Understanding and Coping with Anxiety in College

Two students at a table: one looks upset about coping with anxiety while the other is listening.

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For college students, responsibilities are constantly adding up. You have to go to class, meetings, work, and then find time to see friends. Oh, and don’t forget your laundry and that assignment due on Friday... The semester rolls on like a snowball, picking up new tasks and challenges. Everyone feels stressed.

An anxiety disorder, however, is different from stress. It’s a persistent fear of what comes next. It is not relieved by handing in an assignment or by finishing the semester. Unlike stress, which is caused by something, usually outside of the self, anxiety and its causes are not as easy to identify. Basically, you feel anxious about feeling anxious.

Mental health among college students is a growing concern. Understanding, being proactive, and taking a stand to regain control are the most important actions you can take if you struggle with anxiety. The subtext of this article—as you may have guessed—is that I have anxiety. After years of trying to fight it, I eventually learned the hard way that anxiety, if it worsens, can affect physical health. The best way I’ve found to regain control is to first accept anxiety, then learn about it.

If you're suffering from anxiety in college, know that it is possible to overcome and that you are not alone in your pursuit of happiness. Treatment is out there, but it is different for everyone. Many people who suffer from anxiety disorders live fulfilling lives thanks to treatment and support. When they feel the weight of anxiety like rocks in their stomachs or weights on their chests, they seek the treatment that works for them. After some hard work, they regain their tranquility. My advice is not intended to replace that of a medical professional but to empower you to reach a state of health and well-being.

What are the symptoms of anxiety?

The causes and classifications of anxiety disorders are not easily diagnosed. There are many kinds of anxiety disorders including, but not limited to, social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety, and panic disorders.

The symptoms of an anxiety disorder can disrupt your everyday life. They can challenge you at work, in class, in social situations, and even at the laundromat. You should speak with a doctor, school nurse, or therapist if you think you suffer from an anxiety disorder. Many health resources at colleges and universities are free, and your access to all of them is confidential.

Both stress and anxiety can cause symptoms such as:

Two girls drink tea as they discuss the treatment for anxiety.

loreanto / Shutterstock.com

  • Muscle tension
  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid heart rate

An anxiety disorder can lead to or worsen:

  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Chronic pain
  • Social isolation
  • Persistent feelings of stress
  • Chronic fear
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Panic attacks
  • Syncope (Fainting)

What do I do if I suffer from panic attacks or syncope at college?

Inform your school physician and the people closest to you. Panic attacks and fainting can put your safety at risk, and they are not something to keep to yourself. Friends and family are there to help you manage and recover from these traumatic episodes. Often, these symptoms can be treated through therapy sessions and self-help tactics.

What’s the solution to an anxiety disorder?

Be honest. Be proactive. Speak your truth. Learn all that you can and know that you are not alone. Once you take these steps, it becomes easier to seek help.

Treatment options:

  • Acupuncture: An acupuncturist skillfully inserts tiny needles (don’t worry, they don’t hurt) into a patient’s skin in order to stimulate specific points in the body.
  • Art, music, or dance therapy: These treatments are considered “a significant part of complementary medicine in the 21st century” by the US National Institutes of Health. Get creative to release your emotions in a safe environment and to reduce symptoms of anxiety.
  • Medication: Be sure to ask your doctor if there are any side effects (especially if you are already on medication) before beginning a new medication.
  • Meditation: Anxiety is often described as a feeling of chronic worry. Meditation is a practice of focusing and breathing, which slows down the heart rate. Slow breathing has been proven to switch the nervous system from a state of “fight or flight” within the sympathetic nervous system, to a state of tranquility found in the parasympathetic nervous system.
    One girl helping another girl cope with anxiety in college.

    loreanto / Shutterstock.com

  • Therapy: It’s not as scary as it sounds. You should never feel ashamed to seek help from a therapist. Choose the right therapist for you, and you’ll be on your way to freedom from your anxiety. Your college might offer resources such as counselors, support groups, and therapy. Check with your campus health center.
  • Yoga: Many colleges offer complimentary yoga classes. Research has shown that the physical postures and meditation techniques used in this ancient practice can reduce anxiety, stress, and mild forms of depression.

Anxiety can feel like a weight constantly pushing you down. It takes strength to carry that. Focus on your strength, stand tall, and press on.

About Katelyn Brush

Katelyn likes learning, good health, traveling, and pizza on Fridays. Her mixed education, composed of SUNY the College at Brockport, a semester at a community college, and one abroad at the University of Oxford, helped her earn a bachelor’s degree in English. College also gave her a few lessons in Taekwondo and sleeping in a hostel dorm with total strangers. She’s a yoga teacher, author and illustrator of the children’s book, “Signing Together: A Guide to American Sign Language for Everyone.” As a Student Caffé writer, she hopes to help you through the highs and lows of college with a laugh ... or 20.

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