Health and Medicine People and Community

Do you suffer from anxiety?

The coronavirus pandemic and its correlating lockdowns are blamed for rising levels of anxiety among a global population, including young people. But there are ways to mitigate the mental health challenges.
Coral Gables, FL- 09-18-2023--Photo by Joshua Prezant/University of Miami—Campus Labyrinth (Located overlooking the Lake, on the sidewalk path by the residential colleges) 1231 Theo Dickinson Dr, Coral Gables, FL 33146

The labyrinth on the Coral Gables Campus overlooks Lake Osceola. Photo: Joshua Prezant/University of Miami

Anxiety can cripple. Those who experience it describe dealing with doubt, fear, and nervousness. They fall into a spiral of negativity that threatens to drown them.

More and more people are experiencing anxiety in the United States and worldwide, according to news reports. In a 2021 advisory issued during the pandemic, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy acknowledged the coronavirus’s effect in boosting fear, noting the “recent COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated unprecedented stresses young people already faced.”

He added that “mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real and they are widespread. But most importantly they are treatable and often preventable.”  

Many experts maintain that the coronavirus pandemic intensified the cases of anxiety because of the social isolation that many experienced during the lockdowns imposed to prevent the spreading of the virus.

The economy, inflation, climate change, social media, incessant news cycles, and social pressures all contribute to more anxiety in today’s society, according to experts.

Rene Monteagudo heads the University of Miami Counseling Center, which provides an array of effective and quality multidisciplinary psychological services to students. He addressed dealing with anxiety and how to find ways to mitigate its effects.

What is anxiety and how does it manifest itself?

Anxiety is a feeling that brings on racing thoughts, a racing heart. The person feels nervous and fidgety; they feel unhedged and may have an upset stomach. If the symptoms get intensified, people may think that their hearts are racing so fast that they feel they are going to have a heart attack. Or they cannot take a shallow breath, so they feel they will faint.

Not everyone who suffers from anxiety will have a panic attack. A panic attack is a more intense symptom of anxiety. A key factor that suggests they should get treatment is if these symptoms interrupt their day-to-day life.

Why do you feel there are increasing cases of anxiety?

Many things can trigger anxiety. Levels of anxiety expressed by students coming to the counseling center have increased somewhat coming out of the pandemic, in particular social anxiety. A lot of it has to do with the fact that they had to do Zoom in high school and during the lockdown. And losing those face-to-face social experiences has affected them. It makes sense.

My hope is that this academic year will be a normal academic year and that we will stabilize all around.

What are some of the ways one can help decrease anxiety or panic attacks?

Sometimes, I tell the students that they can ground themselves. If they can identify things around them—what do they see, smell, touch. This kind of helps them get them through it. Some breathing exercises may help.

Having someone telling them that it is OK. Having a tactile experience distracts the brain from what is happening. So, for some folks, they can grab ice, put an ice pack on themself. That way the body has a different sensation to rely on. Hopefully, it will help.

I have rubber cat toys in my office, and they are spikey. If students are prone to panic attacks, have these kinds of toys in the backpack and take them out and squeeze them because they are not regular stress balls. They give a different tactile feeling and can help.

Can being in nature help with anxiety?

Being mindful of one’s surroundings and taking mindfulness walks help. On campus, I would encourage students to walk around the lake. Near the Frost School of Music there is something called a labyrinth, and it is there to encourage people to walk in a mindfulness circle. Follow the instructions that are along the labyrinth.

Other things to do include:

  • Go outside and take a breath of fresh air.
  • Try to slow things down.
  • Get off your phone, raise your head, and be aware of what is around you.
  • Get a good night’s sleep.
  • Eat well.
  • Get daily exercise.

What are some of the resources that the University offers to help its students and staff members who may be experiencing anxiety?   

The good thing is that young people are very willing to talk about their mental health and well-being nowadays. It is always best to talk to a professional if they are concerned about something, as opposed to self-diagnosing after they saw an Instagram or Tik-Tok video.

Students can call the counseling center and they can schedule a brief assessment from us. Or they can drop in for a brief assessment and that will help them get services here. 

The center also trains 30 to 40 students yearly to provide psycho educational programs to their peers through different outreach programs on campus. This group is called COPE (Counseling Outreach Peer Education), and it facilitates conversations about common mental health concerns that college students may encounter.

Visit the Counseling Center website for more information about COPE outreach programs.

The Counseling Center also provides a self-directed therapy app called WellTrack to help students manage and understand symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Members of the faculty and staff can get counseling help through the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program.