What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is the feeling of worry, apprehension, fear and/or panic in response to situations which seem overwhelming, threatening, unsafe or uncomfortable. You may experience anxiety as an intense worry before a final exam, the nervousness felt before making a presentation, or the heightened alertness when you believe you are in danger.

Anxiety is your body's way of alerting you that some kind of action is needed in the face of a situation that is perceived to be threatening or dangerous. Therefore, anxiety can be useful or adaptive whenever it prompts you to take appropriate action in response to an anxiety-provoking situation.

Anxiety Can be Good and Bad

Anxiety can motivate you to study for an exam, prepare for a presentation or leave a situation that feels unsafe. However, anxiety can be detrimental, especially if it becomes overwhelming and prevents you from taking appropriate actions or prompts you to take actions that are counterproductive. 

Anxiety may be detrimental if you avoid studying for a major exam that worries you, of if you cope with worry about your relationship by getting unnecessarily suspicious and then yelling at your partner. 

When to Ask For Help

Because the feeling of anxiety is frequently intense and distressing, it is quite normal to want to avoid or eliminate those feelings. However, this is not necessarily the best approach to anxiety. 

If you ignore or try to eliminate your anxieties, you miss out on valuable information about your life and about your options for dealing with unavoidably stressful and demanding situations. It is often a better approach to begin with assessing the degree to which your anxiety works for you or is excessive and a source of problems for you. Since anxiety is a basic human emotion, like sadness, how do you know if anxiety is a problem?

  • Do I feel anxious more often than not throughout my day?
  • Have I restricted my actives as a way of coping with anxiety?
  • Do I experience panic or panic-like symptoms in certain predictable situations?
  • Am I intensely fearful or specific situations or things (e.g. animals)?
  • Do I experience acute anxiety in social situations?
  • Have I developed elaborate rituals or thought-processes to manage anxiety?
  • Is my anxiety related to a specific, traumatic event?

If you answered yes to some of these questions, you may have more specific questions about the anxiety symptoms you have been experiencing.

For more information, visit the University Counseling Center's self-help page. 

Ways to Manage Anxiety

It is usually helpful to identify the events surrounding the experience of anxiety:

  • What provokes the anxiety?
  • What thoughts or physical sensations accompany the anxiety?
  • How distressing is the anxiety?
  • How are you coping with the anxiety?

Exploring these accompanying events may provide useful information about the nature of the anxiety as well as possible strategies for reducing it. In addition, there are specific changes you can make that may help alleviate anxiety symptoms:

  • Exercise or engage in some form of daily physical activity.
  • Eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet.
  • Obtain an adequate amount of sleep.
  • Seek emotional support from friends and family.
  • Focus on positive aspects of your life.
  • Establish realistic, attainable goals which do not rely on perfectionistic values.
  • Monitor how you think about stress and reduce and/orchange thoughts which are negative.
  • Identify activities which feel overwhelming and reduce your involvement or seek ways to make them more manageable.
  • Consult with a physician if you are experiencing any medical problems.
  • Consult with a mental health professional if you continue to be concerned about your anxiety.
  • Reduce or eliminate the use of alcohol and drugs and limit caffeine intake.
  • Don't engage in "emotional reasoning" (e.g., "because I feel awful, my life is terrible.")
  • Don't assume responsibilitiy for events with are outside of your control.