Tips from CAPS: Mitigating anxiety

By Drew Stapleton, MSW Intern from WSU School of Social Work

One of the most common human experiences is the condition of anxiety. For many of us, anxiety can take the form of worrying about the future. A little bit of anxiety can be healthy — it may help motivate us and encourage us to strategize and plan for the future. However, anxiety becomes a problem when it limits our ability to function properly.student with help sign

Anxiety has cognitive and somatic components. We experience it in the form of intrusive and racing thoughts, tension in the body, and feelings of nervousness and restlessness, among other symptoms. These symptoms typically impact our habits and behavior. Anxiety may negatively impact our sleep, make us more agitated and disrupt our relationships, or consume too much of our energy and obscure our clarity of thought.

There are several strategies for mitigating anxiety, and this week’s tip focuses on a somatic strategy. Many of us tend to hold our breath after an inhale when we are anxious without even realizing it. When we inhale, our sympathetic nervous system (responsible for our “fight or flight” response) is activated, and when we exhale, our parasympathetic nervous system (controls our relaxation response) is activated. An overemphasis on inhalation can chronically activate our sympathetic nervous system, create long-term health problems, exacerbate feelings of anxiety, and reduce the body’s ability to efficiently move oxygen through our muscles and internal outside breathing deeply

The following exercise is simple yet powerful. It can be practiced anywhere at any time, and can relieve in-the-moment feelings of anxiety.

Breathwork exercise

Sit comfortably, and let yourself completely relax. Take one slow, deep breath in through your nose. Fill your lungs completely with oxygen. Pause at the top, then slowly release the breath through your nose or mouth until your lungs are completely empty. Pause only for a moment, then repeat this process 10 times.

CAPS is here for you

WSU Applebaum offers dedicated Counseling and Psychological Services support to students on a group or individual basis. To get started, visit and complete the initial consultation form, making sure to note that you are an EACPHS student. You can also reach out directly to Counselor Patti Dixon at 313-577-3243. If you need help after hours or on the weekend, call CAPS at 313-577-9982.

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