16 Sep 2021

BY: Online Therapy

Anxiety / Anxiety counselling / Anxiety therapy / Online Anxiety Therapy

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Online Therapy: Responding to Anxiety

Article by Anna Keyter and Marvis Bih

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a normal reaction when a person feels threatened, under pressure when faced with challenging circumstances. Someone may feel anxious before, during or after sitting an exam, going for a job interview or facing a hospital procedure (Smith, Robinson & Segal, 2021). The degree of anxiety differs with the level of risk or trauma involved.

Hence, anxiety is an emotional state that can work for us or against us. For instance, the flight response is useful when we are chased by a lion because the spike in adrenalin will help us run faster, be more alert and get us out of a dangerous situation. This response is evolutionary and is important for our survival.

However, the flight response is not useful when we are reminded of previous traumas which could lead to a heightening of feelings of anxiety. Although we all experience anxiety responses, we often differ in how we perceive the triggers and how we respond to them (Mental Health Foundation, 2014).

Response to triggers

Rape Crisis, (England and Whales) categorises feelings of anxiety as fight, flight, flop, freeze or friend response. These responses are triggered when we believe we are in a high-risk situation and react to life-threatening danger. Immediate responses may include increased heart rate and breathing, sweating, tightening our muscles and an adrenaline rush that gives us a burst of energy. Furthermore, cortisol is released to relieve pain at the moment of danger which could block rational thinking. People who live in times of extreme stress and fear sometimes experience feelings such as brain fog or having an inability to concentrate.

The Sexual Assault Crisis Centre lists 5 F’s of Trauma Response:

  • Fight: Feelings of anger and rage. Physical fights, struggle or pushing someone away.
  • Flight: Spacing out, hiding, running or backing away from the danger.
  • Freeze: Panic, numb-out, standing still.
  • Flop: To protect oneself, the mind might automatically shut down. Muscles go numb and a person could fall.
  • Friend: Calling to others for help and/or ‘befriending’ the perpetrator by pleading or negotiating with them.

Everyone has experienced anxiety at some point. Depending on the level of trauma, triggers can persist until effective coping strategies are learned (Mental Health Foundation, 2014).

Clinicians can use the DASS (Depression Anxiety Stress Scale) as a screening tool to measure Anxiety and Acute Stress Disorder. In clinical settings, the DASS-21 incorporates the clients’ self-reported emotional disturbance as part of the broader assessment. In this way, the clinician can assess the severity of symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress (Shea, Tennant & Pallant, 2009).

Signs and symptoms of anxiety

Apart from irrational fear and worry, some primary and common symptoms of anxiety may include, but are not limited to;

  • Irritability
  • Poor concentration
  • Feeling of dread
  • Consistently looking for signs of danger
  • Anticipating the worst outcome

Psychologists note that anxiety could be more than just a feeling (Smith, et al., 2021). It could include a range of physical symptoms such as

  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pounding heart
  • Insomnia
  • Stomach upset
  • Dizziness

There are different types of anxiety disorders such as panic attacks, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD), hoarding disorder, separation anxiety and phobias (Smith, et al., 2021; Mental Health Foundation, 2014).

Online Therapy: Responding to Anxiety

It is important to note that anxiety is not an illness but can be a devastating condition. Anxiety CARE UK (2018) notes that “a person cannot just simply decide not to be anxious anymore”. This is because anxiety affects normal human functioning and people need to develop strategies to cope with it. There are some good self-help strategies that can be useful to lower anxiety and manage symptoms of anxiety. These include:

  • Deep breathing
  • Regular exercise
  • Yoga or meditation
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Watch caffeine, nicotine and alcohol intake
  • Learn to connect with others especially if loneliness triggers or worsening symptoms
  • Practice relaxation techniques (Smith, et al., 2021; Anxiety CARE UK, 2018)

These self-help strategies are less likely to work in the case of an acute disorder. In acute circumstances, it is important to seek professional help such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Exposure Therapy, and in severe cases, medication can be administered (Mental Health Foundation, 2014). Similarly, free-floating (or chronic) anxiety may resolve more quickly with professional help.

Online Therapy: Responding to Anxiety – If you feel you would like tome professional help in working through your anxiety, feel free to contact us:

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    Anxiety CARE UK. (2018). Anxiety. Ciara healthy thoughts. Available at: https://ciarashealthythoughts.wordpress.com. Accessed 30th March 2021.

    Mental Health Foundation. (2014). Living with anxiety. Understanding the role and impact of anxiety in our lives. United Kingdom: Mental Health Foundation.

    Smith, M., Robinson, L. & Segal, J. (2021). Anxiety disorder and anxiety attacks. Available at: https://www.helpguide.org. Access 29 March 2021.



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