Posted on: April 28, 2022 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

Graphic by Sarah Schudt

By Lily Ligeska, JRN 111 Student

More than 40 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with a treatable anxiety disorder. That’s equivalent to the entire population of Canada.

This was just one of the facts about mental health awareness discussed in the Moraine psychology department’s 15th annual talk, “Anxiety 101: Understanding and Managing It.” The event was held Thursday via WebEx.

The talk covered the stigma behind mental health and ways to cope with anxiety, with guest speakers Kelly Olenski and Courtney DeCarlo. Olenski is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) and DeCarlo is a licensed clinical professional counselor (LCPC).

“Saying you don’t have mental health issues is like saying you don’t have medical issues,” DeCarlo said. “Even the healthiest person gets a cold from time to time. Mental health works in the same way.”

DeCarlo says it’s important for everyone to take care of mental health just as they would physical health. Mindfulness is one method that can be used for taking care of mental well-being. 

DeCarlo defines mindfulness as “paying attention to the present moment, on purpose, in a curious and non-judgmental way.” Mindfulness is believed to alter emotional responses by modifying your brain waves.  

A tool both speakers recommend to their patients is the “54321 method.” This method is all about awakening your senses to be involved in the moment. To start, focus on five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. The method is flexible, according to Olenski, allowing you to switch between sensations with ease.  

Saying you don’t have mental health issues is like saying you don’t have medical issues.”

Courtney DeCarlo, LCPC

One of the most important steps to take when learning to live with anxiety is to not be harsh with yourself about it. The speakers say we need to focus on accepting those natural feelings stress brings, tolerating mistakes, and being able to sit with uncertainty.

Olenski and Decarlo shared some of the potential long-term effects of untreated anxiety, including substance abuse, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, harm to others, eating disorders, school avoidance, and inability to function at work, school, or even at home.   

Olenski made clear to audience members that anxiety pertains to everyone, not just a certain demographic of people, and that it’s an issue every human deals with: “From the moment we are born, we are thrusted with anxiety. It is essential to existence.”

Sometimes stress doesn’t have a definite cause. People can feel alone when struggling with anxiety, not always understanding why they feel the emotions they have. 

“Anxiety does not always have a trigger,” DeCarlo said. “It can be both an internal and external force rooting your feelings.”

This trigger of pent-up emotions can cause burnout and be bad for the individual.

“Burnout occurs when you deal with a significant amount of stress in an extended period of time,” DeCarlo said. “It can be from either positive or negative [stress].” 

While negative stress can be detrimental to one’s mental state, causing physical symptoms such as headaches, touble sleeping, and rapid breathing and heart rate, stress can also be positive.

“Stress can be positive or negative. Many people associate it with negativity, but it’s just a neutral term,” DeCarlo said.  

Positive stress is also known as eustress and can be beneficial to one’s mental health, according to an article by Verywell Mind.

From the moment we are born, we are thrusted with anxiety. It is essential to existence.”

Kelly Olenski, LCSW

There are over a dozen diagnosable forms of anxiety, the most common being general, panic, social and phobia. 

“Risk factors [for developing a disorder] include: genetics, biology, childhood experience, trauma, physical health conditions, other mental health conditions, substance abuse, lifestyle and social demographics,” Olenski said.

The difference between feeling anxious and having a disorder is the length of time the feeling sits with you. Event coordinator and MV psychology professor Nick Shizas said anxiety must be present for six months to be classified as generalized anxiety disorder. Olenski and DeCarlo were impressed he knew that off the top of his head, but he said it comes from teaching this kind of material from one semester to the next.

Treatment for anxiety is not out of reach as some may feel it is, the speakers said. Therapy options like cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, and exposure and response therapy are all dealt with between a patient and a therapist. Other treatments options include medication, support groups, and structured programs dedicated to anxiety.

Moraine Valley’s counseling center provides counselors and therapists to students and staff, free of charge, as part of its tuition. 

Moraine Valley offers free counseling

Moraine Valley counselors are available Mondays and Tuesdays, 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Wednesdays through Fridays, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Counselors are primarily available via phone, as they are limiting in-person services at this time.

To connect with a Counselor, send an email from your student email in MVConnect to The counseling department also can be reached at (708) 974-5722.

All emails and messages are being routed into a single inbox, and counselors will respond to messages in the order received. Counselors may respond by phone, so they ask callers or emailers to include a contact number.

Students should check their student email often as information may also be sent to that account.