Anxiety is a complex mental health issue with many causes. Some people are born with anxiety, while others develop it as they get older. In either case, anxiety needs to be addressed and managed to live a happy and fulfilled life. Research has shown that counselling is an effective way to manage anxiety — but how exactly does therapy help anxiety? We’ve unpacked science-based evidence behind counselling and its benefits, as well as a few common types of therapy used by counsellors today.
When to get counselling for anxiety
Anxiety symptoms vary greatly from person to person. Some people have experienced anxiety for as long as they can remember, while for others, symptoms develop slowly over time. It’s important to remember that anxiety isn’t caused by just one factor, but rather a combination of things including family health history, substance abuse, stressful life events, and general personality. All of these factors contribute to how often and how deeply you feel anxiety. Some people can easily shake it off when things go sideways. But for those prone to anxiety, stressful events can cause a huge amount of mental strain. For the latter group, it takes much longer for the brain and body to recover from stress.
It may be time to get counselling for anxiety if you’re experiencing the following:
- Physical symptoms like digestive issues, headaches, rapid heart rate, and excessive sweating.
- Trouble concentrating, memory loss, and insomnia.
- The constant worry of impending danger and doom — expecting the worst.
- Feeling restless, on-edge, or unable to relax.
- An inability to be present in the moment — feeling like your mind is elsewhere.
- It’s getting in the way of your daily life, like avoiding social situations or giving up hobbies and activities you once loved.
If you’re finding it hard to cope with your anxiety, it’s important to get support as early as possible. Waiting too long to get help can put an immense amount of stress on your nervous system, making it more difficult to bounce back. Counselling can absolutely help with anxiety. But if you’re still not sure about whether counselling is right for you or you don’t know how to get started, we’ve listed further resources below.
What the research says
Mental health issues are some of the most common health conditions in Canada. In any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians will struggle with their mental health, and that number is rising. A higher proportion of adults were screened for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) from 2020 to 2021. The good news is that research has led to a better understanding of mood disorders and more effective treatment options. Online counselling is a cost-effective, more accessible way to seek help when and where you need it.
So, can counselling really help with anxiety? There’s a large body of research that shows therapy is a highly effective treatment option for anxiety — ranking just as effective as medication for some patients. For example, a meta-analysis of 13 studies found that patients who went through therapy using a CBT approach showed a reduction in stress and anxiety symptoms compared to those in the control group. In addition to finding that psychological interventions (like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) had positive effects on anxiety symptoms over time, other studies have found that psychological treatment can result in sustained improvement even years later. Patients use these coping strategies lifelong.
The research heavily supports that counselling can help with anxiety in many people. There’s a sense of peace and lightness in sharing the mental load with a professional who has your best interest at heart. This is a different experience than sharing with close friends or family who are often there to just listen. Comparatively, a counsellor provides actionable tools, resources, and strategies to navigate difficult experiences. They’re someone in your corner throughout the entire mental health journey which in itself alleviates stress for people dealing with anxiety. Many patients will start to feel better after just a few counselling sessions, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to give it up. Like a muscle, anxiety resilience must be trained. Keeping up with regular counselling sessions will better equip you to handle anxiety long-term.
Counselling techniques to help with anxiety
If you’re seeking help, you’re probably wondering what type of therapy is best for anxiety. The answer: it depends on your symptoms, your mental health goals, and your response to treatment. One of the most effective forms of counselling for anxiety is called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). It’s a well-researched and practiced treatment that’s effective for a range of mood disorders. CBT works by identifying and changing the underlying destructive thought patterns that have a negative influence on behaviour and emotions.
A few other counselling approaches that help deal with anxiety include:
- Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT): DBT falls under the same umbrella as CBT but t focuses on identifying negative thoughts and behaviours and replacing them with more positive ones. DBT teaches mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotional regulation — which all come together for better anxiety regulation.
- Meditation and mindfulness. This involves learning how to focus your attention on one thing (often your breathing) to block out worries or distractions from your mind — also known as mindfulness. This means having a moment-to-moment awareness about what you’re feeling or experiencing without judgment or analysis. A study found that mindfulness-based therapy is moderately effective for improving anxiety. Remember: remedying mood disorders often requires a combination of treatments to feel real results. So pairing mindfulness with other positive lifestyle changes can be enough for some patients to feel a real difference.
- Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT): ACT focuses on accepting your feelings instead of trying to control and change them. You’ll learn techniques to separate yourself from your inner thought processes and experiences. ACT also puts a strong emphasis on discovering your values and taking steps to integrate those values into your lifestyle. This value-driven strategy will give you more healthy control over your life, leading to higher personal confidence and self-trust.
- Psychodynamic therapy: This talk therapy involves diving deep into your emotions and mental processes to uncover past conflicts while working through them. Counsellors will safely guide their clients to discover which specific childhood memories are causing anxiety today. Together, the counsellor and client will work through complex feelings and thought patterns. The client then has the opportunity to release painful memories from the mind and body resulting in less stress and more peace of mind. Because you’re diving deep into old and often painful feelings, it’s important to find a counsellor you trust.
The beauty of counselling is that it’s not one-size-fits-all. There are many different therapy tools for anxiety. Counsellors can change their approach to fit your unique needs. So if one approach doesn’t work for you, there are plenty of ways to adjust the methods for better results. With the right approach, counselling can help with anxiety and its unpleasant symptoms.
Benefits of counselling for anxiety
- Understand your anxiety: If you’re not sure what triggers your anxiety, a counsellor can safely guide you to discover the root cause. From there, you’ll work together to unlearn unhelpful thought patterns and behaviours that bring rise to anxious feelings.
- Manage your stress: Stress is an underlying cause of anxiety. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, counselling can provide relief by framing stressful events in a novel way. Counsellors will also recommend mindfulness strategies like meditation to increase resiliency to future stressors.
- Learn new ways to cope with your anxiety: When it comes to mental health techniques, there are countless different approaches and treatment combinations. Everyone is unique, so one method that worked for your friend or family member may not do the trick for you. Your mental health is absolutely central to living a happy and fulfilled life. If the first technique doesn’t work for you, it’s worth trying another method.
- Alleviate symptoms: Pay attention to your mind-body connection. Anxiety doesn’t just affect your mind. Left untreated, it’ll manifest in the body with symptoms like insomnia, gastrointestinal issues, sweating, and rapid heart rate. As you work through the mental hurdles that come with anxiety, your body will heal too.
Get anxiety relief today
So, does counselling work for anxiety? The short answer is yes. Counselling can be a powerful tool in managing your anxiety. It’s especially effective when paired with other interventions like medication and lifestyle changes. Counselling won’t necessarily get rid of anxiety altogether, but it’ll make anxiety a whole lot easier to manage. If anxiety is getting in the way of living your best life, it’s time to speak with a mental health professional. Wellin5’s team of counsellors will teach you effective strategies to manage your day-to-day anxiety. So you can feel better and get back to doing what you love. Get started with online therapists who are highly specialized in anxiety counselling.