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What is Anxiety?

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is an emotion that everybody has and we will all feel it at some point in our life.

All emotions help us to adapt, react and cope with life experiences, and anxiety is our emotion that helps us deal with threats and challenges that we face in our day to day lives.

Anxiety has positive benefits for us as it can help motivate us, keep us alert and deal with difficult situations

If you were to perceive something in your life as potentially threatening you would begin to experience anxiety to help you deal with that perceived threat by being more alert and focused on it and be physically ready to respond.

Normally experienced anxiety is an unpleasant feeling for everyone but in most cases it will be short lived and you will find yourself returning to a normal state quite quickly afterwards.

For example a job interview may give you cause to feel nervous for a few days beforehand, this nervousness may increase just before the interview, but as the interview proceeds you may find yourself starting to calm down a little and by the time you have got home and asked how the interview went, your nerves have probably gone.

If you fear something and feel it poses a particularly high threat to you you may experience intense anxiety, and perhaps even panic attacks, when confronted with that situation ie a fear of flying, but you will be fine the rest of the time, meaning you are probably aware of what is causing you anxiety.

What we feel threatened by differs from person to person and this is why some people feel anxiety even if the degree of danger is low. It is not the danger but the threat it presents to us personally that causes the anxiety.

Think of anxiety like your pain response, if we didn’t experience pain we wouldn't know that something was wrong with us physically.

Anxiety works in the same way, we rely on our anxiety to alert us of something that is dangerous to us and prevent us from being in a threatening situation.

The more things you feel are threatening to you the more often you will have an anxiety response.

man falling
Anxiety can get out of control

When does anxiety become a problem?

Some of you may be living with anxiety symptoms almost consistently and it can seem a mystery as to why you have anxiety, especially if it seems to come out of the blue.

This could mean you have lost your ability to manage your anxiety and so it starts to become a regular unpleasant feeling, it can be with you from the moment you wake in the morning to the moment you go to sleep.

Why does this happen?

There are a number of factors that contribute to you feeling like you are unable to control your anxiety.

1. Focusing on your anxiety symptoms-you focus on them so much that you start to draw attention to these feelings and then experience more anxiety and the symptoms get worse.

2. Rules and beliefs-you start to develop your own rules and beliefs that you think help you cope, but instead they act to maintain your anxiety

ie I have to worry about this

This is my fault so I must make sure I don’t do it again

If I avoid this then everything will be ok,

3.Stress- if you do not cope with that stress you will have more things to feel stressed about, this will make your feelings of anxiety more difficult to switch off.

4. Thought Patterns -You start to think only about the bad things and find it difficult to focus on anything that is not negative. this is called developing a negative bias

dr and patient who may be experiencing anxiety
Anxiety has many physical symptoms

Why are there so many Physical Symptoms with Anxiety?

Because your thoughts of being in a threatening situation lead to your Fight, Flight or Freeze response being triggered you will experience very real physical symptoms that are triggered by your body getting ready to fight or flight through the release of adrenaline

Because of this Anxiety can be one of the most distressing moods we experience and can even lead to people ending up in A&E, because it feels like there is something physically wrong with you.

Here are some of the physical symptoms you might experience

Shortness of breath

Or quicker and shallower breathing

Heart racing

Tight chest

Butterflies in the tummy

Dry mouth

Tunnel vision or blurred vision


Hands get cold

Muscle tension


Wanting to wee more

Dizzy or lightheaded

Many people will experience these physical symptoms as their first indication that they have anxiety

If you have persistent physical symptoms you should get checked over by a Dr to rule out any medical conditions.

Why can't I control my anxiety?

Because Anxiety is controlled by your emotional brain you will find that your rational brain has difficulty being heard, your brain only wants you to focus on the threat so that it can prepare you for the fight or flight response.

If your anxiety is persistent

  • You tend to focus on the things that are threatening and scary

  • You will probably only be able to think about the bad things that are going to happen

  • You will search for the reasons why the situation is bad

  • You will probably think things are worse than they are

  • You will start to always focus on the bad and expect bad things to happen

These thoughts could happen unconsciously, but that persistent feeling of anxiety probably means this is what is happening

Avoidance often becomes a way to cope with anxiety, if you can avoid what is making you feel physically and emotionally distressed than it will give you short term relief from your anxiety

The only problem with this is you are never able to develop ways to cope with your anxiety.

The longer you avoid what you feel threatened by the longer you will feel threatened by it.

man on edge of a cliff
That feeling of anxiety

What caused me to have anxiety?

Your anxiety may have always been with you or it may have been triggered by a life experience, there is much debate about whether anxiety is due to nature or nurture and it is likely that both have a part to play.

  • Your childhood experiences can contribute to how threatened you feel by certain situations-either being wrapped in cotton wool so everything is dangerous, or alternatively being exposed to threatening experiences or situations and so developing heightened anxiety

  • Difficult life experiences may lead you to feel more vulnerable and therefore at higher risk of threat. Think about when an animal gets injured it is more vulnerable to predators, this is a similar reaction you have when emotionally vulnerable

  • Long term stress can lead to feeling under threat and so lead to anxiety

  • Life changes such as




Work changes

Can all lead to feelings of anxiety that persist long after the event as you move to having a more negative outlook on life.

What can I do about my Anxiety?

Being able to better understand your anxiety will help you to be able to manage it better

Counselling can help you to uncover why anxiety may have got out of control for you,

what your personal triggers are and how certain strategies can help you manage your anxiety.

If difficult life experiences have led to your consistent feelings of anxiety then the opportunity to share your story and understand how it has affected you can help.

Educating yourself on your fear response will help you to understand how you can make changes that can contribute to calming down your anxiety response.

As a therapist who specialises in working with anxiety I offer a number of different ways to help you with your anxiety

You can access all of these services through the above links or get in touch and ask any questions that you have,

Laura Knight is a qualified and experienced Counsellor and a registered member of BACP (The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy)

She is an approved Anxiety UK Therapist and has her own private practice SeeClear Counselling, in Poole Dorset.

She can offer face to face, telephone and video counselling sessions

Laura also spent some time working with Dorset Mind delivering education to local employers on how to identify and manage stress at work reducing the impact that work stress can have on peoples every day lives.

Laura found that many of her clients would present with Anxiety and because of this enhanced her training to include CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) as there is evidence to suggest that CBT is effective in the treatment of anxiety and depression.

Laura now focuses on working with adults who struggle with Anxiety within her private practice, working with them to reduce the scary physical and emotional symptoms they experience and help them change their negative thinking patterns so they can lead a calmer life.

For more information about Laura please visit her website

Or visit her Facebook page

e-mail Tel 07975733029

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