Anxiety generally refers to both a state of mind (unease, apprehension, worry, fear) and bodily states (such as breathlessness, tension, nausea, dizziness). Anxiety can be free-floating and constant (generalised) or acute and temporary (panic).
Anxiety is something we seek to avoid at all costs. Outside of our awareness, we develop symptoms that serve to protect us from anxiety. A phobia, for example, transforms anxiety into fear by attaching anxiety to a very specific object: spiders, snowman, buttons, open spaces – almost any object or situation can be used to form a phobia. Anxiety appears first and a phobia is formed as protection. A phobia can enable us to get on with our life so long as it is organised so we do not come into contact with the phobic object.
This is why a quick removal of a phobia is rarely successful or desirable, it leaves you without the protection your phobia provides from anxiety. You are then likely to develop another phobia or symptom to compensate.
Obsessions and compulsions – also referred to as OCD – offer another protection from anxiety. Obsessions involve particular patterns of thought that can be absurd or unreasonable in nature, and which recur, often relentlessly. Compulsions require us to perform actions – sometimes against our will – that may be repetitive, ritualistic and trivial (having to check several times a door is locked, for instance). OCD may also be accompanied by a strong sense of guilt or perpetual hesitation that can lead to a state of limbo, confusion, meaninglessness or lack of direction in life. As with phobias, OCD serve as a protection from anxiety: anxiety appears first and OCD forms in response.
If OCD refers to troubling patterns of thought, then what are often referred to as psychosomatic illnesses are bodily sensations, pains or complaints for which a GP can find no organic cause. Some pains or illnesses may relate to a web of beliefs centred around food, weight, body shape, self-esteem, pleasure and sexuality – the most frequently mentioned being anorexia and bulimia.
Self-harm can involved injury to the physical self that may begin as a coping strategy to relieve the build up of anxiety or of feelings and beliefs that may otherwise be overwhelming. The frequency and severity of self harm may increase and give rise to other medical conditions. Therapy can reduce reliance on self-harm as a coping strategy.
Depression describes a range of experiences that can vary in duration, frequency and intensity – feelings of worthlessness, loss of confidence, loss of sex drive, loss of concentration and purpose, and thoughts about death. As this brief description may suggest depression often forms in response to a significant loss of an identification – with a person and a relationship, with a belief or an ideal, or with something that may not be so apparent or tangible.
For some, depression can alternate with feelings of elation or mania that may also involve delusions. Delusions can range from a single idea to beliefs which come together to form a pattern as in paranoia.
In therapy, there is no such thing as a ‘normal’ sexual orientation or gender identity. Your orientation and identity may not remain the same throughout your life. This can be both exciting and also a source of unsettling questions.
Therapy enables you to change your relationship to your symptom. Instead of emphasis placed on symptom removal, therapy invites you to address the underlying cause your symptom shields you from. Once therapy is working, the symptom then usually fades in importance. You, in turn, can experience a deeper level of self-acceptance, greater freedom to make decisions, and an increased ability to live life more fully in the present.
At Therapy in Manchester, we provide a professional, supportive and confidential environment to enable you to work things through.