Stress, anxiety, and learning to cope
Originally Published: November 1, 1994 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: December 7, 2010
I am a graduate student, doing very well in my coursework and research. However, I feel extreme anxiety in doing anything, e.g., starting a problem set, writing a program, etc. I wonder what are the common causes of anxiety and what I may be suffering from. I would like to be calm and relaxed and not anxious and stressed. I know about meditations, etc., but what I would really like is some psychological insight.
Dear Anxiously Awaiting,
Feeling anxious is a common experience among students. It can sometimes take the form of test anxiety or the fear of not being able to meet expectations or perform up to one's abilities. Some commons sources of anxiety include schoolwork, relationships, worries about the future, the environment, etc. Simply put, anxiety is one form of the body's response to stress.
Physically, everyone responds to stressors in basically the same, predictable way. Emotionally and behaviorally, though, individuals respond in different ways. Emotional and behavioral responses to stress depend on a complex set of factors including temperament, health, life experiences, beliefs and ideas, and coping skills. Some of these responses to stress may include anxiety, depression, fear, or crying. To cope with stress, some people talk, eat, drink, exercise, meditate, breathe deeply, and/or seek support from others.
Behavioral, emotional, and physical responses to stress are usually interrelated. The more intense the physical response, the stronger the emotional response, and vice-versa. Effective behavioral responses can break this cycle; ineffective ones only worsen it. Stress management techniques help us to deal effectively with daily stressors and give us tools for handling and responding to the inevitable pressures we face. Many students find it useful to meet regularly with other students to talk about schoolwork and the pressures involved — it works as a stress release and a peer support system. It's also important to maintain a healthy overall lifestyle with good eating, sleeping, and exercise patterns.
If you do find that your anxiety level increases so much so that you're unable to follow your daily routines and keep up with your work, call Columbia's Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) for an appointment at x4-2878 or consider attending one of the student life support groups and workshops offered by CPS. If you're not a student at Columbia, check with your school's counseling services to see what they can offer in terms of support.
You may consider checking out The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook: 4th Edition by Edmund J. Bourne. Also, in some cases of anxiety the use of prescription medication may be suggested. Only you and your health care provider can determine if this may be a helpful consideration.
The first step to overcoming your anxiety is to be aware that it exists and to explore its sources. Sounds like you're on the right path to a less anxious college experience.