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.  We all feel anxious at times.  We may experience sweaty palms, muscle tightness, a racing or pounding heart, and feelings of uneasiness.  The brain releases adrenaline and kicks our fight-or-flight response into gear.  It can be tied to a specific situation, such as going to the doctor or taking a test.  It could even occur before positive events, such as weddings or graduations.  For others, anxiety seems to be more of a constant companion, an unrelenting knot in the stomach, difficulty sleeping, and worry that doesn’t fade, only the topic of the worry changes.

Positives and negatives

Having some anxiety has been shown to enhance motivation and performance.  Positive anxiety helps protect us from realistic danger, such as being cautious about walking alone in a city at night.  When anxiety becomes overwhelming, it can interfere with decision-making and decrease performance.  Oftentimes, anxiety is affected by heredity; patterns of excessive anxiety or worry in the family may put you at higher risk of having an anxiety disorder.  Self-confidence, higher self-esteem, and comfort in being out of control or unsure how things will turn out are protective factors against anxiety.


Anxiety becomes a problem when it interferes in your life and causes impairment or distress.   It can prevent you from functioning adequately at school or work and from engaging in satisfying social interactions.  Anxiety disorders comprise the most common mental health diagnosis in the U.S.  More than 23 million Americans suffer from a diagnosable and treatable form of anxiety.

Related problems

Physical problems are often linked to stress and anxiety.  Headaches, insomnia, TMJ, irritable bowel syndrome, skin rashes, high blood pressure, and heart problems are often caused by anxiety.  Ongoing, untreated anxiety can become a chronic, lifelong condition.  It may lead to, not only physical problems, but additional psychological issues such as depression.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Unhealthy anxiety can occur in response to trauma (PTSD), or it can be triggered by uncomfortable situations we would like to avoid, such as with phobias or social anxiety.  Many peoples experience generalized anxiety (GAD) that is not linked to a specific situation, and others may manifest their anxiety with obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors (OCD).  Regardless of the form the anxiety takes, our nature tells us to avoid anxiety-provoking situations.  Unfortunately, this avoidance ultimately feeds our anxiety even if we feel some relief in the moment.  Life can become very limited if our only coping skill is avoidance.

Unhealthy Coping Strategies

Unfortunately, many people use alcohol and other drugs to control their anxiety or “self-medicate”; marijuana is commonly used for this purpose.  Though these substances may calm you down in the short-term, they exacerbate problems of anxiety in the long run.  Using drugs can also lead to other problems (e.g. missing classes, not studying) that eventually have a negative effect on your life.  Smoking cigarettes and other compulsive type behaviors (e.g. shopping, playing video games, gambling, etc.) may provide temporary, but not long-lasting, relief from stress and anxiety.

Do I have excessive anxiety?

The following questions will help you determine if anxiety is a concern you should take a closer look at:

  • Do I feel anxious more often than not throughout the day?
  • Have I restricted my activities as a way of coping with anxiety?
  • Do I experience panic, or panic-like symptoms, in certain predictable situations?
  • Am I intensely fearful of 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?

What can be done?

  • Utilize cognitive strategies
    • Try to identify what triggers the anxious feelings.  For example, if you have test anxiety, are you afraid of receiving a low grade which would lead to failing the class, which would lead to retaking the class, which would lead to criticism from others, and on and on?  These thoughts can snowball if we let them.
      • Develop a list of issues you spend time worrying about, rate the importance they hold in your life and how much time you spend dwelling on them on a scale of 1 – 10 with 5 being moderate and 10 being excessive worry.  Examine this list.  What does the worry do for you?
    • Does your anxiety mostly occurs in social situations:  Are you afraid you might say the “wrong” thing, or not know what to say at all, or do something to embarrass yourself?  There’s that snowball again.
    • Do you worry all the time about everything?  Ask yourself what purpose this serves.  Is the worry a protection so that you feel you are prepared for anything that might happen?  Does the worry allow you a feeling of control (while it controls you)?
    • What are you telling yourself?  Oftentimes, how we think has become a habit.  In order to break the habit, or the pattern, or the cycle, stop and notice what you’re thinking, then stop the snowball with a reality check.  “If I fail one test, my college career is not ruined.”  “If I stay home all the time, I’ll never get comfortable with people.”  “The time I spend worrying won’t change the situation, and it’s time I could better spend in other ways.”
    • Take the “what ifs” and the “yes, buts” out of your vocabulary.  Remember that no one ever died from embarrassment, and that worrying is like rocking in a rocking chair, it gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere.  Don’t let fear and anxiety rob you of living the life you want to live!
  • Delay worrying – Try to delay the worry for another day. By delaying it and concentrating on the tasks at hand, this stops the negative thoughts, delays them, and there is a greater chance of forgetting about it.
  • Take action – Don’t let yourself be paralyzed by fear and worry; develop an action plan and work towards solutions.
  • Accept yourself for who you are – Accept that you struggle with anxiety issues.  Don’t blame or criticize yourself for this, it will only make it worse.  Your goal should be to learn how to manage your anxiety so that it doesn’t run your life.
  • Practice mind-body relaxation strategies, such as:
    • Deep breathing
      • Notice your breathing…are your breaths fast and shallow?  Take a few deep breaths from your abdomen instead of your chest.  Focus only on your breathing and let your mind clear.  See what a difference it makes.
    • Meditation or guided imagery (check out YouTube for great exercises)
    • Body Scanning
      • Relax each muscle in your body, slowly and one at a time by tensing the muscle and then releasing it.
  • Relax by doing things you enjoy!
    • Listen to music
    • Go for a walk
    • Read a book
    • Take a bubble bath
    • Take some time for yourself and give yourself a break from worry

Treatment Options

Anxiety can be treated by psychotherapy, mind-body practices, and/or medication.  Consult a professional to discover what types of treatments may work best for you.  Also, remember to take care of yourself by:

  • Exercising
  • Eating a balanced diet (remember, caffeine can trigger anxiety and panic attacks)
  • Limiting alcohol and staying away from illegal drugs
  • Volunteering
  • Doing your best instead of trying to be perfect
  • Taking a time-out
  • Putting things in perspective
  • Talking to someone


Suggestions for intervening with an anxious friend or loved one are as follows:

  • Be empathetic and understanding
  • Don’t minimize the severity of anxiety symptoms
  • Avoid critical or shaming statements
  • Encourage coping strategies which don’t rely on avoidance of anxiety-provoking stimuli
  • Challenge expressions of hopelessness
  • Don’t argue about how bad things are
  • Don’t become angry even though your efforts may be resisted or rejected
  • Advocate for treatment of anxiety
  • Consult with a mental health professional if an anxious friend refuses necessary treatment

Local Resources

Wayne College offers free counseling services to enrolled students.
Visit the Smucker Learning Center or call (330)684-8960 to schedule an appointment.

The Counseling Center of Wayne and Holmes Counties
Wooster Location: 2285 Benden Drive (330)264-9029
Orrville Location: 345 South Crown Hill Drive (330)683-5106
Rittman Location: 8 North Main Street (330)925-5466
*Crisis Assistance available 24/7*

Catholic Charities of Wayne County
521 Beall Avenue, Wooster, OH 44691

STEPS at Liberty Center
Gault Liberty Center
104 Spink Street, Wooster, OH 44691

Your Human Resource Center
Wooster Location: 2587 Back Orrville Road (330)264-9597 or (800)721-YHRC
Orrville Location: 119 East Market Street (330)682-5800
Millersburg Location: 186 West Jackson Street (330)674-4608
Rittman Location: 51 North Main Street (330)927-2244

Online Resources

National Institute of Mental Health
Anxiety Disorders

Medline Plus

Answers TV


The Smucker Learning and Testing Center

Located in B-Wing of the Main Classroom Building on campus.
Phone: 330-684-8960
Visit website

Fall and Spring Semester Hours:

  • Monday – Thursday: 8:00am – 7:00pm
  • Friday: 8:00am – 3:00pm
  • Saturday – Sunday: Closed

For additional information or to schedule an appointment, please contact us at 330-684-8960 or by email at

Dr. Jane Fink

Dr. Jane Fink

Director of Counseling and
Accessibility Services