Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Going to College

College Life Presents Unique Challenges to Those with GAD

anxious college student in classroom
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If you're getting ready to graduate high school and going to college for the first time or are just returning after a holiday break, college life can make your generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) worse. The stress and changes from moving into your dorm room, entering new classes for the first time or even leaving your parents' home can be stressful and difficult. The following is a brief overview of some common issues college students with GAD face and tips to help manage your symptoms while at school.

 

Anticipatory Anxiety

One type of anxiety that is common for all people but can be more pronounced and uncomfortable for people with generalized anxiety disorder is “anticipatory anxiety.” This is a type of anxiety that occurs leading up to some sort of predicted event or occurrence. You can get anticipatory anxiety anytime you are waiting for things, ranging from something as simple as a phone call to something more important like your wedding day. College is a new and exciting milestone so it's quite common to have anticipatory anxiety in the weeks before heading off to campus.

One suggestion for anticipatory anxiety is to simply try and enjoy it. Many people say they feel “alive” when waiting for something and if you can shift your mindset away from one that is trying to escape or get a situation over with, you may enjoy this sensation rather than try to end it. For other strategies see our “5 Ways to Cope with Anxiety” article.

However, anticipatory anxiety can be much more serious if you have GAD. For some, it can be crippling, preventing you from preparing for school appropriately or even making you consider not going to school at all. If your anxiety has gotten so bad that it is interfering with your plans and your life, talk to your parents and your doctor about getting help through therapy or medication.

 

Separation Anxiety

Another major form of anxiety that can be associated with college is separation anxiety. Teens who are leaving home can struggle with the anxiety of being on their own for the first time. This often occurs within the first few weeks to months of going off to college. Many people will cope with this by calling or visiting home frequently and others face homesickness. This is a natural developmental process that can be helped by having regular and warm conversations with family and friends who can give you support.

Most students will overcome this once they can connect with their campus and other students, but there are some students who may not be socially or emotionally ready to make the leap. If you feel that you cannot go to away from home, therapy is one option, but going to a school locally is another valid approach. You can still get a valuable education but remain at home while you undergo treatment for GAD. 

Counseling Center

Almost all colleges and universities have some form of a counseling center on campus that can help with all of these issues.

If you're feeling particularly anxious, making an appointment with a college counselor can be very helpful. For people with GAD, this can be especially important since that continued support can make the difference between a pleasant and turbulent college experience. Read this article for more on university counseling centers and anxiety.

Source:

"College Students". Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 2016. 

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