• Shaun McMahon

How Anxiety Affects You

Updated: Aug 4

Anxiety is a very common problem that most people experience in their life at some level. It is also one of the main reasons why people seek therapy in Melbourne. Anxiety can be crippling, and make every day tasks like visiting the grocery store or speaking on the phone difficult. It can hamper people’s relationships or career by limiting their comfort with new experiences, and making it difficult to engage with others. The good news is that anxiety disorders are one of the most treatable problems in therapy.


What Anxiety Looks Like


If you suffer from anxiety, you likely experience the common factors among all types of anxiety disorder.


1. You Have A Sensitivity to Certain Triggers

People who experience anxiety typically notice it being triggered by something. This then corresponds with a rush of fear, coupled with a physiological response, which is the brain and body signaling that there is a threat or danger. Think of a trigger as the thing that sets off the alarm, letting you know that there’s something to be worried about or afraid of.


2. You Tend To Focus More On The Future

Anxious people are constantly asking “what if” questions about the future. These are typically negative thoughts that most people don’t realize they are having until they begin therapy and learn to observe their own minds. The trouble with this future-oriented thinking is that it means less time spent focusing on the present moment, which can actually help in reducing anxiety.


3. You Catastrophize

The future based thinking just described often leads to thinking about worst case scenarios. People with anxiety will find that their thoughts spiral into focusing on the risks, rather than the rewards, and all of the terrible things that could go wrong. The type of anxiety disorder you have will influence the particular focus of these thoughts, whether it means suddenly being stricken with a terminal illness, or being humiliated in public.


While these features are common for most people, those with anxiety will come to therapy having all three and notice it significantly impacts their day to day life. A therapist will then be able to help you understand what anxiety disorder you have to better treat your anxiety.


When Anxiety Becomes a Problem


Anxiety is a part of everyday life, and for most people, it exists in the background of their everyday life. The key difference for people with anxiety disorders is that they tend to fear fear itself. Put another way, they are anxious about being anxious, frightened of the sensations that accompany fear and fearful situations.


Psychologists Martin Seif and Sally Winston suggest that the defining characteristic of anxiety disorders is anxiety sensitivity. They note that “people with anxiety sensitivity are afraid of anxiety itself”.


They go on to say that “people with anxiety disorders experience distress, and they try to avoid it because it seems dangerous”. This is a crucial point when understanding anxiety and anxiety disorders. People with anxiety disorders are unable to tolerate fearful distress. What’s more, they have trouble distinguishing between something that is legitimately threatening or dangerous, and the discomfort that arises from feeling anxious about something.


When Anxiety is Too Much


Most people are able to tolerate normal levels of anxiety in their life. If you are different and find it hard to cope with your anxiety, seeing a therapist can really help to reduce your symptoms and make living with anxiety more manageable. Psychotherapy specifically targeted towards anxiety disorders has helped many people move past their anxiety and live happy, healthy lives.


Shaun McMahon is a Melbourne based psychotherapist who works with clients struggling with anxiety. He conducts sessions both in person and online, and is currently accepting new clients. If you are interested in seeking support, you can arrange a FREE 15 minute consultation by clicking here.


Source: (2014) Seif, M. N., Winston, S. What Every Therapist Needs To Know About Anxiety Disorders: Key Concepts, Insights and Interventions. Routledge: London.