The first day of classes. Taking an exam. Singing a solo in the Nightingales concert. Your comps talk. A first date. All these situations usually cause some feelings of nervousness, tension, and anxiety. We feel sweaty, our muscles tense, our heart races, and our stomach becomes upset. Everyone feels “normal” periods of anxiety from time to time, and it serves to alert us to danger or helps us to conquer stressful situations. However, when anxiety is more intense and recurrent, it begins to interfere with our lives. This is called an Anxiety Disorder.
How Is Anxiety Treated in Student Health and Counseling?
The psychologists in Student Health and Counseling are all trained in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Treatment can involve individual therapy, stress-reduction groups (when available), and medication. The treatment is tailored to meet the student’s specific needs. Individual counseling often involves changing behaviors and actions through use of deep breathing, relaxation, or gradual exposure to the frightening object or situation. Altering the student’s thinking patterns is also important, so he/she can react differently in anxious situations. Medications are readily available that effectively treat anxiety disorders. Students can meet with Student Health and Counseling psychiatric consultant, Karl Olson, to discuss whether medications may be an effective treatment method.
What is an Anxiety Disorder?
Anxiety Disorders are the most common psychological issue in America and assume many forms, including:
- Panic Disorder – Recurrent, intense feelings of panic that seem to come “out of the blue”. Physical symptoms include: heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain, increased perspiration, abdominal distress, and a fear of dying. (For more information, visit the National Institute of Health’s website.)
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder – Constant worry about everyday life events that is exaggerated and difficult to control. This worry lasts at least 6 months and causes significant distress in academic and social functioning. (More information on GAD)
- Phobia – There are two types of phobia:
- Specific Phobia – an exaggerated and disabling fear of an object that poses little danger (i.e., spiders, blood, heights).
- Social Phobia – Disabling fear of embarrassment, judgment, or humiliation in social situations, which often leads to avoidance of the situation (i.e., public speaking, meeting new people at parties). (More information on social anxiety)
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – Repeated, upsetting thoughts or compulsive behaviors that are difficult to control and interfere significantly with one’s life. (More information on OCD.) You may also read or download a PDF brochure on OCD.
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – A re-experiencing of an extremely traumatic event (rape, accidents, abuse, natural disasters), accompanied by symptoms of emotional distress, physiological arousal, and avoidance of cues associated with the trauma. (More information on PTSD.)
Why Not Just Avoid Things That Make Me Nervous?
Avoidance of anxiety producing situations may lessen your anxiety in the short-term. However, the anxiety returns and may generalize to other situations. With no way of coping, other than avoidance, you may begin to avoid many aspects of your life, including friends, family, classes, social events, and travel. Getting help, rather than avoiding, provides you with coping resources that you can use in the face of anxiety and provides a permanent solution to the anxiety and worry.
Alcohol and Drugs Can Make Things Worse
Some people who struggle with anxiety use alcohol or drugs as a way to self-medicate, as it initially allows them to feel less anxious. However, in the long term, this serves as a means of avoidance, the anxiety goes untreated, and the chemical use can become a problem in itself, with which the student must also cope.
What Can I Do To Reduce Anxiety and Worry In My Life?
- Learn to balance your commitments. Keep an eye on deadlines, manage your time, and balance your studies with fun and relaxing activities.
- Learn relaxation techniques. (Watch SHAC staff videos on breathing, grounding, and vagal techniques for calming.) The psychologists can provide training in breathing and relaxation techniques, with relaxation CDs (and downloadable MP3s) to help you practice. Take time out to learn meditation, yoga, tai chi or aikido. Online relaxation exercises are also available via the Hobart and William Smith Colleges Counseling Center website.
- Practice good self-care: Eat regularly and nutritiously, get adequate sleep, avoid alcohol and drugs, minimize caffeine use, and find time to exercise regularly.
- Seek consultation, support, and guidance at Student Health and Counseling. The counselors understand that anxiety can be exhausting and disruptive and can teach you ways of dealing with your worries. All services within Student Health and Counseling are confidential, so your privacy will be maintained.
Online Mental Health Screening
Wondering if you or someone you’re concerned about might be dealing with anxiety? Take one of our ANONYMOUS online mental health screenings which assess a number of issues including anxiety, depression, bipolar, eating disorder, alcohol use disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. You (and only you) will get results immediately. There are also additional articles and information resources focused on the above content areas.