Anxiety is part of what makes us human. We’ve evolved to worry about threats from predators, or running out of food, or even about being excluded by social groups. All these things would have had serious consequences in primitive times, so we are evolved from those who felt these threats strongly, reacted to them, and survived to pass on their genes. These days, feelings of threat tend to be more abstract – whether we are ‘good enough’, worrying that we are letting down our loved ones, or whether we are up to the role at work. Our minds, having evolved to deal with different kinds of threat, aren’t always adapted to deal well with these problems. Our attempts to get rid of these feelings can often trap us with the negative thoughts even more strongly.
Anxiety can lead to a variety of problems, from avoidance to sleeplessness to alcohol abuse, as we struggle to deal with its effects. However, perhaps the most common anxiety problem seen by therapists is overthinking. We might try to anticipate everything that could go wrong, perhaps as a way of feeling prepared. Or we might try to reassure ourselves that everything will work out (unfortunately, the mind will usually have one more, ‘But what if…?’) There can be different reasons for this – we might be over-perfectionistic, have negative beliefs about our capacity to cope, or we might need to develop skills to better tolerate anxious feelings.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) offer highly effective strategies to understand and better manage anxiety. Some forms of anxiety require specific approaches – eg Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – but most forms of anxiety can be tackled with conventional therapies.