The ‘Eye’ of Anxiety: How to Keep Stress from Spiraling

Star Willis, a junior majoring in communications at Mount Mary University, explains in her blog, “Anxiety on My Mind,” that she cannot go out to eat with her friends without analyzing what might happen the entire time. When Willis gets invited somewhere at the last minute, she hesitates. Now, her co-workers do not consider asking her because they know her answer will be no.

“Anxiety is a lot of irrational fears about an uncertain future,” Willis said. “You feel this uncontrollable urge to run out of the room screaming. There’s lots of quick heart beating, lots of sweating, lots of shaking when I’m really nervous, having a hard time making eye contact with people … I have a hard time keeping conversations. You’re thinking about what you’re saying because you’re so worried about how it’s going to come off or that you’re going to sound like an idiot.”

For people with anxiety disorders, these types of reactions – including frequent panic attacks – are normal.

“Once anxiety gets formally diagnosed, it goes on your record,” Willis said. “There’s a stigma attached to anxiety and other mental illnesses that for people who don’t have a first-hand experience with it, it is hard to understand.”

While it is possible that everyone will experience multiple anxious or stressful moments in their lives, having an anxiety disorder takes a toll on a person’s day-to-day lifestyle.

“I have a hard time speaking up in class or anywhere where I need to speak up,” Willis said. “I have a hard time making friends because I can’t join in conversations, and I think about things for about 10 minutes before I say them. By the time I need to say it, the subject has changed.”

Mark Tyrrell, therapist and co-founder of Hypnosis Downloads, a hypnotherapy website that gives people information about how to calm their stress and anxiety, said there is a distinct difference between experiencing stress and having an anxiety disorder.

“The symptoms of anxiety and stress are driven by the same chemical reaction; stress is a normal response to a threatening situation and anxiety is largely caused by worry,”  Tyrrell said.

Though stress and anxiety are related, people’s reactions to their emotions are alarmingly different. Sometimes, an overwhelming amount of stress may cause anxiety, but they are very different things. Stress, while it stimulates the body like anxiety, is less intense, which allows the person to become calm in a more discreet way. An anxiety attack can completely take over bodily functions to a point where a person will not be able to control her own movements.

Even though there is a distinct difference between stress and anxiety, anybody can experience having both stress and anxiety in different situations.  If a person who does not have anxiety experiences something traumatic, a panic attack might happen because of an unexpected event.

According to the Midwest Center for Stress and Anxiety, a common reaction to trauma might be the fight, flight or freeze reaction, where someone might run away, fight off her attacker or stay frozen due to her shock. This might be scary to someone who has not experienced this before.

Dr. Tom Troast, Mount Mary University counselor, has seen many instances of people suffering from stress and anxiety and how it affects their lives.

“Stress is the condition presented by the variables of putting pressure,” Troast said. “Anxiety is a medical condition as a result of stress. Around 40 percent of college students experience some kind of stress while they are in school.”

Troast also explained that the symptoms of someone who suffers from anxiety are heightened in a way that makes it difficult for the person to function.

“Anxiety is that medical condition where an individual is experiencing some level of symptoms that are beyond their typical functioning,” Troast said. “The only way to treat stress is to deal with the variables involved.”

Troast said there are different reactions to having anxiety.

“Certainly, we can have anxious moments called panic attacks, and finding what is the cause in that might morph into phobias,” Troast said. “There are several conditions that can create a moment of anxiety for a person. With an anxiety disorder, we are talking about something that has some length of time  associated to it … some ongoing conditions that need to be treated.”

Troast said that creating an atmosphere where a student can meditate or relax her body and mind could help ease the tension she feels during an anxious moment.

“Sometimes, students do well doing a meditation exercise by themselves, and sometimes it’s just going for a long walk,” Troast said. Even though Troast said that anxiety can harm a person’s state of mind, he said people need stress in their lives to stay motivated.

“For many of our students, if there wasn’t the stress of grades or the stress of peer review or faculty review, would they do all their work? If we didn’t receive a paycheck, would we go to work at 7 o’clock? Stress also creates for us the motivation to get things done. Sometimes we need stress to identify for us what is important,” Troast said.

Willis said that although her anxiety often prevents her from participating in certain events or experiences, exercise can help counteract its effects.

“During the day, if I have a block of time, I will walk around,” Willis said. “I feel like that calms me down and takes me to a place where I can start thinking rationally. Yoga is really good for me, too.”

Holstein designed this purse that allows her to slide her fingers back and forth on the rainbow marbles inset in the design. The smooth marbles allow her to focus on her sense of touch, which reduces her awareness of anxiety.

“I had thought I was being a good person and I lent someone money, and we created a contract, and I ended up leaving the job because it wasn’t a good fit for me, but I ended up staying in contact with the woman who owed me money. I was reaching out to her, but then she started to stop answering my phone calls. Since she told me where she worked, I decided to call that location to make sure she was okay. As soon as we started talking on the phone, she told me she was going to sue me for harassment because I called her at work. I was in the car driving, and I didn’t feel comfortable driving, so I pulled over to the side, and I called one of my best friends, and they helped me to do deep breathing and to desensitize me from the situation. I thought I was going to pass out, but luckily, I was by a hospital, and I ended up getting myself into the emergency room.”

 ~Nicole Holstein, junior majoring in philosophy.


Mount Mary Counseling Center
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Types of Anxiety Disorders

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