You’re trapped in a world of short breaths. Your mouth and throat are running dry. You swallow, hoping to suppress the feeling, only to become aware of the saliva going down your throat. Your chest muscles tighten with cramps as the fear creeps up your spine, surrounding your mind. Whispering, lying, manipulating and adhering to your thoughts until you believe everything it’s saying is true. You try to fix the feeling by hiding, running, or finding temporary relief with anything that will take away the attacks, the fear, the lies.
Anxiety is a growing problem among people of all ages.
Mostly seen in teenagers and young adults, it is also known to arise in children and mature adults. There are five main anxiety disorders: General Anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Panic Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Social Phobia (or Social Anxiety Disorder).
General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a disorder characterized by chronic anxiety, exaggerated worry and tension, even if there is nothing or little provoking it. People who display excessive anxiety worry about several things, or anticipate disaster, such as work, social events or interactions, personal health, everyday life, and more. Some of the symptoms of GAD include: feeling restless, wound-up, being on-edge, easily fatigued, having difficulty concentrating or mind going blank, being irritable, having muscle tension, difficulty controlling feelings, and having sleep problems.
GAD is diagnosed when a person finds it hard to control their worries for more than six months and has three or more of the symptoms. According to Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), GAD affects 6.8 million adults, which is 3.1 percent of the U.S. population. Also, 75 percent of people experience their first anxiety episode by age 22.
David Rosenberg, professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at Wayne State University, wrote on The Conversation stating that research has shown that one in five college students are affected by anxiety.
It is said that GAD is seen mostly in women. Lynn Gregory, a counselor at South Plains College, said, “I suspect it’s because the way men are socialized to be strong… and then women, it’s fine to be vulnerable.”
Vinnie Gomez, also a counselor at SPC, agreed, adding, “I think that’s a big part. You know just how we we’re raised; you deal with it.”
He went on to say that he tells students that anxiety does not exist.
“Because if you think about it, the more real it becomes,” Gomez explained.
Gregory labels this as “feeding the monster.” Crystal Gilster, the Director of Health and Wellness at SPC and a counselor, said there is a children’s book that discusses anxiety by using the analogy of a tomato plant. To grow a tomato plant, you plant one tiny seed. If you water it and give it sunshine, then it will grow into a plethora of tomatoes.
“It’s kind of like anxiety,” Gilster said. “You can have one little anxiety start it. But if you water it and you give it sunshine, your thinking, then that grows into this huge anxiety plant.”
Instead of giving in to all the negative thinking and the fight or flight reaction and worries that come with GAD, try positive self–talk, according to Gilster.
“You have to talk to yourself in order to help yourself recognize a truth that does not feel like a truth,” said Gilster.
Counselors agree that self-talk, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Metacognition, breathing exercises, and realizing unhelpful thinking can all help people with General Anxiety Disorder.
“The Cognitive Behavioral approach to dealing with a lot of things is kind of where I’m based.” Gregory, who is located at the Reese Center campus.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy. This therapy can help boost happiness by changing dysfunctional emotions, behaviors, and thoughts. CBT focuses on solutions, encouraging people to challenge distorted cognitions, and change destructive pattern behaviors. CBT aims to identify harmful thoughts, and helps you realize if those thoughts are an accurate depiction of reality.
“You have got to get a handle on your body,” Gregory said, adding “by breathing and becoming aware of how you feel.”
She goes on to say that Metacognition is a good way to do that, because “it’s about thinking about thinking. Once you’ve achieved that, it’s almost like naming it, naming it so you can kind of go to battle with it.”
Rachael Montgomery, also a counselor at SPC, agreed and said, “If you name it, then it’s not you. You are able to work on it and not judge yourself.”
More specifically, it is referring to a process which monitors and assesses one’s understanding and performance. Metacognition helps people to become aware of their strengths and weaknesses. It helps people to recognize their limit, then figure out how to extend their ability.
“It’s figuring out what triggers your anxiety and taking the steps to conquering it,” Gregory said.
WebMD states that people with anxiety take short shallow breaths, which can make you feel more anxious. Some of the breathing techniques that are listed on WebMD are as simple as slowly breathing in for 7 to 10 seconds, holding your breath for 2 seconds, then slowly releasing your breath for another 7 to 10 seconds.
You can also Deep Breathe. You start this by sitting or laying in a position that’s comfortable, then placing your hand on your stomach. Breathe in through your nose and try to fill your belly. Once your belly is pushed out and filled with air, breathe out through your nose again. You can repeat this as many times as you need.
You can also Breathe Focus. Close your eyes, breathe in and imagine that the air you are breathing in is filled with a sense of peace. Try to feel it throughout your body. Breathe out and imagine that the air is taking your stress and tension with it. Repeat this for 10 to 20 minutes. There are many more techniques that a counselor can help you learn. You can also find more on the internet.
Montgomery explained that she shows her clients a unhelpful thinking chart. This chart talks about 10 unhelpful thinking styles: All or nothing thinking, If I’m not perfect I have failed; Over-generalizing, seeing a pattern based upon a single event; mental filter, only paying attention to certain types of evidence; disqualifying the positive, discounting the good things that have happened; jumping to conclusions, imagining we know what others are thinking and predicting the future; magnification and minimization blowing things out of proportion; emotional reasoning, I feel embarrassed so I must be an idiot; Should & Musts, if we apply ‘shoulds’ to other people, the result is often frustration; Labeling, I’m a loser; and personalization, this is my fault.
Montgomery explained that these unhelpful thoughts can all be challenged through self-talk. So instead of thinking, ‘if I’m not perfect, I have failed,’ think ‘I’m not perfect; but I did my best.’
Gomez added, “one way to think of it is by asking yourself ‘would you talk to your best friend that way?’ Talk to yourself like you would to your best friend.”
General Anxiety Disorder can leave you feeling trapped, stressed, and unable to function fully. Gomez explained that It can stop you from going to work, to school, to social events, and more. In order to conquer General Anxiety, you need to manage your feelings by figuring out what your triggers are, “going to battle,” positively reinforcing your thoughts, pushing yourself a little outside your comfort zone, and keeping track of what is happening and your progress.
Going to a counselor can help with that. The counselors at SPC agree that they do not want to get inside the head of students, but instead, help give them tools in order to battle the anxiety monster. They can help sort out problems and suggest ways to help with them.
But most importantly, Gregory reminded that one of their jobs is to keep track of your progress so that all you have to do is think about conquering anxiety.
A big part of counseling is connecting with your counselor. If one does not seem to work, do not give up. Find another; they are there to help.