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The following articles may be of assistance to you or someone you may know.

Can counselling help people with anxiety?

Anxiety can take many forms: from low key worry to panic attacks, phobias and O.C.D.  It is normal for us to worry, it’s warnings can keep us and others safe, or help us prepare for things in life which need care and attention. However, the balance can shift, and instead of it being a call to action or observation, it can instead become debilitating of itself, or lead to unhelpful coping methods, such as: escapist tendencies like excessive use of drink/drugs or video games;  an unhelpful avoidance of whatever is causing the anxiety;  a poor interaction in the area of life most affected by the stress etc; or by making those important relationships around us suffer the impact or our anxiety.

When you are suffering from anxiety the thought of trying counselling for the first time can seem very daunting.  Counselling can help though, as it gives a person a chance to talk to someone who is not otherwise involved in their lives.  It is private, and a counsellor will not judge; they want to help the client.

So how does working on our anxiety look like in the therapy room?  For myself, differing approaches are required to suit the individual needs and strengths of the client. For some, observing and challenging thought patterns, (regularly used in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) might bring change; or the perspectives gained from self reflection.  For others physical awareness and breathing techniques might help them most;  whereas enhanced personal philosophy or a facilitation of spiritual enquiry/connection may be preferred by others. An incentive to a change of behaviour can be helpful; and I sometimes use visualisation and focusing techniques which can offer insight into the client’s inner workings; mostly I use a combination of methods.

In a session the counsellor will listen very carefully to understand the client’s life, behaviour and ways of relating to others. It is the client who holds their history and experience,  and the counsellor who brings another perspective, expertise and awareness, to support them in their endeavours. Together they facilitate the client in getting a deeper understanding of what is problematic in their lives, unearth the roots of those problems, and help to alleviate symptoms. The counsellor helps the client help themselves; an ability which will continue their whole lives.

The first meeting is an important one, as both parties have a chance to see if they can work together. In my first sessions I assess how the client is feeling at that point in time, get some of their personal history, and an idea of how they want to improve their lives.  Counselling can be a rocky road at times, but, if the client is ready, I am there to  “walk by their side” -as it were- whilst they undergo this process. This can take time and effort, but the benefits to understanding our demons can be invaluable, including an ability to work with, and advantageously use, the stressors in our lives.

So, if a client does decide that they want to go ahead and try counselling, then, in response to my earlier question:  Yes, anxiety can be helped by counselling.

Article first published  March 2023:
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Know thyself

Socrates says that, “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom”; however, this is easier said than sensed.

Recently many of us have had to retreat to our homes and, by extension, retreat into ourselves. Having this time gives us an opportunity to reflect on how, and who, we are

So how are we?  Do we have what we need and want?  Do we understand what makes us feel sad, scared, happy, angry, grounded? 

And who are we?  Isolation, whether self-imposed or externally enforced, takes us to these existential concerns; identity, who we are in relation to others, and that which is more than us?  Is the way we are thinking, communicating and behaving, in accord with who we are?  Many of these questions are normally answered and influenced by the opinions of others; however, whilst being semi-cocooned from our normal social life, we are experiencing a lessening impact from others.  This in turn allows us to look inward for our own answers, a chance to confront our own values and desires, uninfluenced by society at large.  How would we truly like to express what we think and feel?  How would we truly like to work or play?

“Let yourself be drawn by the stronger pull of that which you truly love.” — Rumi

We are urged to conform to society for the greater good of the community, but this can be to our detriment; when we are encouraged to blindly emulate others rather than endorse ourselves.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” 

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Our life experience, aided by self-reflection, fuels the process of self-knowledge.  However, sometimes we need help in getting to know ourselves; perhaps we have not experienced the requisite endorsement in our formative years, from carers or our community, and we need the help and support of a therapist.

One of the greatest gifts that therapy offers is the rare opportunity to be truly yourself in relation to another.  There is a chance to practice this; listening to your own inner voice out loud, feeling the difference, and having it accepted – unconditionally – by the therapist. 

This takes courage, but from this we can learn to connect with ourselves and others in a more authentic way. To ‘know thyself’, and have that self accepted by another, is sustenance for the soul.

“It costs so much to be a full human being that there are very few who have the love and courage to pay the price.  One has to abandon altogether the search for security and reach out to the risk of living with both arms.  One has to embrace the world like a lover.”

— Morris West

Isolation can be a harsh lesson, whether visited upon us or not, but it can also bring rewards; a chance to be with ourselves in a different way, and for selfhood.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

Rumi – June 2020

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Mother Earth & the mother of all anxiety

You & climate change anxiety 

A question you can ask yourself is: am I feeling anxious within myself, and the changing climate can be a suitable outlet for this feeling, or am I anxious because this is something which justifiably causes me to worry?

Worrying about something which is a valid concern is not a weakness, it is a healthy response. It is also a potentially useful one, it can create the motivation needed to take action in either challenging or remedying the situation.

Anxiety does not like to exist in a freeform state, so like steam which has a preferred state of water (therefore condenses on something cool and solid), likewise anxiety prefers to attach itself to something more tangible.  For us this can manifest as something which has already been identified as a cause for anxiety, for instance: a parent scared of spiders, noise, crowds etc. Alternately it may be something which has alarmed us via the news streams, such as the recent pandemic, or currently the changing climate.

David Attenborough, when talking to the security council of the United Nations in 2023, stated that the climate change was ‘the biggest threat to security that modern humans have ever faced’ he continued ‘If we continue on our current path, we will face the collapse of everything that gives us our security,…food production, access to fresh water, habitable ambient temperature and ocean food chains’.

If the anxiety is within yourself then it could be time to start addressing this feeling, either by yourself or with the help of someone who can empathise with those feelings.  However, if it is an understandable reaction to climate and environmental degradation, how can you manage your response?

Disconnect

Even when there is overwhelming amounts of scientific evidence, and personal observation of the changes in the climate, people still go blithely about their business. In the face of such disregard this can intensify the worry; you may wonder why little seems urgency in addressing the problem, and what are these apparent poles of response: panic or freeze? People can understandably feel torn by those inner and outer conflicts

Regarding the freeze response, depth psychology recognises that when something is too frightening or overwhelming to accept, then humans will just stop processing it.

Another way is to rationalise the problem, for instance: use an over-reliance on “progress” to solve the problem. A further alternative is to consider oneself entitled to continue living as always, using examples of others -who damage more- with which to compare oneself favourably

The split we have is the separation of the mind and emotions, or in the outer world: that there is science, and there is an emotional response to climate change and environmental degradation, and they should stay separate. This is not true.

People can understand the facts of the situation and have feelings about it. Much like how some people can be brought up with the rational versus the emotional, we are being offered another split by governments, the media and invested others, in regard to the earth.

“Climate change and environmental destruction threatens us with powerful feelings – loss, guilt, anxiety, shame and despair – that are difficult to bear and mobilise defences such as denial and distortion which can undermine our capacity to get to grips with the issue.”(Hoggett, 2019, p. 8)

Interconnectedness

Rather than feeling a part of a living world of land, air, plants, rocks, animals and water, modern humans have turned them into resources, there for our use and consumption. Gradually, human relations to the natural world have been monetised; that is, treated in terms of their financial value.

As humans, separating ourselves from nature is counter intuitive. Eco-psychology rejects our separation and exaltation, and the value of nature being its usefulness to humans. Instead, we are enmeshed with, and dependent upon, our natural world.  The wellbeing of people and the ecological health of the planet are dependent on this intimate human-nature relationship. In other words, the more disconnected we become from nature, the more our psychological health suffers and the negative cycle of planetary damage continues. Eco-psychology seeks to reconnect and help the healing of the earth.

People can feel isolated with their feeling when surrounded by those in denial. We need to bridge the divide to deal with these anxieties, perhaps we may feel better with the support of local organisations, such as:  climate action groups, nature conservation groups and climate cafes.  If these support structures are not enough, the help of a therapist experienced in climate anxiety is advised

You don’t feel like you can make any difference

In the face of the forces of governments, large wealthy corporations (especially the fossil fuel companies), and apathetic media,  you can feel helpless. The culprits depleting our natural resources use misdirection, confusion and financial incentives to continue on their path.  It should be noted that younger people can feel that they have less power to stop any further harm than their elders, and that apparent powerlessness may create a greater impact on them. You may feel that you cannot connect to your own power; however you do have power, you can make a difference. You can change your own behaviour, you can influence the behaviour of others, and you can do this alone or with the support of your community. Release the energy trapped in anxiety and use it to create positive change in the world.  If you struggle to harness your energy, or feel your inner power, then perhaps now is the time to seek the help of a therapist experienced in the subject of climate change anxiety.

How you can help the situation

Educate yourself about the changes in climate and biodiversity; then educate others.

Use your voice: vote for those nurturing the environment; protest against those damaging it. 

Use your money to talk for you: invest with those who have a sustainable approach to the environment.

Increase your care of nature: the air, waterways and earth.

Reduce, re-use and recycle.

It is important to understand that -presently- it can be difficult to make changes due to the established infrastructure of the country. For example, how can you reduce your gas consumption when the property you are renting has existing gas central heating?  It is hard not to feel guilty, helpless or hypocritical, given our somewhat limited choices.

But remember that even a small positive change will be a move in the right direction.

Change can, and is, being made right now, by concerned groups and individuals.

By looking after the planet you are also looking after yourself – and visa versa

It’s an irony in these times of depleted and depleting nature, that one of the remedies for poor mental health is a “Green prescription”; in other words, getting out into nature. So what happens when one’s mental health is characterised by climate change anxiety, and the weather is acting “strangely”; it is a distressing paradox. Self care is an important part of life, and one which therapists are keen to encourage in their clients. By looking after the earth you look after yourself and those for whom you care.

We are of the earth and it’s power, we reflect that world, and feel both it’s pain and joy. 

Reference:
Hoggett, P. (2019) ‘Introduction’, in P. Hoggett (ed.) Climate Psychology: On Indifference to Disaster. Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 1–19.

Article first published  March 2023
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