Oscar Rosado

“Anxiety makes it really hard when teachers ask questions in class,” said fine arts major Angelina Rubensaal who has been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. “I am in constant fear if I get a question wrong. What will the professor think? What will my classmates think?” To cope with her anxiety she said she fiddles with objects such as pens and her keys, and ties and unties her hair. “I am 98% sure I’ll get the answer right, but what about the 2%?” said Rubensaal.

According to NAMI.org and Centers for Diseases Control via CDC.gov, the following are based on diagnostic interview data, an estimated 31.9% of adolescents have any anxiety disorder.

However, Rubensaal is not alone. Many students feel anxious during class, but why is the question? Learning Specialist at the Accessibility Center, Kelly McLaughlin has an answer. McLaughlin, who taught Psychology on campus since 2005 and have worked at the Accessibility Services since 2012, said it is the umbrella of anxiety disorder. If the umbrella is open, it leads to a panic attack. If the person recalls of an event two years ago, it triggers something in the brain.

“We don’t realize how many people have anxiety in one form or another,” said McLaughlin. “Anxiety deals with the chemical makeup of our brain. It can be inherited by our biological parents causing it to be an underlying anxiety disorder.” 

McLaughlin added that anxiety can be an invisible disorder/disability. “When you see someone in a wheelchair, that something you can physically see. Anxiety is on the inside, something we cannot easily see.”

According to her, different things can trigger panic attacks which can lead to anxiety. She gave an example if a person were to have a car accident in the winter, they would show signs of the symptoms next winter. The snow and the highway would become triggers. “If they have a bad experience they can set back further,” said McLaughlin.

“It can affect their grades, it can be debilitating. Most classes require class participation, and students who have anxiety in the classroom, it can be hard for them. If anxious when taking a test, students feel the need to take it to another room,” said McLaughlin.

An example McLaughlin gave of someone with classroom anxiety was of an unnamed student who was taking a speech class. Part of the class was to speak publicly to classmates, but McLaughlin recalled the teacher was so great, instead of a speech in front of the whole class, the student was able to give a speech to just the teacher and two other classmates. “It was the teacher’s idea and I think it’s great teachers are willing to come to our office and help their students.”

McLaughlin proceeded to speak about debilitating anxiety which she said, “it is so strong and severe it affects daily life. It crashes in on you, and causes a hard time functioning that day.”

She shared a case approximately eight years ago where a student had stayed in their home for a year and a half. McLaughlin identified this as agoraphobia. It is when you have great fear of leaving your home. “You feel the need to be in a safe place, typically that safe place is home. If you leave home, you will have panic attacks,” said McLaughlin. She added even coming to school can be a challenge for people with anxiety.

“It takes everything within that student to do what they need to do for school,” said McLaughlin. “All those steps take tremendous effort. Anxiety can take a lot of energy. For some people, it is easier to stay home.”

Help is there for you

However, help is there. Some get help with a medical doctor, a psychiatrist, or a counselor. Ways to deal with anxiety is having coping skills.

“Life is busy,” said McLaughlin. “A great way to cope is to do some type of exercise. A way to increase the chemicals in your brain. It doesn’t have to be big, it can as simple as parking your car in the last row and walking a little bit extra,” said McLaughlin. “If you take classes, you have free access to our gym to walk on the track, treadmill, etc. Some do not know it is good for them. As long as you are registered in at least one class,” said McLaughlin.

“People might want to limit their caffeine. It makes the neurotransmitters in the brain more active. It is a stimulant, like a drug,” said McLaughlin. 

Another way to cope is seating arrangements in classrooms, such as sitting in front of the class or the back of the class. “If they need to leave the room they can walk out the door,” said McLaughlin.

More support with those with anxiety can attend the Learning Differences Club. They welcome any students with disabilities and can join and get support from each other. Another place to go for support is the Care Center which helps students in recovery. They have a calming room for students who simply want to sit down. “It’s amazing that students can take action and do that,” said McLaughlin. 

Along with limiting caffeine, and exercising, McLaughlin said it is important to sleep for a decent amount of time. Another thing to do is having extra lights around. She added, people who do cope using these methods have come to them and said their anxiety wasn’t as bad anymore.

“Anxiety and depression can become more severe around this time of year,” said McLaughlin. This is called Seasonal Affective Disorder. When seasons change, it can trigger more anxiety. “Never underestimate to talk to a friend,” said McLaughlin.

McLaughlin added in College it’s important people self disclose for themselves. Since they are in College, they are adults, and if they need help, they must take action on their own. “People would want to change, and there is help available to change,” said McLaughlin.

“They are the bravest people I’ve ever met. To walk to our door and for them to say, ‘can I talk to somebody’, it is not easy to reach out for help. Students we have helped are glad they did when they did, and a lot wish they would have done it sooner,” said McLaughlin regarding people who come to their office.

To receive help from the accessibility services, students must have documents from a doctor, psychiatrist, or counselor letting them know the student does indeed require additional assistance. Documentation that must be given to the accessibility services is known as a verification of disability.

  • Of adolescents with any anxiety disorder, an estimated 8.3% had severe impairment. DSM-IV criteria were used to determine impairment.
  • The prevalence of any anxiety disorder among adolescents was higher for females (38.0%) than for males (26.1%).
  • Forty million U.S adults suffer from an anxiety disorder and 75 percent of them experience their first episode of anxiety by the age of 22.

Source: The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA)