What’s the Secret to Dealing with Anxiety?

Is there a “secret” to dealing with anxiety?

Many of us come to counselling because we want to learn how to manage our anxiety. For those of us who suffer from bouts of extreme anxiety, we often think there is a secret to life that we just haven’t learnt yet: a secret that will let us get on with our lives without ever feeling anxious again.

This isn’t exactly true. Feelings of anxiety are fueled by the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline and are a completely normal and natural part of the way we respond to the stresses of everyday life. A lot of therapies and therapists look to rid us of anxiety, but they miss the point.  Our stress response is nature’s way of keeping us alive and out of danger! So it’s not that we need to rid ourselves of anxiety, it’s how we’re interpreting it.

It operates like a ‘thermostat’, meaning; we get used to a certain ‘temperature’, based on our family system, and anything else feels foreign. We literally posture ourselves within all our relationships to keep the ‘perfect temperature’. And that includes the things on the positive end too. (How good can you stand it?)

That means we need to develop a new relationship with our anxiety, it’s only then that we will learn to expand beyond it. We are so pain-avoidant, and have no idea how much suffering we create in our avoidance of feeling legitimate pain.

Now there are some basic principles of self-soothing that once you get the hang of will make a great difference between normal, common-or-garden level anxiety and the kind of anxiety that cripples you into hopelessness and inaction.

A Beginner’s Guide to Counselling and Therapy

What should I talk about?

The short answer to this, is of course, is that you can talk about anything you like. Absolutely anything at all. This is the joy of the therapeutic relationship: the counsellor is there to think about you whilst you are there to think about…, well, you. We work together to explore what’s going on for you in the moment. And all that time is dedicated to, guess who? Yup,you.

You won’t get this very often in any other relationship in your adult life, so you may as well make the most of it. Talk about your boss, your neighbor or your partner. You can talk about your fears, stresses, struggles or your family. You can talk about whatever it is – and I mean whatever – that is taking up your attention right now. It might be a specific problem – usually this is why you have come to counselling in the first place – but it might just be something that is sitting at the front of your mind and you don’t really know what to do with it. So how about you let someone else help you to make sense of things.

Now if all that doesn’t sound great enough, here’s the really good bit: you don’t need to worry about what to talk about because it’s not your job to make sure the sessions are therapeutic.  It’s my job, as your therapist, to keep an eye on the therapeutic process and make sure that the content is dealt with in a therapeutic way. So don’t be surprised if you talk about some struggle and I decide to ‘explore things further’ and wonder whether this has anything to do with your family system …which might have something to do with the feelings that are coming up for you…which just might be related to how you experience yourself in the world and in relation to other people. Get the picture?

So once you have realized that you are not in charge of making this counselling thing work, and have no doubt breathed a heavy sigh of relief, you might ask yourself ‘Is there anything that I really ought to talk about?’ This is a definite yes: you ought to talk about things that trouble and concern you, things that you feel hold you back or don’t like about yourself and things that you feel scared of talking to people about. As your counselor, I am the person who won’t judge you, shame you or make you feel inadequate for having these feelings. Chances are, they all make sense given your story.

With all that said it is important to understand that although you are not responsible for maintaining the therapeutic process, it’s really important to recognize that it is not my job to fix everything, find your solutions for you or take responsibility for you feeling better about things. All of that is still yours I’m afraid, lovely as it would be to have someone in our life who was responsible for making everything better.

At some point in the first couple of sessions I may just say ‘I’m not going to give you advice or fix things for you’ and you will probably think ‘so what exactly is it that I’m paying you for?’ And the answer is that I’m here to make sure the conversation is a therapeutic one and not just the kind of chat you might have down at the pub with your friends. So if ever counselling does start to feel like the kind of chat you would have with your friends then feel free to ask me how I think the therapy is progressing.

After all, you can talk about anything you like.