Anxiety is just a signal. It is a signal that something is wrong. Often we learn to avoid or ignore that signal, and thus we never learn what anxiety has to teach us. Your body is intelligent. It creates all sorts of signals to let you know that something is needed. You feel your hunger or thirst for example, and this lets you know you need to replenish. Anxiety is no different, it is a signal that needs to be paid attention to. But the funny thing with anxiety is that we are often taught to ignore it and to pay it no heed. This is both a societal teaching as well as a familial one.
We regularly encounter clients in need of anxiety counselling at our Malvern and Prahran clinics, and they tend to follow a familiar pattern.
Often a client will enter my room, and their foot will be tapping, or they may be looking away, or talking really quickly, or looking at me with eyes resembling a deer in headlights. I will ask them if they notice that they are feeling anxious, and they usually respond with a simple “no” or divert the conversation. My response to that is to point out the signs of anxiety I observe, and then say “what kind of therapist would I be, if I ignored your anxiety?” I will go onto explain how normal it is for people to learn to ignore their anxiety when young, as often when we are anxious our parents or caregivers can become anxious and in reaction to their anxiety they demonstrate an array of emotions from fear to anger to dismissing or ignoring and thus at a young age people become adept at hiding anxiety in order to not get this negative response from their parents/caregivers.
People often get confused between anxiety and fear. Fear is the response to an external threat, but anxiety is a response to an internal threat. Once we understand this, we understand that anxiety is often caused by emotions that are triggered inside us. These triggers are often unconscious and may not always be based on the current situation, but rather are echoes from the past that the current situation resembles, or indeed is due to the current situation itself.
What we often see is that internal emotions lead to anxiety and to get rid of this anxiety our clients (and all of us really) use defences/coping mechanisms. However, often these defence mechanisms whilst useful in the beginning become problematic over the long term and cause symptoms, which lead to other symptoms, which then lead to a collection of symptoms which are then diagnosed as a mental “disorder.” All of this is in service of getting rid of the anxiety certain painful and complex emotions cause inside us.
So here at PsychologyCare, we do not teach you to avoid your anxiety, rather we want you to pay attention to your anxiety, as it is wise, it brings with it information, and needs mastering. To do that, we teach you about anxiety, how it shows itself so you can notice, and ultimately we work to build your capacity to tolerate the internal emotions that you are experiencing that cause you to be so anxious. If we achieve this, you will have mastered your anxiety and your symptoms and ultimately your suffering will recede.