Anxiety - Queen's University

Anxiety - Queen's University


Counselling Services, Queen’s University

Facts about it and Tips for Coping

What is Normal Anxiety?

The feeling of worry, apprehension, fear and/or

panic in response to situations which seem

overwhelming, threatening, unsafe or uncomfortable

Your body’s way of alerting you that some kind of

action is needed in the face of a situation that is

perceived to be threatening or dangerous

What is Normal Anxiety?

Anxiety is helpful if it prompts you to take

appropriate action in response to an anxietyprovoking


For example, anxiety can motivate you to study for

an exam or organize a presentation or leave a

situation that feels unsafe

When is Anxiety Abnormal?

When it interferes with life

If it’s difficult to control and lasts a long time

If it becomes overwhelming and prevents you from

taking appropriate actions

If it prompts you to take actions that are


Adapted from: University of Illinois’ “Understanding and Treating Anxiety”

Anxiety Vs. Anxiety Disorder

Experiencing anxiety is a very normal and

necessary part of everyday life

If you no longer feel in control of anxiety or able to

cope with it…. Then it may be as a result of an

anxiety disorder

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Generalized Anxiety

Specific Phobia

Social Anxiety

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Panic Disorder

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Generalized Anxiety

A condition in which you experience chronic and

debilitating anxiety and/or worry

Your worry affects your ability to function in

important areas of your life like work, home, school

and your personal relationships

Image: Flickr Creative Commons, Meredith_Farmer

Generalized Anxiety

In addition, you also may experience a lot of physical

symptoms that are related to the worry:

Feeling restless or keyed up

Difficulty concentrating

Being easily fatigued

Feeling irritable

Experiencing muscle tension

Having sleep difficulties

Gastrointestinal discomfort including nausea and diarrhea


Specific Phobia

Image: Flickr Creative Commons, Meredith_Farmer

There are many people who dislike certain

things/situations and become anxious when in

contact with them

However if one has a phobia, the thing/situation

evokes intense distressing fear that significantly

impacts their ability to function

Example: fear of flying, driving, snakes, spiders,

blood, injections etc.

Social Anxiety

Image: Flickr Creative Commons, Meredith_Farmer

Fear of being appraised or judged negatively by

others and as a result, feeling embarrassed or


The fear is out of proportion to the actual situation

but uncontrollable (even though the person may

know they are being irrational)

Often results in avoidance of situations where you

feel you may be judged negatively

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Occurs when you have been exposed to traumatic events

that cause you to experience distressing psychological


Some common experiences for someone with PTSD are:

Feeling detached or estranged from others

Emotional numbness- being out of touch with your feelings

Intense Flashbacks- feeling as though you are reliving the event

all over again


Repetitive, distressing thoughts about the incident

Trying to avoid the thoughts or feelings associated with the event

Trying to avoid external situations or activities that remind you of

the incident

Panic Disorder

Image: Flickr Creative Commons, Meredith_Farmer

Panic attacks are intense episodes of fear that

often occur out of the blue and will peak within

ten minutes and often even quicker

When this alarm system gets triggered you are

likely to experience a series of physical and

cognitive symptoms which can be overwhelming

Panic Attack Symptoms

• Shortness of breath or smothering • Hot flashes or chills


• Chest pain or discomfort

• Dizziness, unsteady feelings, or faintness • Fear of dying

• Palpitations or accelerated heart rate • Fear of going crazy or losing self-

• Trembling or shaking


• Sweating

• Choking

• Nausea or abdominal distress

• Depersonalization

• Numbness or tingling sensations in one or

more parts of your body

• Feeling a need to escape

• Having a feeling of imminent doom or


Image: Flickr Creative Commons, Sindre Sorhus

Panic Disorder

Some people have panic attacks but never develop

Panic Disorder

It is unclear as to why this is

Often after someone has experienced a panic

attack the worry of having another is what becomes


Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a condition in

which you experience thoughts, images or impulses

that come into your mind that are very disturbing to

you and may make you feel anxious (Obsessions)

You may then need to perform certain acts or rituals

in order to make yourself feel better or less anxious


Adapted from: Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada

Image: Flickr Creative Commons, Janine

When to Seek Professional Help

If you think you may be struggling with any of the

types of anxiety talked about, talk to your doctor–

they will distinguish between normal anxiety and an

anxiety disorder

Image: Flickr Creative Commons, waynemah

Coping With Anxiety

Find out more about it – ask yourself

these questions:

What provokes the anxiety?

What thoughts or physical sensations

accompany the anxiety?

How distressing is the anxiety?

How do you cope with the anxiety?

Image: Flickr Creative Commons, Stephen Poff

Coping With Anxiety

Things that can help manage anxiety:

Daily physical activity

A nutritious, well-balanced diet

Adequate amount of sleep (7-8hrs)

Image: Flickr Creative Commons, maistora

Emotional support from friends and family

Work on creating realistic, attainable goals

Reduce or eliminate the use of alcohol and drugs and limit

caffeine intake

Don’t engage in “emotional reasoning” (e.g., “because I feel

awful, my life is terrible”)

Don’t assume responsibility for events which are outside of

your control

Adapted from: University of Illinois’ “Understanding and Treating Anxiety”


Breathing changes when we are feeling anxious

We tend to take short, quick, shallow breaths, or even


Calm breathing (sometimes called “diaphragmatic

breathing”) is a technique that helps you slow down

your breathing when feeling stressed or anxious


Often times people think “right, just breath and I’ll

feel better…”


It seems simple but if done right, it has many

beneficial effects:

Decreases heart rate

Increases circulation

Increase oxygen consumption

All of which promotes relaxation

Image: Flickr Creative Commons, Viamoi


How to do it:

Calm breathing involves taking smooth, slow, and regular


Sitting upright as it can increase the capacity of your lungs

to fill with air

'take the weight' off your shoulders by supporting your arms

on the side-arms of a chair, or on your lap


How to do it con’t.

Take a slow breath in through the nose,

breathing into your lower belly (for

Image: Flickr Creative Commons, Royce Bair

about 4 seconds)

Hold your breath for 1 or 2 seconds

Exhale slowly through the mouth (for about 4 seconds)

Wait a few seconds before taking another breath

Make sure that you aren’t hyperventilating; it is

important to pause for a few seconds after each



It takes PRACTICE!

Try calm breathing for at least five minutes twice a day

You do not need to be feeling anxious to practice – in

fact, at first you should practice while feeling relatively


Image: Flickr Creative Commons, Mark Howells-Mead

Muscle Relaxation

A lot of anxiety is held subconsciously in our muscles

and works to perpetuate the emotional parts of


Paying attention to your muscles and deliberately

releasing the tension decreases anxiety all around

Image: Flickr Creative Commons, Apogee Photography

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

How to do it:

Start at your feet and work your way up your body

(see next slide)

Take a deep breath and at the same time tense up the

muscle and hold for 5 seconds

Release the tension in your muscle and exhale

Repeat as necessary

Image: Flickr Creative Commons, kygp

Muscle Relaxation

Foot (curl your toes downward)

Lower leg and foot (tighten your calf muscle by pulling toes towards you)

Entire leg (squeeze thigh muscles while doing above)

Hand (clench your fist)

Entire right arm (tighten your biceps by drawing your forearm up towards your

shoulder and “make a muscle”, while clenching fist)

Buttocks (tighten by pulling your buttocks together)

Stomach (suck your stomach in)

Chest (tighten by taking a deep breath)

Neck and shoulders (raise your shoulders up to touch your ears)

Mouth (open your mouth wide enough to stretch the hinges of your jaw)

Eyes (clench your eyelids tightly shut)

Forehead (raise your eyebrows as far as you can)

Changing Thinking Patterns

Thinking Traps

When we are anxious we often see the world in an

unrealistic “frightened” way

The heightened arousal that comes with anxiety can

lead to seeing the context we are in as threatening or


Often this type of thinking

happens subconsciously

Image: Flickr Creative Commons, Alice Popkorn

Changing Thinking Patterns

Thinking Traps Con’t…

It is helpful to increase our awareness of patterns in our

thinking in order to practice thinking more realistically


Do any of the “traps” sound familiar to you?

Can you come up with alternative things to say to yourself

when you fall into these traps?

Image: Flickr Creative Commons, Jamelah

Adapted from Anxiety BC’s “General Self-Help Strategies”


Mindfulness Activity


Part of what perpetuates anxiety is the fear that it

will not go away/we won’t be able to control it

When we give ourselves the space to feel what we

are feeling instead of trying to fight it, the intensity

of the emotion often decreases

Image: Flickr Creative Commons, Alex is late

If after trying these techniques you are still

struggling make sure you see a doctor and/or

mental health professional for more advice

Image: Flickr Creative Commons, Lowfatbrain


Contact Queen’s University Counselling Services for

more information on how to get professional help

613-533-6000 ext. 78264

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