Understanding Anxiety and exploring how to work with it

Anxiety is a natural and helpful response to life challenges but it can become an unhelpful process if not understood.

Rebecca was starting a new job and feeling extremely anxious. She had left her last job perpetually worried she was not good enough and terrified of being sacked. Hyper focussed on getting it right, not making mistakes and being efficient she would come home exhausted. To feel better she would comfort eat and zone out to stuff on her phone. She slept badly and would wake up exhausted with a head full of dreadful anticipation.

Rebecca is a made up person informed by many conversations with people over the years. Her anxiety has got out of control.  A natural emotion that serves to help us navigate difficult things has become the problem.  This page will share some thoughts to help you think about your anxiety.  We will explore your relationship with anxiety and deepen your understanding of how to work with it to lead the life that matters to you.

What is anxiety?

Mind, a leading mental health charity, defines anxiety as: 

“Anxiety is what we feel when we are worried, tense or afraid – particularly about things that are about to happen, or which we think could happen in the future.”

With basic trust, resilience, healthy self esteem and support generally we learn that no matter what happens we can face into it and it will be ok.  

However, most, if not all of us, find it hard to face reality when:

  • we face uncertainty
  • we feel we have no control over what happens
  • the consequences are unwanted or unthinkable
  • our self worth is invested in outcomes
  • we fear judgement or rejection
  • we hold unrealistic expectation of ourselves or others

The experience of anxiety itself is not the problem. Making room for the feelings, acknowledging challenges, and remembering that our minds are trying to protect us from the discomfort of feeling our feelings are all skills that help us stay constructive.


We are so resourceful and we have many ways of trying to manage overwhelming or painful feelings. However, taking out the fuse of the warning lights on a car’s dashboard stops the alarm signal but doesn’t resolve the problem.

Self esteem, fear of judgement and rejection

When our worth is bound up in our success or meeting expectations we are more likely to feel a great deal of anxiety.


The absence of encouraging, accepting and safe early relationships can lead to shame and an unconscious basic assumption that we will be rejected and judged.  

Past trauma

Childhood experiences can be a major factor in our predisposition to anxiety.  If you have suffered abuse, neglect, loss or trauma you have had to manage overwhelming emotions. Instinctively we manage unmanageable experience by rendering it unconscious, dissociating or/and adapting.  The original threats are no longer visible but the sense of danger persists.



Current events can be memory triggers for what was unbearable as a child when you did not have the capacity, or loving and responsive parents, to help you repair and restore a basic trust in yourself.


When you face the reality of your history and know you can feel the pain without it overwhelming you, you are free to accept what life throws at you trusting more that, no matter how painful, you are ok and that it will be ok.

We are in a time of change and uncertainty

We face change and uncertainty in these current times where what we may have taken for granted is no longer reliable such as our eco-systems, economy, peace and traditional structures within our society.  Our news tends to present the “crisis” story without any balance in terms of the resources we have to resolve our difficulties.  Also, I feel, that we struggle to work collectively through issues of diversity and appreciate the potential of emerging narratives around gender, sexuality and relationship.

The heroic individual

“Is life a problem to be solved or a mystery to be lived?”


Realising you are not alone and that your experience, on one level is entirely unique, is also your experience of what we are all subject to.  Opening to the view that you are a part of humanity may help to be kind to the issues you struggle with.  


All too often we imagine ourselves entirely different from those around us as if no one else feels the anxiety and has life sussed.  However, we are all “perfectly imperfect” and we all have a shadow.  Remembering this may kindle compassion and kindness.

How does counselling help?

Counselling can help you tell your story.  It can help to explore what kind of expectations you hold of yourself and the world.  Counselling can help you look at yourself with kindness and non-judgement and have a space to feel your feelings.  The more you open to what is really happening, and trust that you will not be overwhelmed the more you can focus on doing what you can to live a life that matters to you.

Useful books, articles and videos

Mind –  lots of information from the mental health charity about anxiety

How to use anxiety to your advantage.

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