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University Counseling Center

The Anxious/Shy Student

Anxiety is a normal response to a perceived danger or threat to one’s well-being. For some students, the cause of their anxiety will be clear; but for others, it is difficult to pinpoint the source of stress. Regardless of the cause, the resulting symptoms may include rapid heart palpitations; chest pain or discomfort; dizziness; sweating; trembling or shaking; and cold, clammy hands. The student may also complain of difficulty concentrating, obsessive thinking, feeling continually “on the edge,” having difficulty making decisions, or being too fearful/unable to take action. In rarer cases, a student may experience a panic attack in which the physical symptoms occur so spontaneously and intensely that the student may fear s/he is dying. The following guidelines remain appropriate in most cases:

What You Can Do:

  • Encourage the student to discuss his/her feelings and thoughts, as this alone often relieves a great deal of pressure.
  • Provide reassurance without being unrealistic.
  • Remain calm.
  • Be clear and directive about expectations.
  • Provide a safe and quiet environment until the symptoms subside.
  • Be patient.


  • Minimize the perceived threat to which the student is reacting.
  • Take responsibility for the student’s emotional state.
  • Overwhelm the student with information or ideas to “fix” his/her condition.
  • Be judgmental / cynical.
  • Get caught up and lost in their anxiety.
  • Disregard the feelings.

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