Cultivating Calm

What is Cultivating Calm?

Cultivating Calm is a workshop series geared to help students learn about, understand, and cope with stress and anxiety. These workshops fall under Mind-Body Well-Being because they include information about the cognitive, emotional, and physical aspects of stress and anxiety.

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What is the Difference between Stress and Anxiety?


Stress can be defined as a strain on your abilities to cope with the demands placed on you by everyday life and is a natural response to a situation where you feel under pressure.

80% of college students say they frequently or sometimes experience daily stress.*

Examples of stress: trouble meeting deadlines, public speaking, time management, exams, feeling overworked, transitions, worry over loved ones, etc.

Stress, whether it be from a significant life experience or a lot of everyday things, can lead us to feel overwhelmed and have a negative impact on our lives.

* According to a 2008 Associated Press and mtvUsurvey.


Stress can help us make beneficial decisions and sometimes achieve optimal performance. Although if every day experiences of stress start to aggregate and snowball, this can lead to chronic stress or anxiety. In moderation, stress or anxiety is not always negative. In fact, anxiety can help you stay alert and focused, spur you to action, and motivate you to solve problems. Anxiety is the body's natural response to danger, an automatic alarm that goes off when you feel threatened, under pressure, or are facing a stressful situation. 

Research has shown that long-term stress left unaddressed can increase the risk of developing depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. Learning how to effectively manage stress helps to prevent it from leading to these types of problems.


Anxiety is a multisystem response to perceived threat or danger. It reflects a combination of biochemical changes in the body, while including the person's personal life history, memories and the circumstances of the present social situation. Anxiety becomes the "what if," it's anticipatory of what could happen while stress is more about a response to every day challenges. Anxiety is excessive and/or unrealistic worry that is difficult to control occurring more days than not.

Over time, high levels of circulating epinephrine over the long term, coupled with the release of the stress hormone cortisol, can cause or exacerbate severe health problems, like heart disease, obesity, and suppression of the immune system. Chronic stress can also contribute to the risk of developing depression and anxiety.

Anxiety can be experienced as a friend or foe: it can keep us out of trouble or have us chronically on edge. Ordinary, healthy worry reminds us to pay our taxes, see a doctor when we're feeling sick, and lock the doors at night. But when worry or stress escalates into chronic anxiety, keeping us from fully living our lives, it's time to assess the kind of relationship we have with our anxiety and take action to change it.

Potential Contributors to Anxiety:

  • Hereditary
  • Childhood circumstances
  • Stress  (i.e. sudden onset and/or cumulative in nature)
  • Health-related factors
  • Trauma

Not everyone who worries has an anxiety disorder. You may be anxious because of an overly demanding schedule, health issues, lack of exercise or sleep, pressure at home or work, or even from too much coffee.

It is important to keep in mind if your lifestyle is unhealthy and stressful, you're more likely to feel anxious "whether or not you have an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health problems on college campuses.*

40 million U.S. adults suffer from an anxiety disorder, and 75% of them experience their first episode of anxiety by age 22.*

* According to a 2008 Associated Press and mtvU survey.


How do I Know if I am Struggling With Anxiety?

It is anxiety when stress stops being functional and becomes constant or overwhelming; it interferes with your relationships, activities and effects the quality of your life. This is often when you have crossed the line from "normal," productive stress into the territory of an anxiety problem. If you identify with several of the following signs and symptoms, and they just won't go away, you may be suffering from an anxiety issue.  Are you constantly tense, worried, or on edge? Does your anxiety interfere with your work, school, or family responsibilities. Are you plagued by fears that you know are irrational, but can't shake? Do you believe that something bad will happen if certain things aren't done a certain way? Do you avoid everyday situations or activities because they cause you anxiety? Do you experience sudden, unexpected attacks of heart-pounding panic? Do you feel like danger and catastrophe are around every corner?

Types of Anxiety Disorders

There are six major types of anxiety disorders, each with their own distinct symptom profile: generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder (anxiety attacks), phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and social anxiety disorder. offers an entire article on each type of anxiety disorder.

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): constant worries and fears distract you from your day-to-day activities, or you're troubled by a persistent feeling something bad is going to happen. You feel anxious nearly all of the time, though you may not even know why.
  • Panic disorder: characterized by repeated, unexpected panic attacks, as well as fear of experiencing another episode.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): characterized by unwanted thoughts or behaviors that seems impossible to stop or control. You may be troubled by obsessions, or feel compelled to perform repeated actions called rituals.
  • Phobia: an unrealistic or exaggerated fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that in reality presents little to no danger. Common phobias include fear of snakes, spiders, flying, and heights.
  • Social anxiety disorder: characterized by a debilitating fear of being seen negatively by others and humiliated in public. It can be thought of as extreme shyness.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): An extreme anxiety disorder that can occur in the aftermath of a traumatic or life-threatening event. Symptoms include flashbacks or nightmares about what happened and avoiding situations that remind you of the event

Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders

Because anxiety disorders are a group of related conditions rather than a single disorder, they can look very different from person to person. One individual may suffer from intense anxiety attacks that strike without warning, while another gets panicky at the thought of mingling at a party. Someone else may struggle with a disabling fear of driving, or uncontrollable, intrusive thoughts. Yet another may live in a constant state of tension, worrying about anything and everything.

Despite their different forms, all anxiety disorders share one major symptom: persistent or severe fear or worry in situations where most people generally wouldn't feel threatened.

Emotional symptoms of anxiety

  • Feelings of apprehension or dread·
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling tense and jumpy
  • Anticipating the worst
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Watching for signs of danger
  • Feeling like your mind's gone blank

Physical symptoms of anxiety

  • Pounding heart
  • Sweating
  • Stomach upset or dizziness
  • Frequent urination or diarrhea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tremors and twitches
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia

When to Seek Professional Help for Anxiety? 

While self-help coping strategies for anxiety can be very effective, if your worries, fears, or anxiety attacks have become so great that they're causing extreme distress or disrupting your daily routine, it is important to seek professional help.

If you're experiencing a lot of physical anxiety symptoms, consider getting a medical checkup. Your doctor can check to make sure that your anxiety isn't caused by a medical condition, such as a thyroid problem, hypoglycemia, or asthma. Since certain drugs and supplements can cause anxiety, your doctor will also want to know about any prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, herbal remedies, and recreational drugs you're taking. 

If your physician rules out a medical cause, the next step is to consult with a therapist who has experience treating anxiety attacks and anxiety disorders. The therapist will work with you to determine the cause and type of your anxiety disorder and devise a course of treatment.

What CanTreatment for Anxiety Disorders Look Like?

Anxiety disorders respond very well to treatment, often in a relatively short amount of time. The specific treatment approach depends on the type of anxiety disorder and its severity. But in general, most anxiety disorders are treated with behavioral therapy, life style change and times medication; or some combination of treatment. Sometimes complementary or alternative treatments may also be helpful such as acupuncture, mindfulness, or hypnotism.

Treatment varies though can include:

  • Psychoeducation
  • Relaxation training
  • Cognitive restructuring
  • Exposure or Exposure-Response Prevention
  • Relapse prevention
  • Can also include medication
  • Treatment always includes lifestyle component