It’s important to understand that anxiety is part of our natural physiology and is triggered by a threat that can be real or imagined. Anxiety is not always a bad thing; in manageable amounts, it can motivate us to excel, be cautious when appropriate, and provide greater self-awareness when something isn’t right. However, it becomes a problem when these fear-driven thoughts or feelings interfere with our ability to perform or feel good about ourselves, potentially manifesting into a disorder or phobia.
Symptoms of Anxiety
- Nervousness, tension, and/or headaches
- Difficulty sleeping or staying asleep
- Excessive worrying or self-evaluation
- Loss of appetite or compulsive eating; binging to self-soothe
- Knotted stomach; you may also experience digestive issues due to long-term anxiety
- Difficulty breathing or very shallow breathing
- Pounding heart
- Trouble concentrating
Relief from Anxiety
These suggestions have been proven effective in relieving symptoms of anxiety.
- Breathe deeply; shallow breathing can be a trigger for increased anxiety
- Pay attention to the types of thoughts you experience, and take note of how these thoughts make you feel emotionally and physically; for example, many people notice a clenched jaw, tight shoulders, and fluttering in the abdomen or chest
- Remember that you do not have control over your initial response to anxiety; you should forgive yourself for the initial response, make a positive statement about all the things you have done right, then remain non-judgmental and accepting of what comes up
- Decrease all stimulants (such as caffeine)
- Routinely exercise at least three days a week. This habit may be difficult to start, but will ultimately lead to a better quality of life.
- Get enough sleep—view the Sleep self-help page for tips about getting a good night’s sleep
Panic and Panic Attacks
Panic attacks are fairly common. Also called anxiety attacks, panic attacks seem to come out of nowhere and can last a few minutes to several hours.
Symptoms of Panic Attacks
- Racing heartbeat
- Chest pains
- Fear of dying
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Flushes or chills
- Difficulty breathing
- Tingling or numbness
- Feelings of unreality
- Fear of losing control or doing something embarrassing
Relief from Panic Attacks
Panic attacks can be full of overwhelming sensations. An important tool in getting over a panic attack is to break it down into simple steps.
- Observe. A panic attack is an accumulation of physical sensations. Learn what your first sensation is. Is it a tingling in your fingers? A flutter in your chest or pang in your stomach? Break down the physical sensations into separate events. Do not assume the tingling in your fingers is a full-blown attack. Instead, accept it for what it is—a tingling in your fingers.
- Breathe. As soon as you notice the sensation, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth as slowly as possible. While you breathe in, count from 1 to 5 and breathe as deeply and slowly as you can. Increase your counting with each breath to slow your breathing down. Hold your breath in for a few seconds before releasing the air slowly (counting as you let go) and notice the sensation of your body.
- Scan your body. After taking a few deep breaths and slowing your breathing down, scan your body from the top of your head to your feet. Notice where your body is holding the tension and stress and allow it to relax. This ensures that both your body and mind are disengaged.
How to Help Someone Experiencing a Panic Attack
A person displaying the symptoms of a panic attack should see a healthcare provider to rule out medical causes. If you are with someone who is experiencing a panic attack:
- Sit with them and reassure them that they will be all right and the symptoms will pass. They are simply experiencing physical sensations and it is the fear of these sensations that intensify the experience.
- Help them take deeper breaths, more slowly and deeply within the diaphragm.
- Help them to physically relax— jaw and shoulders drop and/or adjust seating.
- Distract their attention from the symptoms by talking about other subjects.
- Encourage them to focus on something outside their bodies; describe in detail something in the room, such as a smell or a sound.
- Support them in maintaining their routines by encouraging them to not avoid situations that might trigger panic, increase exercise, relaxation/breathing exercises, and sleep, and decrease or eliminate caffeine and other stimulants
- Advise them to meet with a counselor at the SDCC. It is common for people who have had one panic attack to have another one. The cause of the reoccurring panic attack is due to the emotional reaction of the first attack; the fear of having another may cause it to happen again. 80%-90% of those who seek out treatment and follow through experience relief.
If you or a friend is experiencing symptoms of anxiety, or if you would like more information, visit us at the Student Development & Counseling Center (SDCC). Your meeting will be completely confidential. You can also make an appointment by calling 508-831- 5540.
Burns Anxiety Inventory
The Burns Anxiety Inventory is an assessment tool used to measure anxiety. It can help you monitor your own anxiety over time, and to become more aware of anxious symptoms. Contact the SDCC for more details.
- Healthy Minds
- National Institute of Mental Health Topics on Anxiety
- National Institute of Mental Health Topics on Panic Disorder
We have included links to other websites and we encourage students to evaluate the materials and to use what they find to be helpful. Please keep in mind that WPI cannot assume responsibility for information on other websites.
Information on the web is not intended as a substitute for assistance from the SDCC. For personal assistance, WPI students should contact the SDCC at 508-831-5540 to schedule an appointment with one of our professional staff members.