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  • Writer's pictureTom Cowan

Can you feel the buzz? Person-centred counselling, anxiety and neuroscience.


Let's get to the root of anxiety. Its causes are complex and multifaceted, and research has identified various factors that can contribute to its development.

  1. Genetics and brain chemistry: Brain chemicals, or neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, play a role in anxiety. Serotonin is often referred to as the "feel-good" neurotransmitter because it helps regulate mood and reduces anxiety. Dopamine, on the other hand, is associated with reward and pleasure and can contribute to feelings of anxiety if there is an imbalance in the brain

  2. Childhood experiences: Traumatic events in childhood, such as abuse, neglect, or living in an insecure family environment can increase the risk of developing anxiety later in life.

  3. Environmental factors: Chronic stress, major life changes or losses, and exposure to stressful situations can also contribute to the development of anxiety. The looming threat of climate crisis's affecting the globe, mass migration, armed conflict and the cost of living crisis are all important factors to consider that could be contributing to a growing sense of unease

  4. Personality and cognitive factors: Certain personality traits, such as a tendency towards perfectionism, negative thinking, or a heightened sense of threat/hypervigilance can contribute to anxiety. People may be more likely to interpret ambiguous situations as threatening and may experience physical symptoms, such as sweating or a racing heart, in response to these perceived threats.

  5. Social and cultural factors: People who lack a supportive social network, or who experience frequent negative interactions with others, may be more prone to anxiety. Social support can provide a sense of belonging, validation, and help individuals cope with stress, while negative social interactions can lead to feelings of isolation and increase stress. Stigma surrounding mental health issues, including anxiety, can make it more difficult for individuals to seek help and support. In some cultures, mental health problems are stigmatised or viewed as a personal weakness, which can prevent individuals from seeking treatment or support.


The neuroscience of anxiety


Polyvagal theory, developed by Dr. Stephen Porges, suggests that anxiety and other mental health issues are related to the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for regulating physiological processes such as heart rate, digestion, and respiration.


According to polyvagal theory, anxiety can arise when the nervous system is chronically stuck in a state of sympathetic arousal, known as the fight/flight/freeze/flop or fawn response. Polyvagal theory suggests that this state of chronic sympathetic arousal can result from a lack of perceived safety in one's environment or relationships. In response, the nervous system may activate a defensive response, such as anxiety or hypervigilance, to help protect the individual from perceived threats.

Polyvagal theory also offers hope for individuals with anxiety, as it suggests that the nervous system can be trained to move out of a state of chronic sympathetic arousal and into a state of safety and social engagement. This can be achieved through a variety of interventions, such as mindfulness practices, social support and person-centred counselling where a healthy attachment bond is created that allows the client to feel safe and secure, calm and connected.


There is a plenty of research that suggests that person-centred therapy can be an effective treatment for anxiety:


  1. Person-centred therapy is an effective treatment for a variety of psychological disorders, including anxiety. The therapist's role is to provide a non-judgmental, empathic, and supportive environment that helps the client to explore their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. (Cain & Seeman, 2016)

  2. Person-centred therapy emphasises the importance of the therapeutic relationship and provides a supportive space for clients to explore their experiences and develop new ways of coping with anxiety. (Elliott & Greenberg, 2017)

  3. Person-centred therapy is effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression in both short and open ended therapy. Clients have the capacity to grow and change, and the counsellors' role is to provide a supportive and empathic environment that facilitates this process. (Mearns & Thorne, 2007)

There are many things you can do to help reduce feelings of anxiety. Here are some strategies that may be helpful:

  1. Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or mindfulness meditation. I have free yoga nidra relaxation recordings to download or stream on my website here

  2. Get regular exercise, as physical activity, even a short walk around the local park, has been shown to help reduce anxiety. You can use fitness apps or step counters to help track your journey to movement.

  3. Identify and challenge negative thoughts and beliefs that may be contributing to your anxiety with the support of a therapist, coach or other trusted mental health care professional.

  4. Build a support system of friends and family who can provide emotional support and help you cope with stress.

  5. Make sure to get enough sleep, as lack of sleep can exacerbate feelings of anxiety.

  6. Limit your consumption of caffeine, as it can increase feelings of anxiety. There is a healthy dose though. You can read more here.

  7. Engage in activities that you find enjoyable and meaningful, as this can help reduce stress and anxiety. Painting? Karate? Hiking? Dancing? Choirs? What is your heart longing for?


Is it time to talk?

If you'd like to talk about anxiety or any other issues then please do contact me by email on hello@tomcowan.info


I look forward to hearing from you.

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