Some degree of anxiety and nervousness is normal and affects us all. The reactions of your mind and body are part of its normal functioning. In counselling anxiety, we are concerned with anxiety that is excessive and unreasonable and what is triggering it. An anxiety problem is a more severe form of normal anxiety. For example, the thing you are responding to may be the memory of a past trauma, something that you especially hate such as spiders, or something that you worry might happen in the future, like failing at something, falling ill or even dying. The bodily reactions to anxiety itself may be feared.
The following are some typical anxiety problems, however, they may not always be present as everyone is unique and so not everything that is written below will apply to you:
- Worrying thoughts or unpleasant memories intruding into your mind
- Intense dislike or fear of situations or objects and avoidance of them
- ‘Panic attacks’ coming out of the blue; worrying that one will strike you without warning
- Unpleasant bodily sensations (e.g. sweats, heart pounding. muscle tension)
Cognitive & Behavioural Elements in Counselling Anxiety
Counselling specifically for anxiety problems generally includes Cognitive (how you think about and perceive the world) and Behavioural (actions, tasks, homework etc) elements.
The cognitive element to counselling anxiety assumes that ‘what you think about a situation’ affects the ‘way you feel’ about it. The counsellor will help you to examine what it is that makes your situation frightening and difficult, how you are thinking about it, how you are interpreting situations and how to question the basis of you beliefs. You will not change the way you think and feel simply by being told something by a counsellor, you will need to convince yourself first by challenging your thought patterns. For example:
- Are your beliefs and assumptions about your problem based on good evidence?
- Are the things that you fear likely to happen?
- Are you underestimating your own abilities and the resources that you have to cope?
The behavioural element to counselling focuses on doing something in a different way and discovering the consequences. It is highly likely that you will be asked to keep a diary and to record the times that you are anxious, together with associated thoughts and feelings. The counsellor may suggest homework tasks for you to carry out in between sessions or, where appropriate, you may be asked to undertake simple self-exposure tasks, worked out only with your explicit agreement and co-operation. The aim of behavioural techniques used in dealing with anxiety is to help you develop the appropriate coping skills and confidence to face up to, and ultimately overcome, situations that distress you.