestors when the ‘fight or flight’ response was vital to our survival. If we saw a ferocious beast we would have to ‘fight’ or flee (flight) from it. Our only other option is to freeze which is another response to anxiety or fright which protects you from being seen - if we froze in the undergrowth our movement was less likely to be noticed, and our survival chances increased. Anxiety is the response left over from those days, but now we don’t encounter many beasts in most circumstances so such responses are unneeded or unwelcome. The physical responses to fear, stress or anxiety however are hot wired into our bodies meaning adrenalin is realised in response to an apparent threat, so anxiety has a role even if it is unwelcome now. It alerts us to situations that feel uncomfortable and this can be for our own safety. For example we may feel anxiety walking near a cliff edge so we avoid it.


Although anxiety has its origin deep in our ancestry many psychologists and counsellors believe it to be sparked by internal conflicts some of which may have been established in our childhood - this is believed to exist whatever our upbringing was like. Other conflicts may be as simple as a desire and need to spend time with friends or family but study or work makes too many other demands on your time and energy.


Trouble sleeping is common with anxiety disorder as well as other physical symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, headaches and much more These can lead to problems in concentrating and working effectively, thereby causing further distress.Some common physical and psychological responses to anxiety include:


- palpitations and Increased heart rate / tense muscles / weak legs / dizziness / tingling in the hands and feet / hyperventilation (over breathing) / difficulty in breathing / churning stomach/ feeling sick/ tight band across the chest area/ tension headaches/hot flushes/sweating/ dry mouth with difficulty swallowing /shaking /hyper sensitivity of the body. Common thoughts or beliefs we may experience when feeling anxious include feeling that people are looking at you and can see your anxiety /fearing that you may go mad or lose control/believing you or your loved ones may die /thinking you may have a heart attack or be seriously unwell /feeling as though things are speeding up/slowing down/ an unreal detached feeling/ a desire or urge to to run away from a situation/feeling on edge and hyper sensitive to events and surroundings.


Counselling is useful for getting to the deeper issues which can create emotional turmoil, however this can also give rise to feelings of anxiety and  sometimes briefer forms of therapy such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can offer different ways of looking at  worries and negative thinking that can lead to anxiety states.


Whilst counselling plays an important role, some medications such as antidepressants prescribed by a doctor can work well alongside it (although these are believed by many to mask the underlying anxiety rather than help it). You can also help yourself too..


Some practical or creative activities can help reduce stress and anxiety. Exercise has been proved to raise serotonin levels - this is the 'feelgood' chemical in our blood stream. Regular exercise does help; stick with it if you are able.


Some people use aromatherapy oils in the bath, through massage or on a handkerchief - Lavender in particular can help and also Ylang Ylang and Chamomile (seek specialist advice if pregnant and always dilute oils with carrier oil).


Try to surround yourself for a while with as many relaxing and as few stimulating activities as you can - for example, try to find some relaxing music that you enjoy. If you are a big horror film or action film fan try not to watch them for a while and instead replace them with your favourite music.


Try decaffeinated tea and coffee - don’t forget coca cola and energy drinks may contain caffeine so try switching to caffeine free drinks for a while. Some people take a while to get used to the taste but reducing caffeine does bring down the overall stress anxiety level so that it takes much more to get us to that overload point where anxiety takes over our life.


Lack of sleep can be a contributory factor in an increase in anxiety, some people may find sleep agitated and unsettled while others may find sleep an escape from  feelings. If you can follow what your body asks and try not to fight it, this should speed the process or recovery up so long as you find time for exercise in your day.


These are just a few examples and you may find your own ways for relaxing and reducing stress levels. looks at anxiety and its relation to stress in this way: imagine your stress levels as being like a bucket of water. If we keep adding stressors to the bucket (even tiny ones like the school run or commuting to work), over time it fills up until one day it overflows. This can be a good way of looking at anxiety as it explains why sometimes it can seem to come out of the blue with no significant trigger. However, what has happened is that the trigger was just a very small stressor that tipped us over the edge and allowed our bucket to overflow. What we need is a leaky bucket with lots of holes to let some stress out and reduce your overall stress levels. Each one of these holes could be something positive that you do to manage your anxiety, such as yoga, exercise, reading, listening to music or spending time with friends or family.  The key is finding some balance in work rest and play, try to take some time to pamper yourself, giving your nervous system a rest for a while. This is the best way to give your counselling the space to work well too.

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