Anxiety – how to understand your anxiety and learn to be calmer and happier

Your anxiety may have been around for a long time, and feel like a permanent part of who you are – but changing it for the better really is possible.

Everyone’s experiences of anxiety are different. Yours may be focused on relationships – social anxiety. Or come out in various ways in your day-to-day life, sometimes being medically diagnosed as General Anxiety Disorder (GAD). It could present as a phobia, obsessive patterns of thinking or behaving, or take another other form. Maybe it comes in several forms.

Identifying the character of your own anxiety as an individual can be a vital first step towards becoming a calmer and happier version of yourself.

Why am I so anxious?

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Anxiety is a simple label for a very complicated thing. It can have multiple causes – and contexts. It may stem from older experiences, such as a traumatic family background. It may be linked to other relationships in childhood, or to school.

Sometimes feeling like you don’t ‘fit in’ can play a part. If, for instance, you’re unsure what’s expected of you, or how other people see you, it stands to reason you may feel on edge.

This is often the case if you have a marginalised identity, for instance if you are queer, autistic, ADHD, neurodivergent, or have a different cultural background to the majority. This in itself can lead to complex trauma (also known as cPTSD, or Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Complex trauma, which can also stem from abuse and neglect, including in childhood, often has an anxiety component. This is commonly triggered in relationships and group situations, such as workplaces, or group socials.

Anxiety can be triggered by simply thinking about events, both past and future.

As well as being emotional and psychological, all anxiety has a physiological element. It often helps to think about this, so you can learn the links between what’s going on in your body and how you are feeling. This can cue you in to using tools which can give you more control over how you’re feeling.

Understanding the ‘recipe’ for your own anxiety can start giving you the information you need to tackle it.

Problematic coping mechanisms

It is completely natural to relieve anxious feelings in whatever way you can. Common coping mechanisms include over-use of alcohol and other drugs, food, exercise and social media. These make you feel better in some ways – often in the short-term – but overall contribute to anxious feelings. Change can be about chipping away at less healthy coping mechanisms, whilst starting to make other, deeper changes.

I feel like I’ve tried everything!

Positive thinking, mindfulness and meditation, changing your diet, exercising and breathing exercises are all common approaches to tackling anxiety. They are also commonly found to be unhelpful! If you’ve tried them and they haven’t worked for you, this could be for a number of reasons. They may simply be wrong for you – different things work for different people.

However, it may also be that you need more support to work out how to implement these approaches in ways which suit you. Whilst there is – unfortunately – no magic bullet – these things work for a reason. And small, consistent changes can really add up.

How can I change?

Becoming less anxious can sometimes be about trying to change aspects of yourself, such as your attitudes or habits. You may need to work through older emotions, including those stemming from traumatic experiences, which are triggering anxious feelings in the here and now.

However, what’s outside us can be equally important. It can be easy to blame ourselves for feeling bad and think we need to change, when the reality is that we are being impacted by outside events, and have reached the limit of our ability to tolerate stress.

Anxiety and the lives we lead

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Anxiety exists at the intersection between who we are and what’s going on around us.

We don’t exist in a vacuum.

Our lives encompass multiple factors which can either trigger anxiety or soothe us. These include other people, what we eat and drink, the media we consume, where and how we work, and much more.

It can help to identify whether any of these are contributing to your anxiety, and how to tackle this.

Often a combination of healing our histories, shifting our own habits and attitudes, and making real changes out in the world, can often be needed.

Your strengths

One of the reasons you feel anxious may be a lack of confidence in your strengths and abilities. Identifying your strengths, and how to make use of these, can also be key. Whilst it can take time to believe in our abilities, particularly if we have low self-esteem, it can be essential to increase our confidence.

Should I try CBT?

CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – can be helpful for some people. It is sometimes provided by the NHS including through CAMHS, or through workplace benefits. This form of therapy can work well, particularly if you are looking for a structured and directive approach and where short-term therapy is indicatedYour anxiety may have been around for a long time, and simply feel like a permanent – and very unwelcome – part of who you are. . But if you have tried CBT and found it has not brought you the results you were hoping for, it might be time to try a different approach.

What if CBT hasn’t helped me?

CBT isn’t right for everyone. It isn’t designed to look at the bigger picture, and is often offered on a short-term basis – six weeks or less – which may not be enough for you. A different type of therapy may help you where CBT hasn’t.

For further information about how I can help you, please contact me.