Anxiety, worry, and fear are normal parts of all of our lives and they are inherent in our human experiences. College students may experience these emotions quite often with pressures of academic deadlines, making friends, juggling relationships and/or jobs, and dealing with parental expectations or family conflict. Add a dash of trying to figure out who you are and what you want to do with your life and you’ve got a perfect recipe for anxiety.
Situational and developmental anxiety is experienced at some level by all students whether it is evident or not to the outside observer. Under appropriate circumstances, this type of anxiety is actually very good for us because it keeps us alert in dealing with new experiences and it motivates us to do well.
However, too much anxiety becomes self-defeating. With normal anxiety (situational or developmental), most of the time simply paying attention to self-care strategies like getting enough sleep, good nutrition, and balance between academic pursuits and leisure time can be sufficient for managing anxiety. Also, acquiring some self-help skills such as meditation, deep breathing techniques, or losing the negative self-talk is likely to help people decrease and manage anxiety.
What do you do, however, when you cross the line between normal and healthy anxiety to excessive and destructive anxiety? Seeking professional help to figure out what causes the anxiety and perhaps its triggers is very important. Our therapists can help you in exploring your symptoms and will develop a treatment plan to assist you in decreasing your anxiety and improving your overall sense of well-being. Contact our office to make an appointment at (317)788-5015 or stop by – we’re on the second floor of the Schwitzer Student Center.
Frequently Asked Questions About Anxiety
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a ubiquitous term because it encompasses so many aspects of the human emotion we call fear. Anxiety is normal and everyone experiences it. It’s the feeling one gets at the pit of his or her stomach when performing some new task or when under public scrutiny. Or it is the racing mind, sweaty palms, and wildly thumping heart because of some big test, speech, or potential conflict with another individual. It can also show up as difficulty sleeping, eating, or concentrating. These are all signs that you are feeling threatened and they are your body’s way of saying, “get ready!”
Almost any situation that puts demands on you can cause anxiety. You will experience anxiety from both good and bad situations because even positive situations put a strain and demand on your body. However, you have a great deal of control over how that anxiety plays itself out depending on your perceptions of the event and the self-care skills you have developed in response to stressful situations.
For some, however, the anxiety becomes debilitating and overwhelming affecting every aspect of their daily lives. In these cases, it takes more than using self-help strategies and problem-solving. Trained professionals such as the therapists at our counseling center can provide a treatment plan for you designed to help you conquer your fears and anxieties.
What is the treatment course for Anxiety?
There are many effective treatments for anxiety disorders. Generally, a therapist will work with you from a few different vantage points including reducing your physiological reactivity, eliminating inappropriate or defeatist negative self-talk, helping you to face your anxious situations (and disrupting avoidance behaviors) and assisting you with developing relaxation and coping skills so that you can feel a sense of mastery over excessive anxiety.
Psychotherapy techniques such as the ones listed above are highly effective in treating individuals with anxiety. There are some individuals who may also benefit from medical treatment. Your therapist will work with you to determine what the best course of action is in treating your anxiety.
Tips for Dealing with Anxiety
- Accept anxiety as normal. Being completely free from anxiety should not be the goal – all human beings have and need some level of anxiety in their lives. Your goal should be to manage the anxiety so that it doesn’t feel overwhelming or as if it is taking over your life.
- Learn self-care strategies such as eating nutritiously, cutting down on or quitting caffeine, alcohol, and/or drugs, getting 7-8 hours of regular sleep each night, meditating or learning relaxation techniques, balance academic life with leisure activities, and reach out to others.
- Develop positive self-talk. When facing new or threatening situations, watch what you say to yourself. We often say things silently to ourselves that are detrimental to our well-being. Rather than allow the negative self-talk (which is usually exaggerated and often simply untrue) to rule your emotions, focus on being more realistic and kind in your self-comments. You will be amazed at how much better and in-control you can feel by being less harsh on yourself.
- Work on building your self-esteem and confidence. Look outside yourself and focus on others. For example, volunteering can be a great way to decrease insular thinking or overly critical self-examination. Also, recognizing that everyone experiences anxiety and discomfort at different times in their lives can help you empathize with others and recognize how common and normal anxiety is for everyone.
- Find regular outlets for stress and anxiety so that you effectively “drain” excess anxiety. If you do not develop regular “de-stressing” methods, the anxiety will build and eventually become overwhelming. The opposite occurs when you regularly manage and purge anxiety on a day-to-day basis. It keeps your anxiety below the boiling point for when those high anxiety times hit.
Why are some people more vulnerable to Anxiety than others?
Everyone experiences some level of anxiety at times because it is part of being human. However, some individuals appear to be more vulnerable to stress and anxiety than others. While research has not provided all the answers to questions about anxiety, there is much support for the premise that a variety of factors predispose an individual to anxiety.
Heredity appears to play some role, although learning and environment also has an impact. Additionally, those who have less of a need for “control” in their lives and who are comfortable with not always knowing how things are going to turn out appear to be less anxious.
Those with greater self-confidence and higher self-esteem also appear to be less nervous. Probably the greatest determinant of how vulnerable an individual is going to be to anxiety is looking at multiple factors in their lives at any given moment. For example, the Diathesis Stress model is useful in making some predictions of vulnerability or risk factors for anxiety because it takes multiple factors into account including heredity, personality, current stressors in the person’s life, family impact, and past trauma.
The idea is that the more factors involved, the greater the vulnerability to stress that can lead to anxiety. Even if you are prone to anxiety, however, it is important to recognize that you can be less affected or overwhelmed with anxiety by learning ways to react to and control anxiety as it arises.
What are the Symptoms of Anxiety?
Many physical symptoms are related to anxiety including headaches, insomnia, TMJ, irritable bowel syndrome, skin rashes, high blood pressure, heart problems, and lowered immune systems to name a few. Typical signs of anxiety can include:
- Constant and persistent worry that interferes with daily life
- Physiological reactions such as heart palpitations, excessive sweating, stomach problems, headaches, diarrhea, and exaggerated startle response
- Avoidance of situations that cause increased fear or anxiety such as public speaking, social interaction, or engaging in new activities
- Unrealistic fears and reactions to situations, people, or objects
- Problems with sleep, eating, or symptoms of tension such as sore muscles, fatigue, trembling, cold and clammy hands, or nausea
- Difficulty breathing (not related to exercise) and racing thoughts or feelings of impending doom
How do I manage my Anxiety?
Make self-care strategies and regular “de-stressing” techniques part of your everyday lifestyle. The following suggestions have been helpful for many people in decreasing their overall anxiety:
- Maintaining healthy habits including eating right, getting consistent sleep (optimal 7-8 hours), exercising regularly (3+ times per week), and balancing work and play activities so that each are present in your daily life.
- Developing friendships and support by talking with others about your feelings, goals, and challenges in college.
- Decreasing nervous energy and physiological reactivity through meditation, yoga, listening to music, relaxation and deep breathing or any other activity that allows you to “drain” the anxiety so that it does not build up.
- Reduce muscle tension through massage, exercise, or a warm hot bath and practice muscle relaxation such as using the PMR technique we recommend in our stress reduction link
- Stop your negative thoughts and replace them with more rational, positive thoughts (You feel only as good as your thinking is good!)
- Stay in the present and stop mind reading, predicting, or catastrophizing.
What are Panic Attacks?
Panic attacks are discreet and unexpected episodes that occur when a person has high physiological reactivity or is experiencing overwhelming stress and anxiety reactions to events. Panic attacks may or may not occur when individuals have an anxiety disorder. If you have experienced one, you probably know that often there are overwhelming feelings of fear, loss of control, shame, and anticipatory anxiety that can be put into motion as individuals begin to fear another panic attack and attempt to avoid the situations or environments that they believe trigger the attacks. There is a better way to deal with these symptoms, however, that will make them manageable and even non-existent with practice. Some things you can do if you do experience a panic attack are:
- Remind yourself over and over again during the experience that it is a very normal bodily reaction that is not harmful—just unpleasant.
- “This too shall pass” – wait for the feelings to subside, don’t try to fight them or run away from them, just accept them.
- Become an observer of the feelings and bodily reactions you are experiencing during a panic attack – such that you are more like a scientist observing from the outside. This will help you pull out of being immersed or focused on the internal sensations that can increase panic.
- Learn to breath properly during panic attacks – taking slow, paced, and deeper breaths and allow your mind to focus completely on the sensation of breathing
- Stay in the present. Use your four senses – See, smell, touch, and hear.
- Remind yourself that you have made it through panic attacks before, and you will do so again if you just let time pass.
- Congratulate yourself and think positively when you do move through the panic attack after a few minutes pass and you are able to resume your regular activities.
What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?
OCD is a biologically based anxiety disorder that often begins in childhood and is likely to have some genetic components. It is characterized by obsessions and/or compulsions that negatively impact or limit the person’s daily functioning yet the individual continues to engage in them either because they are stuck in a repetitive cycle of worry (obsessions) or as a means of reducing anxiety (compulsions).
Obsessions are unwanted recurrent and intrusive thoughts, images, or impulses that are distressing and the individual feels he or she has no control over. Compulsions are repetitive thoughts or behaviors that the individual engages in to reduce the anxiety or discomfort he or she is experiencing. Both obsessions and compulsions are usually recognized as irrational and unrealistic fears by OCD sufferers, but they feel powerless and hopeless about managing, controlling, or stopping them.
Although symptoms of OCD vary widely from individual to individual, some common obsessions and compulsions include”
- Repetitive checking of locked doors or making sure appliances such as the stove are turned off
- Compulsive avoidance of germs by repetitive hand washing or bathing
- Disturbing thoughts of causing harm to a loved one.
- Repeating phrases or words in exact order or counting as a way to avert something bad from happening to self or others
We are all creatures of habit, so it is important to remember that every one has rituals or habits in their lives. Being neat and clean, being organized, or liking to do things in a particular order does not mean a person has OCD. It is only when behaviors become excessive and interfere with daily living that OCD should be considered. For example, people with OCD may avoid or neglect important areas of their lives because they spend so much time engaging in ritualistic or avoidance behaviors.
OCD is a treatable anxiety disorder that can be relieved through psychotherapy, medication, and/or behavior therapy. Contact us if you believe that you are experiencing obsessions and/or compulsions that have taken over your daily life.
Relaxation and Meditation Resources
Combine a number of these DVDs, CDs, and Books to create a relaxing environment, positive mind, and relaxed body. Good Luck.
These materials can be found from multiple sources but they are linked here to Amazon.com. By following the links, you can read reviews of the resources and check prices.
Relaxation DVDs to Create a Soothing Environment
All natural sights and sounds of soothing ocean waves, and sunsets.
Hawaiian Dreams / WAVES: Virtual Vacations for relaxation
Like a Corona Beer Commercial without the people and beer. Beautiful lapping waves.
The Best Caribbean Beaches / WAVES: Virtual Vacations
The ultimate background beach dvd with 6 shots (10 minutes each) that loop all day long.
Caribbean Daydreams - 6 Loopable Scenes / WAVES Virtual Vacations
If you love Florida, you must see the best beaches, sea birds, and stunning sunsets.
The Best Florida Beaches / WAVES: Virtual Vacations
Now, if you want or need a more guided breathing meditation, this is it.
Relaxation & Breathing for Meditation
Or more active Yoga like meditation. Great Exercise.
Yoga Journal's Yoga for Relaxation and Meditation
Combo gentle yoga and guided meditation.
Meditation for Beginners
Let's just call this more mesmerizing, hypnotic lights and sounds for relaxation.
AV3X Vol. 1 / Digital Meditation DVD
More yoga. More relaxation.
Yoga Zone - Meditation: Two Complete Sessions (Beginners)
A little humor goes a long way.
Loretta Laroche: The Joy of Stress
A little Mindfulness always helps one to relax.
Mindfulness & Meditation - Stress Reduction / Mindful Parenting
Stretch out those sore aches and pains first.
Healing Yoga: Aches & Pains
Yoga for morning and night.
A.M. and P.M. Meditation
Relaxation and Meditation CDs
Your Present: A Half Hour of Peace
Very calming guided relaxation. Recommended.
Try some Buddhist meditations.
Guided Meditations: For Calmness, Awareness, and Love
Increase you Alpha Waves and calm you brain.
Alpha Relaxation System 2.0
Guided imagery to help you relax.
Relaxation Body Scan & Guided Imagery for Well-Being
Guided Imagery plus soothing colors!
Kalamalka Colors Relaxation & Guided Imagery
This will help you fall asleep by stimulating "Delta" waves in your brain through music.
Delta Sleep System
Let go of your stess and worries with this CD.
The Ease of Being: Guided Meditations for Centering and Healing
Some music to soothe you.
Detaching the World Vol. 1 - Ambient Music for Massage/Relaxation/Meditation
Relax with the best of Classics
Mozart for Relaxation
Relax every muscle group in you body... very relaxing.
Progressive Relaxation & Autogenic Training
Guided Imagery, soothing music, deep relaxation.
Journey into Deep Relaxation
One more classic relaxation music expert.
Beethoven for Relaxation
Soothing, calming, & healing.
The Gift of Relaxation - Stress Relief * Sleep * Wellness
Deepak Chopra is an expert.
The Soul of Healing Meditations
A little Inner Peace goes a long way.
Waves and cool music... by Steven Halpern
Great music to play in the background as you watch waves on tv.
Jim Brickman - Greatest Hits
Another one of our favorite CDs to listen too.
Can't go wrong with George Winston either.
Winter into Spring
Relaxation and Meditation books and tapes
A Best Seller and well reviewed by an expert.
The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook
Guided Yoga meditation.
Yoga Nidra Meditation CD: Extreme Relaxation of Conscious Deep Sleep
More guided Yoga meditation.
Experience Yoga Nidra: Guided deep relaxation
Promote feelings of peace, calm, safety and support.
A Meditation for Relaxation & Wellness (Health Journeys)
Focuses on meditation as an integral part of a healing and self-help regime.
Beyond the Relaxation Response
More Yoga relaxation & chakra-based meditation.
Drops of Nectar: Yoga Relaxation for Rejuvenation and Healing
100 Tips to Relax.
Instant Calm: Over 100 Easy-to-Use Techniques for Relaxing Mind and Body
Relax before surgery will help healing and lesson pain.
When My Autism Gets Too Big! A Relaxation Book for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders
Some herbs can help you relax. Some don't.
The New Age Herbalist: How to Use Herbs for Healing, Nutrition, Body Care, and Relaxation
And for you dummies out there!
Meditation for Dummies
Great relaxing voice. Recommended Highly
Meditation for Beginners
Some Zen meditations by an old master. Funny too!
Meditations for Manifesting : Morning and Evening Meditations to Literally Create Your Heart's Desire
Learn to let go of your worries.
The Language of Letting Go (Hazelden Meditation Series)
Dealing with grief and stress
Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations For Working Through Grief
More Dealing with grief and stress
I Wasn't Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping and Healing After the Death of a Loved One
Coping with loss of a loved one.
I Wasn't Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping and Healing After the Death of a Loved One
Some reading to help you sleep better.
365 Meditations, Reflections & Restoratives for Women Who Do Too Much Page-A-Day Calendar 2005 (Page-A-Day Calendars)
More reading to put you to sleep.
The Promise of Sleep: A Pioneer in Sleep Medicine Explores the Vital Connection Between Health, Happiness, and a Good Night's Sleep
One last book for bedtime reading.
No More Sleepless Nights