Breaking the Stigma: Anxiety


(Left to right) Annemarie Albright, Leia, McWilliams, Danielle Hegarty

Katherine Camarata, Staff Reporter

“You have your conscience in your head telling you what is good and what is bad,” freshman theatre design and production major Annemarie Albright said. “[With anxiety], it feels like I have two of them. One of them is normal, what everyone would experience, but the other one is really negative and it tends to be louder.”

According to Albright, this negative internal voice often tells her that people are judging her or that things are going wrong and she nitpicks every action she does. 

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-5 (DSM-5) characterizes anxiety disorders as excessive worry that may lead to physical symptoms like increased heart rate, trembling, muscle tension, irritability, fatigue and difficulty sleeping. 

According to the DSM-5, there are a variety of anxiety disorders including specific phobias in response to stimuli like spiders, social anxiety, panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder that persists more often than not. Approximately 28.8% of the population experiences some form of anxiety disorder at some point in their lifetime, according to an article by Pubmed/the National Library of Medicine website.

Anxiety manifests differently for different people.

“Anxiety for me is just a lot of worrying about the future. It’s a constant sense of dread,” junior history and social studies education major Danielle Hegarty said. 

According to senior psychology major Leia McWilliams, anxiety can involve feeling shaky, out of breath and very hot.

“If I said something dumb, [I worry that] they think that I’m stupid, they don’t like me. My thoughts spiral,” McWilliams said. 

Albright said her anxiety takes her away from certain situations such as being on the phone or talking in front of the class.

“I will get sick to my stomach to the point where I’ll want to leave, but it’s not always the situation where I can leave so I just kind of push through it,” Albright said.

While anxiety is a common struggle, it can often go untreated if a person is too anxious to go to a doctor or therapist. Hegarty didn’t go to a doctor at first, which she said “didn’t do much good for me in the long run.”

Hegarty said that her symptoms have been lessened with medication and highly recommended talking to a professional and finding treatment that works for people individually. 

According to Licensed Family Counselor Martha Burns, helpful coping methods include writing a list of activities that help you feel calm and engaging in sensory activities, such as taking a hot shower or lighting a scented candle. Burns also recommended exercise for anxiety. 

“A tired body will give your mind a break,” Burns said. 

Burns said certain substances like caffeine act in the same way that gasoline does to a campfire. Reducing caffeine intake can be an effective way to reduce anxiety.

McWilliams said she recently learned a grounding strategy to help when she feels overwhelmed. She said she starts by listing off five things she can hear, in her head or out loud, such as birds chirping or a clock ticking. Next, she lists off four things she can see. Then, she lists off three things she can smell. Then, two things she can taste. Finally, she lists off one thing she can feel. 

“By the time you get to one, you feel more calm and more grounded in the present moment,” McWilliams said. 

Hegarty said that scheduling alone time to decompress and keeping an organized schedule of daily activities helps her cope.

Not every coping strategy will work for every single person, but it’s important to find strategies that work for you specifically, according to McWilliams.

She said communicating with the people around you can be an effective way to conquer anxiety. 

“I tend to step out and say, ‘Hey, I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed,’” McWilliams said. “I stop for a minute and take a couple deep breaths.”

Albright recommended shutting out anxious thoughts as soon as possible by reassuring yourself that it’s just the anxiety talking. 

“I try to say out loud more positive stuff,” Albright said. “The more I say it out loud, the more I’ll believe it. When you hear negative stuff, that’s more likely to stick. I just try to drown out the negative with all the positive things I like about myself.”

Albright recommended offering those with anxiety a blanket or pillow to hold, or giving them a hug or a hand to hold if everybody is comfortable with that.

While deep breathing can be helpful, it is not an end-all be-all solution. Hegarty said while addressing people who have anxiety, it’s important to avoid minimizing their struggle by making dismissive statements.

“It’s not something you can just breathe out,” Hegarty said. “It’s a mental illness. It’s a chemical imbalance in your brain.”

McWilliams said that being patient and understanding is important when approaching people who have anxiety. Sometimes people get impatient with her for being indecisive due to anxiety, and that while these worries are small to them, for her mind, they are big.

McWilliams recommended sympathizing with those who have anxiety by saying something like, “I may not understand what you’re going through, but I’m here for you. I know this is troubling you and I want to help you as best as I can.”

According to Albright, it can be difficult to spot anxiety in others and it may come across as though somebody is just being shy or quiet. 

“What you think is not always what’s going on,” Albright said. “Don’t be scared to say ‘hi’, because personally I would love people to come talk to me, but I’m always too scared to make the first move.”

McWilliams said it’s important to find people who understand anxiety and won’t criticize you for your experience.

“Finding a good group of people may be hard, but it’s not impossible,” McWilliams said. “They are out there. Just keep trying if you feel alone, and I know you will find them eventually. Don’t give up, it will work out.” 

It’s important to gauge whether your anxiety is productive worry versus unproductive worry, according to Burns. She said that productive worry involves problem-solving that you have control over, while unproductive worry involves repetitive thoughts that keep you awake at night.

Albright recommended focusing on ways that anxiety can be helpful instead of hindering you. She said that being a perfectionist can help her get stuff done, but it’s important to keep anxiety in check. 

“Try not to let it consume you,” Albright said. “Don’t let it control your life.”