Anxiety & Depression

Anxiety is a common feeling and is a normal response to stressful situations or important events. It is helpful in increasing alertness and concentration prior to a performance or exam. It becomes a problem when its intensity is disproportionate to the nature of the event, or when it interferes with everyday functioning. People suffering from Social Anxiety or Generalised Anxiety Disorders can become isolated and depressed.

Depression and anxiety are closely linked. People with persistent anxiety may become depressed about the way it impacts on their life. People with depression may become anxious about others noticing their low mood and become socially avoidant, contributing to loneliness.

People experiencing anxiety usually focus on the future, worrying about an event, performance, how people will see them, or their inner state. People with depression dwell more on the past, thinking about their failures, and how they have been mistreated or abandoned. The expectation that this will be repeated contributes to low mood. Perfectionists will often do both — always measuring their behaviour and others’ response to them for success or failure.

People with anxiety tend to overestimate the threat in the environment, for example, ‘Everyone will be looking at me’, or ‘I need everyone to like me’, and underestimate their capacity to cope. People with depression also underestimate their capacity to cope, tending to flood themselves with negative thinking rather than focussing on successes or achievements. Both conditions benefit from a realistic assessment of the situation, and trying to stay present focussed.

Anxiety is a helpful emotion — it highlights what is important to you. Depression is a normal response to loss of any kind.

Counselling sessions can teach you to:

  • Breathe deeply and relax into the present moment.
  • Become aware of your inner dialogue and unhelpful thinking style (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy).
  • Understand the trigger events, and historical precursors.
  • Develop coping strategies.
  • Focus on the activities and social interactions that build confidence and resilience.
  • Pay attention to what you need/want rather than to fear of failure, shame, or rejection.
  • Grieve for losses, or let go of unrealistic expectations of yourself and others.

Panic attacks

A panic attack is a very frightening experience when it first occurs. The physiological sensations are so strong that people often present for medical treatment thinking that they are having a heart attack. Feelings of panic such as rapid heartbeat, trouble breathing, feeling hot and nauseous, are a normal reaction to a life-threatening situation. Sometimes this survival response will be triggered by a fleeting thought. Panic attacks can strike when people are not even aware of feeling anxious, but there is always a background of underlying anxiety. Perfectionists are vulnerable to having panic attacks.

Panic attacks can be well managed by breathing and thought control, which means that they are usually only a problem for a short period of time, or intermittently when a repeat of the first event is triggered. The strategies for managing anxiety are useful for the treatment of panic attacks.

Management Strategies:

  • Breathe.
  • Notice if you are catastrophizing? That is, imagining the worst, projecting way into the future, and expecting disaster. If so, STOP — it doesn’t help solve the problem.
  • Focus on the present moment, your surroundings, and other people. Calm your thoughts and focus on immediate needs.
  • Learn to problem solve rather than to needlessly worry.
  • Talk sense to yourself. What advice would you give someone else facing this situation?
  • Distraction works well to ease feelings of anxiety. Exercise is best for treating depression.
  • Practice deep breathing and relaxation when you are not feeling anxious so it is easier to put into practice when you are. Practice yoga or tai chi.
  • Focus on the positives in your life, loving friends, family, successes.
  • Don’t let negative thinking or the ‘inner critic’ take control.
  • Above all, share your feelings with someone. Ask for help and support.