Almost all of us know how it feels to be anxious. It’s that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, the fizzy feeling in your hands or the heaviness in your chest. It’s fear, nerves and panic all wrapped up and delivered like an unwanted gift.
For some it’s a fleeting feeling that comes and goes, for others, it lingers and impacts day-to-day life. There are lots of different approaches to help with anxiety, depending on your particular circumstances. Here, we’re going to be exploring anxiety in more depth, how it impacts self-esteem and the role coaching can provide in managing it.
What is anxiety?
Whenever we feel fearful of something, are tense or worried, this is anxiety. Usually, we feel anxious about something that’s about to happen or something that we think could happen in the future. Sometimes we feel anxious about past events, for example, ruminating on conversations or events and worrying that we did/said the wrong thing.
While unpleasant, anxiety is actually a very normal and human response to threat and its aim is to keep us safe. When we evolved, our brains developed a mechanism to release certain hormones (like cortisol and adrenaline) when it feels under threat. These hormones help us be more alert and make our blood rush to where it's needed the most.
This is what’s known as the fight, flight or freeze response because the hormones help prepare us to fight, run away or stay very still. When this response first developed, it was incredibly helpful and kept us safe from predators.
The problem is, our brains haven’t evolved in a very long time and this response is now often triggered by different threats.
We’re less likely to come face-to-face with a predator these days, so other ‘perceived threats’ like seeing your inbox filling up or knowing you have to do a speech soon can trigger the same response.
We often can’t run away or fight with these threats either, so the hormones continue to course through our bodies. Sometimes we don’t even need a trigger to feel this way. For some, anxiety builds up to such a point that we create our own triggers in our minds or we feel a constant hum of anxiety.
This is when anxiety can become a mental health concern - when it’s impacting daily life and stopping you from doing the things you want. If your symptoms meet specific criteria, you may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. If you’re worried about this, be sure to visit your doctor to learn more.
Here, life coach Donna Pereira discusses anxiety and how coaching can help.
The relationship between anxiety and self-esteem
Low self-esteem and anxiety can very often be linked. If you have a low sense of self-esteem, this may put you at a greater risk of developing anxiety, but anxiety itself can also make you feel bad about yourself. The two can feed off each other in this negative cycle.
You may find yourself believing certain things about yourself, such as ‘I can’t cope with stressful situations’ or ‘I cannot control my anxiety around other people’. These limiting beliefs can hold you back from fulfilling your true potential.
“Anxiety and depression can hugely affect low self-esteem and self-belief. We all have times when our inner voice and opinions become unkind, lacking confidence in our self-worth and abilities.
“Self-esteem and self-belief can then feed into our mental health, sometimes causing a vicious circle and long-term stuck patterns in thoughts and behaviours. The good news is that these thoughts and behaviours can become unstuck and you can be kind to your mind.”
Life coach Joe Roe shares three ways to build self-belief and improve mental health.
However anxiety shows up for you, it’s important to think about support options. You may feel able to use self-help tools to manage anxiety but, if you’re at a sticking point, it may be worth working with a professional.
Should I get counselling or coaching for anxiety?
Both counsellors and coaches can help with anxiety. The key is understanding how the two professions work and which approach may be best for you. Visiting your doctor is often a helpful first step as they can help identify the severity of your anxiety and recommend treatment options. If you’re diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or have anxiety alongside other mental health conditions, for example, you might be recommended to work with a mental health professional such as a counsellor or psychotherapist.
There are lots of types of counselling available for anxiety, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and approaches that look to your past. Counselling typically aims to help you identify underlying causes of your anxiety and manage it so you can function day to day.
Anxiety coaching looks to increase your understanding of anxiety so you can develop techniques to regain control, boost self-esteem and work towards goals. Different coaches will have different methods, but typically there’ll be a solution-orientated approach where you look to overcome limiting beliefs and thrive, not just survive.
If you’re unsure who to get support from, don’t hesitate to talk to an anxiety coach or counsellor and learn more. You may find you resonate with someone regardless of their title and this will be the best fit for you. Some people may also find a combination of approaches works well for them.
Coaching for anxiety
A belief that underpins coaching is that we have the resources we need to overcome the problem we’re facing. This means the role of a coach is not to tell you what to do, but instead work with you to identify your own solutions and guide you towards your goals.
When you first start coaching, it’s important to tell your coach about any diagnoses you have and if you are undertaking any other treatment for your anxiety (for example, counselling). This will help inform your coach’s approach when working with you and can ensure you’re getting the best support.
Coaching can take place face-to-face, online, via telephone or even in a group setting. For those with anxiety, this choice can be really helpful. If meeting people in person or travelling makes you anxious for example, you might prefer online coaching.
“With a good coach, any feelings of embarrassment or discomfort will disappear. The hardest part is making a decision to speak out and book to see someone. It gets easier from there on in.”
- Life coach Rachel Coffey
In your first session, you may set some goals together. These could be around managing your anxiety or perhaps they’ll be things you want to do, but anxiety is currently stopping you from doing them. You may simply have a goal of better managing anxiety - whatever it is, having a clear destination in mind really helps the coaching process.
Anxiety coaching sessions will often involve the coach asking you questions to help you understand your anxiety better and identify more helpful responses when your fight, flight or freeze response is triggered. You may also work together to identify any limiting beliefs that are affecting your self-esteem and discover ways to change the narrative.
The number of sessions you’ll have will depend on what you hope to achieve and the coach’s way of working. The aim is to finish your work together feeling more empowered, in control and confident. Fear might always be along for the ride - but it doesn’t have to be in the driver's seat.
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