Anxiety is hardwired into our brains. It is part of the body's fight-or-flight response, which prepares us to act quickly in the face of danger. It is a normal response to uncertainty, trouble, or feeling unprepared. However, if common everyday events bring on severe and persistent anxiety or panic that interferes with life, you may have an anxiety disorder.
What's the difference between normal anxiety and anxiety disorder
Occasional worry about circumstantial events, such as an exam or breakup, that may leave you upset.
Constant, chronic, and unsubstantiated worry that causes significant distress, disturbs your social life, and interferes with classes and work.
Embarrassment or self-consciousness in the face of an uncomfortable social situation.
Avoidance of common social situations for fear of being judged, embarrassed, or humiliated.
Random cases of "nerves" or jitters; dizziness or sweating over an exam, presentation, or other important event.
Repeated, random panic attacks or persistent worry and anticipation of another panic attack and feelings of terror or impending doom.
Realistic fear of a threatening object, place, or situation.
Irrational fear or avoidance of an object, place, or situation that poses little or no threat of danger.
Wanting to feel confident that you are healthy and living in a safe, hazard-free environment.
Performing uncontrollable, repetitive actions, such as washing your hands repeatedly or checking things over and over.
Anxiety, sadness, or difficulty sleeping immediately following a traumatic event.
Ongoing and recurring nightmares, flashbacks, or emotional numbing relating to a traumatic event in your life that occurred several months or years ago.
See yourself? If you can relate to any of these anxiety disorder descriptions, talk to someone who can help as soon as possible.
Whether you have normal anxiety or an anxiety disorder, these strategies will help you cope:
Exercise. Physical activity helps your body and mind. Go to the gym. Go for a walk. Do yoga. Play Frisbee. Just get moving!
Eat a balanced diet. Don't skip meals. Try to eat from all of the food groups, and try to stay away from caffeine (minimize soda, energy drinks, and coffee). Caffeine can trigger anxiety and panic attacks.
Limit alcohol and stay away from illegal drugs. Alcohol and drugs aggravate anxiety and can cause panic attacks.
Get involved. Being active in your community creates a support network and gives you a break from your everyday stress.
Do your best instead of trying to be perfect. We all know perfection isn't possible, so be proud of however close you get.
Take a time-out. Take a deep breath and count to 10. Stepping back from a problem lets you clear your head. Do yoga. Meditate. Get a massage. Learn relaxation techniques. Listen to music.
Put things in perspective. Think about your situation. Ask yourself whether it's really as bad as you think it is or if you may be focusing on limited information or evidence.
Talk to someone. Don't bottle up emotions to the verge of explosion. Reach out to your friends, roommate, partner, family, or a counselor when you're feeling overwhelmed.
Find out what triggers your anxiety. Take notes or write in a journal when you're feeling anxious or stressed, and then look for patterns.
School can be stressful!
Between school, work, family, friends, and everyday (and unusual!) life events, you are pulled in different directions. Moreover, all of these responsibilities take away from the time you might need to care for yourself, so it's easy to see how you might become anxious.
Anxiety is a normal reaction to life-changing events. While we all get stressed out or anxious at times, most of us bounce back. But anxiety that is so frequent, intense, and uncontrollable that it hinders daily routines may be a sign of an anxiety disorder.
The good news? Help is available.
What is an anxiety disorder and who can have one?
Anxiety disorders are serious and treatable conditions that...
More than 40 million men and women in the United States are diagnosed with every year.
Almost seven percent of college students report having symptoms.
Can occur at any age but often will surface during a person's teens or twenties.
Are twice as likely to occur in women as men.
Take the time to figure out whether the anxiety you are experiencing is the same anxiety we all have occasionally, or whether it is so persistent and severe that it may be an anxiety disorder. Take a self-test at http://www.adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/ask-and-learn/screenings, or talk to a professional at the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center or other health care provider.
The ABCs of anxiety disorders
"Anxiety disorders" is a broad term; it encompasses six psychiatric (as in medical) disorders. Although the symptoms of each anxiety disorder vary in different people, they all provoke extreme fear or worry that interferes with a normal lifestyle.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): Excessive, uncontrollable worry about everyday issues, including school, work, money, friends, and health.
Social Anxiety Disorder: Avoidance of everyday social situations due to extreme anxiety about being judged by others or about behaving in a way that might cause embarrassment or ridicule.
Panic Disorder: Severe attacks of terror, which may feel like you're having a heart attack or going crazy, for no apparent reason.
Specific Phobias: Intense fear reaction that leads to avoiding an object, place, or situation such as riding in elevators or driving on bridges. Those with specific phobias typically recognize that the fear is irrational and inappropriate for the circumstance.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Persistent, recurring thoughts (obsessions) that reflect exaggerated anxiety or fears and manifest as repetitive behaviors or rituals (compulsions); for example, the uncontrollable need to scrub hands repeatedly or the insistence on absolute neatness and order.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Avoidance, detachment, difficulty sleeping and concentrating, and reliving a traumatic event or experience several months or years after it has occurred.
Anxiety disorders are real, serious, and treatable.
Anxiety disorders can happen to anyone
Alex had just finished a difficult round of exams. Suddenly a huge wave of terror swept over her. Her heart began to pound, and she couldn't breathe. She felt as if she had left her body and her world was closing in on her. She thought she might be dying. When the feelings passed as quickly as they came on, she was relieved. But when it happened again the next day and the day after that, her roommate took her to University Health Services, where a doctor suggested she check out the Counseling and Mental Health Center. A counselor there explained to Alex that she had a panic disorder. She continued seeing the counselor and also went to a group where she met other students with panic disorder. Eventually she learned to control and cope with her panic attacks.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Mahal was late for class again because he was sure he'd left on his toaster oven and forgotten to lock the door. It was the fourth time this week he'd gone back home to check. He had no idea why he felt the need to keep doing the same things over and over until he heard about OCD in a class. His professor was able to recommend a counselor who, with treatment, helped him control his checking habits.
Social phobia (social anxiety disorder)
Rosario had always been shy, rarely participating in class discussion and avoiding parties. But turning down the chance to go to a close friend's birthday party was a signal that the problem was more than just normal shyness. Coincidentally reading an article about social phobia, Rosario recognized the description as a personal one. The next step was getting referred to a psychiatrist and a counselor. After exploring options, Rosario decided on a combination of medication and cognitive behavioral therapy (a specific type of psychotherapy). Participating in social events gradually became easier. Making a commitment to help others also motivated Rosario to interact and form supportive networks.
You are not alone. Tell someone - a friend, a professor, a counselor. Get help.
Treating anxiety disorders
Anxiety disorder treatment may involve therapy or medication or a combination of both. The good news is treatment works! With time and patience, up to 90 percent of people who obtain proper care from a health professional will recover and live full and productive lives.
It is important to get help NOW. An untreated anxiety disorder may lead to academic problems, secondary conditions such as substance abuse or depression, and - in extreme cases - suicide. Early treatment can help prevent these problems. Visit the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center (CMHC) to find out about their services. If you're nervous about going alone, bring a friend to support you as you speak with the receptionist, or to sit with you in the waiting room. CMHC offers low-cost individual and group counseling sessions.
Or you may choose to see your family physician, who may be able to treat you or recommend a psychiatrist, psychologist, clinical social worker, counselor, or psychiatric nurse. Regardless of where you seek treatment, it's crucial that you are comfortable with who is treating you and how you are being treated.
Helping a friend or loved one
If someone close to you has an anxiety disorder, here's how you can help:
Learn about the disorder. Understanding what he is going through will help you give support, and keep your own worry under control. The Anxiety Disorders Association of America (www.adaa.org) provides information and can help you find a therapist.
Recognize and accept stressful periods. Modify your expectations of how she should act and be sure to be extra supportive during difficult times.
Everyone experiences anxiety differently. Be tolerant, supportive, and nonjudgmental.
Be encouraging and don't get discouraged. Give praise for even small accomplishments. Stay positive.
Talk to someone. Being consistently supportive can be difficult, so make sure you have someone - a roommate, friend, partner, family member, or counselor - to support you.
"Got Anxiety" is based on original content developed by the Anxiety
Disorders Association of America. This content has been adapted by
staff at The University of Texas at Austin Counseling and Mental
Health Center, with permission and support from the ADAA.