A very common reason for getting in touch with Birmingham Counselling Services is feeling overwhelmed by worry and anxiety. Sadly we sometimes feel as if we have reached breaking point. We are worrying about our children, our jobs, our relationships, our weight, what people think of us, all the things we have left undone. We might feel as if we are spinning out of control, or as if we are on a high wire without a balance pole or a net. Perhaps we are frustrated and angry with ourselves because we don’t believe we are achieving our potential. We feel lost in a sea of worry, we can’t sleep, we lose or gain weight, we start taking out our anger and frustration on others.
Fortunately, seeking the support of a counsellor in addressing issues like these is no longer as socially unacceptable as it was. NICE (The National Institute for Clinical Excellence) is recommending that GPs make counselling available to their patients who are suffering from conditions such as depression and anxiety. The demand for this service far exceeds the supply so it has come to be seen as a genuine treatment.
Of course, what counselling cannot do is change you as if by magic, by an injection of some external cure. You will need to be prepared to be more actively involved in the process than you might be with other approaches. Counselling is certainly not as passive as swallowing a pill and waiting for it to take effect. Just as in physiotherapy treatment you need to practice the exercises you have learnt, with counselling therapy you will make better progress if you actively engage your mind and your emotions and come to your appointments prepared to be open and honest with your counsellor and to reflect on each session before the next. If your counsellor gives you homework, do it and be prepared to report on it at your next meeting.
It is not possible to tell you what will happen in your sessions – the relationship you develop with your counsellor will be very important in determining this. However, you might expect to talk about your anxiety and worries, to examine them, to distinguish between the genuine and the self-generated: “That went wrong two years ago so it’s bound to go wrong again next year”. With your counsellor’s support you can start to identify what you bring to each new situation, just how much you project from the past onto the future. You can learn from your past – you don’t have to live in it.
Reaching this state of increased awareness might be all you choose to take from your sessions – it might be all you need to support yourself in managing your anxiety in future. Or you could decide to take things further, and work with your counsellor to understand why certain situations heighten your worrying, what lies behind your panic response. You need to be aware that this approach could lead to long-term work, and it will be worth doing. In this case you are likely to be examining your past in some depth, which might be distressing in the short term but should lead to even greater understanding of the person you have become. Again, increased awareness will help you to manage potentially overwhelming situations with greater understanding and less distress.
On a more practical level, with your counsellor you might learn to counter negative fears with positive facts – most planes do not crash, you have passed every examination you have taken except one, motorway journeys usually end safely, the sky does not fall if you make a mistake, you are a normal fallible human being. You can also experiment with alternative activities (coping mechanisms) to counter your worries: meditation, exercise, reading for relaxation, a relaxation class, a scented candle and a warm bath. It is not wrong to forget your worries for an hour, it is healthy.
Learning to relax, discovering how to switch off, is important. We all need some adrenaline to live actively, to meet challenges, to have fun, but too much is as difficult to deal with as too little. Every now and then give your body a chance to recover from being on high alert, even if it’s simply by giving yourself a half-hour break at lunchtime and going for a walk. You’ll be better able to cope and more effective in the afternoon if you do, wherever you are, in an external workplace or at home. You can talk through these issues with your counsellor, you can even practise saying no. You can begin to have some control over your life.
The difference between medication and therapy is that medication addresses symptoms, while counselling therapy can go much further and identify causes. It’s extraordinary how naming something can rob it of much of its power. With your counsellor you can be safe to ask yourself the question: “What’s the worst that can happen?” and to answer it. And to learn that you can survive it, whatever it is, that you have already survived it.
If after reading this article you feel that seeing a counsellor might be what you need to do, you can get in touch with Birmingham Counselling Services via our website: www.BirminghamCounsellingServices.co.uk or by phoning 0121 314 9903. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness – it takes courage, and is the first step on the way to dealing with the problem.