‘Coping With Anxiety’: a professional perspective

By John Kearney

Richard M. Conforto, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and clinical director at Springfield Psychological, spoke to almost 30 students in Room 4255 on Marple campus, April 11. The workshop, “Coping with Anxiety,” focused on anxiety disorders and their complications, while providing insights on how to manage their anxiety.

DCCC counselor Jennifer Kalligonis said she initially invited Conforto to speak in March, but the talk was postponed due to inclement weather that closed the college.

“We’ve had a lot of students coming in with symptoms of anxiety,” said DCCC counselor Kalligonis, who also hosted a workshop earlier in the academic year for students feeling anxious regarding tests and exams.

“Since it seemed so prevalent, it seemed like a good idea to have a workshop about general anxiety,” Kalligonis said.

Conforto began his presentation by recognizing what anxiety is.

“Anxiety is the body’s natural reaction to a threat,” Conforto said. “It could be categorized by feelings of apprehension, dread and fear.”

Conforto highlighted cognition as a major role in the amount of stress an individual can experience.

“Most of the stressors we face today are psychological, whether they are worries about the future, regrets about the past, or injustices that cause frustration and anger,” he explained.

Conforto then categorizes the symptoms of anxiety as physical, mental, and behavioral.

Physical symptoms include feeling tired, headaches, chest pain and pounding heart, muscle tension, and trouble sleeping.

Mental symptoms include an inability to concentrate, a lack of interest in things previously enjoyed, irritability, and excessive worry.

Behavioral symptoms comprise a decrease in performance at school or work, increased conflicts with others, and using recreational drugs to cope with stress.

“There is a neurological basis for anxiety and stress,” Conforto said. “While we cannot remove or eliminate anxiety neurochemically, we can manage it.”

He next offered ways of coping if the trigger or stressor can or cannot be controlled.

“Being assertive with others is useful if stress is generated by others imposing their agendas on you,” he told students.

Conforto then outlined some coping techniques to consider when feeling anxious such as “healthy self-talk” which allows people to “talk to themselves like they would a friend or loved one,” he stated.

He considered perfectionism or “all or nothing” thinking as counterintuitive to mental health.

“Life has shades of gray,” Conforto added.

In social and personal situations, Conforto suggested that one “examine the evidence” and “dispute irrational beliefs” as a means of providing clear context.

Overgeneralizing and jumping to conclusions were also noted as a means of “taking a simple event, and blowing it out of proportion,” according to Conforto.

After the lecture, Conforto managed an activity in mindfulness in which participants closed their eyes for five minutes and focused their attention on their breathing.

“Breathing is our anger at the present,” he whispered. “Notice how each breath fades into the next.”

Tips provided at the end of Conforto’s talk emphasized the role of caring for one’s self, filling one’s life with positive experiences and people “for those you have control over,” and recognizing the things that are worth being grateful for “as they can really shift your perspective,” he said.

Louis Silvestri, a 19-year -old business major, believed the talk was beneficial.

“I thought it was useful,” Silvestri said. “ I like how he showed us how everything is connected.”

Conforto also mentioned the importance of keeping a journal as a means of venting, self-reflection, and personal growth.

Afterward, Conforto offered references to help manage anxiety: free apps like “InsightTimer” and “Headspace” provide mindfulness training, as well as readings, such as “When Panic Attacks,” by David Burns, and “Mindfulness for Beginners” by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Some websites were MindfulNet (www.mindfulnet.org) and UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (www.marc.ucla.edu).

The full list of references Conforto provided is available as a handout in the Career and Counseling Center.

“Fear and anxiety are like bullies; they are not scary once you confront them,” Conforto said. “It is necessary to move toward the feared situation rather than avoid it.”

Contact John Kearney at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu