Roxanne Stepnowski P ’22, ’24, a clinical psychologist who specializes in chronic pain, anxiety and depression and a managing partner of Medical Psychology Associates, spoke to the students at an assembly on Friday as part of Kingswood Oxford Goldfarb Speaker Series which brings science, math and technology leaders to campus.
She stated that in the past 20 years research has shown that there is a rise in anxiety disorders - 19% in adults and 31% in 13-18-year-olds. Reasons for the increase range from social media, parental and peer pressures, media fears and terrorism.
Stepnowski identified the differences between stress and clinical anxiety. Stress is the body’s reaction to external pressures that are usually short term and disappear after the event. Stress can be categorized as either positive (birth of a baby, going to college) or negative (loss of a loved one, job loss). Chronic stress can manifest itself in physical consequences like high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases or in mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. In teens, stressors fall into the categories of relationships with peers and family, college acceptances, overscheduling, and expectations either perceived and real. When a teen is experiencing stress, there may be behavioral changes, mood changes, withdrawal from activities, increase in headaches, and lack of eating or binge eating.
Stepnowski said that it is normal for an individual to feel sad or anxious, however, a generalized anxiety disorder is classified when a person significantly worries most of the day for six months or more. She offered several treatments that have proven successful to combat anxiety disorders. Cognitive behavioral therapy works with a person on identifying irrational thought patterns that are contributing to the way a person is feeling and color one’s experience. Constant negative thoughts impact how one feels about oneself; clinicians can help a person identify these negative thought patterns. Psychotherapy and medication can help an individual focus on areas for improvement. Support groups are very therapeutic because one feels less alone in your situation. Stress management techniques like deep breathing and relaxation exercises are also beneficial.
In order to cope with stress and anxiety, Stepnowski recommended that the students learn how to label their emotions and get in touch with their feelings. Rather than avoid an emotion, she said that one should ride the wave of emotions and experience it. She also advised that the students monitor their self-talk and recognize when they are telling themselves destructive or harmful comments. By practicing self-care (sleeping, healthy eating, avoiding caffeine, exercise) and surrounding yourself with people who have your best interest in mind, the student can lead more productive and happier life.