Campus News

Professor speaks on the brain, anxiety

UW Madison associate professor Jack Nitschke spoke Monday in Memorial Union on stress and the brain.

Image By: Junaid Khalid

Feeling especially stressed about your midterms? This is likely because your brain is used to these feelings.

That’s according to associate professor Jack Nitschke, in the department of psychiatry and psychology, who spoke Monday at Memorial Union.

Nitschke said that whatever someone spends their time doing, the brain helps them get really good at it. This can be both positive and negative — while someone can spend his time getting really good at chess, another, especially a student during midterms, can spend his time worrying, according to Nitschke.

“If you are going to spend a lot of time worrying, your brain is up there helping you get really good at it,” Nitschke said. “You may not be interested in worrying, but it is not the brain’s job [to differentiate between good and bad].”

Nitschke said that when the brain receives messages day in and day out, the brain makes neural connections that support the association it is receiving. These connections, good or bad, are lasting.

Much of the stress college students face in school occurs when they think too much about the future and what they need to do. Instead of focusing on what is to come, Nitschke suggested to focus on the present and do things like prepare for an assignment to relieve the uncertainty about the future.

“There is all this uncertainty [surrounding tests and exams], and that has a lot to do with stress,” Nitschke said. “If you have been keeping up with your work, that will probably help bring you down just a little bit.”

Although Nitschke presented ways to relieve stress such as having proper preparation and living in the present by practicing breathing techniques, he said people express their stress in different ways and therefore need support in different ways.

“I can’t really give you a cut-and-dry answer and say: ‘If you have panic attacks, you should definitely still go to class,’” Nitschke said. “People can be more or less prone to these different forms of expressing their anxiety, and to varying degrees.”

Nitschke suggested that, if a student wants to help a friend having a hard time dealing with stress, the student should act as a friend, not a therapist.

“It is about being supportive,” Nitschke said.

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