By Mary Anne Knapp, LCSW, Clinical Social Worker
The pressures of academic deadlines, worry about grades, juggling relationships and part time jobs can keep you “on your toes”. Throw in angst about figuring out who you are and where you’re heading in life and it’s a lot to deal with. A certain amount of anxiety can be expected for most students. For this kind of situational and developmental anxiety, paying attention to self care (adequate sleep, exercise and eating from food groups other than “fast food”) and learning self help skills such as time management, diaphragmatic (belly) breathing, meditation, positive self talk and clear communication may be enough to help manage the anxiety.
But for 15% of the population, anxiety reaches the point of a disorder that may require professional help. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders as a group are the most common mental health concern in America. They affect 19 million adults each year .
Examples of the most common anxiety disorders include:
Repeated episodes of intense fear that seem to come “out of the blue”
Physical symptoms could include:
- chest pain
- shortness of breath,
- heart palpitations,
- abdominal distress and
- fear of dying.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder:
Repeated unwanted thoughts or compulsive behaviors that seem impossible to stop and interfere with everyday life.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder:
Persistent symptoms that occur after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event such as rape, war or a car accident.
Symptoms can include:
- Reexperiencing the event through nightmares or memories,
- Avoiding people, places or things that serve as reminders and numbing yourself
- Increased arousal such as being easily startled, and problems with sleep and irritability.
Social Phobia involves overwhelming fear of evaluation and scrutiny by others that makes it difficult or impossible to engage in social situations. Specific phobiasinvolve intense fear or panic and an exaggeration of the possible negative outcome.Examples of specific phobias include fear of flying, fear of dogs, or snakes, and fear of needles. When specific phobias are severe even the thought or a picture of the feared item may lead to intense distress.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Constant and persistent worry and anticipation of the worst even though there may be little reason to expect disaster. The worry is accompanied by physiological tension and symptoms such as fatigue, trembling, headache or nausea and lasts for 6 months.
If you suspect that you may have an anxiety disorder, the good news is that effective treatments for anxiety disorders exist.
- The first step is to meet with a professional to discuss the kinds of symptoms you have and to rule out other causes of your anxiety such as medical conditions. It’s important to figure out what triggers your anxiety in order to figure out how to treat it.
- The second step is to develop a treatment plan. The general goals for treatment include reducing physiological reactivity, eliminating inappropriate avoidance behavior and changing self talk or your subjective experience of events so that you feel able to master your anxiety.
- There are two main types of treatment for anxiety disorders: 1) Some form of psychotherapy and /or 2) some form of medication.
- In psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral or interpersonal approaches might be used to help you examine your thinking, behaviors and /or relationships in order to make changes that will help you feel more in control of your symptoms, your life and experiences in the present. Types of activities in therapy might include: learning a relaxation technique, identifying and expressing feelings, challenging mistaken beliefs that increase anxiety, and visualizing and practicing a desired outcome.
- Medications that are commonly prescribed for anxiety disorders include the antidepressants called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and Selective Serotonin/Norepinephine Reuptake Inhibitors(SSNRIs). Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac and Effexor are examples of medicines in this class of drug.
Other antianxiety medications routinely prescribed include: Benzodiazepines (like Valium, Xanax or Klonopin), Betablockers ( such as Inderal and Tenormin)and Buspar.
Where to go for help on campus:
The Center for Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)
501 Student Health Center
Call 863-0395 to schedule an initial consultation with a mental health professional
University Health Services
First through fourth floors of Student Health Center
Call 863-0774 to schedule an appointment to meet with a clinician