Helping a student with anxiety

Guidance on how to help a student who may feel anxious, or overwhelmed by their worries or fears, including what to do and what not to do.

Anxiety can be generalized across a range of situations, or it may be situation-specific (e.g., test anxiety, social anxiety, public speaking anxiety).

Signs of anxiety

Symptoms can vary from person to person, but knowing the signs of anxiety can help you realize when someone may be having worried thoughts or feelings.

Physical Symptoms

Some of the physical symptoms  one may report feeling include:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Feeling edgy and/or restless
  • Shortness of breath
  • Diarrhea
  • Getting easily fatigued

Anxious Thoughts

People with anxiety often have thought patterns such as:

  • Believing the worst will happen
  • Persistent worry
  • All-or-nothing thinking
  • Overgeneralizing (making overall assumptions based on a single event)


Anxious Behaviors

Perhaps the symptoms that you’ll notice most:

  • Avoidance of feared situations or events
  • Seeking reassurance
  • Second-guessing
  • Irritability and frustration in feared situations
  • Compulsive actions (like washing hands over and over)

How to help

  • Talk to the student in private.
  • Remain calm and assume control in a soothing manner (“I am quite interested to hear what’s bothering you. Can you tell me about it?”)
  • Focus on relevant information.
  • Help the student develop an action plan that addresses the main concern.

You can also refer the student to University Health Services: Mental Health Services (608-265- 5600 – option 9) located in 333 East Campus Mall.

What to avoid

  • Overwhelming the student with information or complicated solutions.
  • Arguing with student’s irrational thoughts. (“You have nothing to worry about. Your grades are good”)
  • Devaluing the information presented. (“It’s not as bad as you think.” or “Don’t worry, you have everything going for you.”)
  • Assuming the student will get over the anxiety without treatment.