5 Ways to Stay Ahead of College Anxiety

Staying Ahead of the College Anxiety Curve

college students in busy hallway
David Schaffer/Caiaimage/Getty Images

Here are five ways to stay ahead of college anxiety. There are many ways that anxiety can manifest itself in college students, especially those with generalized anxiety disorder. These strategies can make anxiety more manageable.

Use Nerves to Make a Plan to Confront Your Anxiety

college student on laptop in dorm room
Peathegee Inc PRE/Blended Images/Getty Images

Anxiety, at its most adaptive, can motivate you to take action. Put your nervous energy into something constructive that will help you feel more prepared. This could mean spending time researching student organizations of interest or decorating a dorm room so it is comfortable and calming.

If you choose to do organizational work in anticipation of the semester – consolidating all course assignments, exams and breaks onto one calendar, for example – find a way to break things down into small parts so that it’s more manageable (perhaps by looking at goals for the day or week ahead). Build rewards into your plan, especially rewards that incorporate relaxation and relationships in equal measure (or even simultaneously). Social plans can also dovetail with academic plans – for example, a study group.

Express the Worry

women talking
Steve Debenport/E+/Getty Images

If you are feeling worried about making friends at school, getting good grades, managing finances, or finding activities to match your interests, you are not alone. Talking with friends who are dealing with similar stressors can remind you of this. If the best way to feel better is to speak to someone who has been through it and survived, then identify someone a year or two ahead of you at school, a resident advisor in your dorm, or an older sibling with whom to speak.

Your parents care about you and want to hear how it’s going too. If you are carrying around a lot of anticipatory anxiety about the semester, or feel worried about something that’s already happened (like a poor grade on an early assignment or a disagreement with your roommate), don’t only rely on short texts or brief social media updates. Pick up the phone and give them a call. Arrange a video chat. You can tell them how it’s going, even if you haven’t figured everything out yet, and even if you don’t want them to tell you exactly what to do – let them know what type of support will feel the most supportive.

Sleep and Eat Well (Exercise, Too!)

girl napping in grass
Chris Bernard/E+/Getty Images

If it seems like a good idea to pull an all-nighter studying, remember: sleep deprivation is a form of torture. A noisy roommate, a plethora of possible social plans, or the pull of social media can get in the way of adequate sleep for college students. You may need to set some boundaries, such as a party or study curfew, or to experiment with a nap schedule. If it’s anxiety that is interfering with your sleep, these tips may help you to quiet the worry and rest well.

Do you remember the structure of early childhood meals? Breakfast, lunch, after school snack, dinner and dessert. Well, guess what? There was good reason for this. Eating regularly helps to maintain energy, concentration and health. Sometimes anxiety expresses itself with physical symptoms, including digestive problems, that interfere with eating adequately. Even if, in moments of acute anxiety, you need to shy away from foods that upset your stomach, getting yourself to eat something will help energize you to deal with worry.

Exercise is another means of regulating mood, anxiety and focus. Your school may offer fitness classes, a free membership to a university gym, and/or recreational team sports. Or, the campus may be located nearby to amazing natural resources, such as hiking paths, lakes or beaches. Get active in whatever way sounds new or fun, or stay active using methods that have reduced your stress in the past.

Play Smart, Not Hard to Curb Anxiety

young men in movie theatre
Brand New Images PREMIUM/Stone/Getty Images

The popular saying, “work hard, play hard,” is catchy, but be cautious of it as a lifestyle choice. Medicating your anxiety with alcohol or recreational drugs or with all-night study sessions tends to backfire and actually worsen worry (a phenomenon sometimes termed rebound anxiety).

Instead, play “smart.” Take advantage of your school’s varied social events which often include on-campus concerts, art exhibitions and theatrical performances. Balance out party nights with movie nights. By playing “smart,” you will be giving yourself a real break from anxiety rather than doing something that will worsen it.

If your worry tends to get you thinking that you have no time for fun or that you won’t be able to get everything you need done, take the time to challenge or test out those thoughts. This will help you to learn the boundary between true and exaggerated stress.

Connect with School Resources

support advice talk help signs
Ben Miners PR/Ikon/Getty Images

Colleges offer a variety of counseling services that may be of help depending on the nature and severity of your anxiety. Their offices are typically right on campus. Services are often free or sometimes, in the case of counseling services, covered by the health insurance plans available through your school.

Academic counseling centers provide guidance with numerous school-related issues. If you are worried about picking a major or creating a balanced course load, an academic center is a good place to start. They can also match you up with tutoring services available at your school if the semester is underway and you find yourself feeling concerned about your academic performance.

The school’s student health services typically include a psychological counseling center in addition to clinics devoted to physical health. If your anxiety symptoms are persistent and pervasive, and are clearly impacting your ability to make the most out of your college experience, this is a good place to visit. After an intake appointment, during which a mental health clinician will ask about current stressors and symptoms, as well as your mental health history, recommendations will be made for future services. This might include regular visits for individual talk or medication therapy, or group therapy with students experiencing similar difficulties. In some cases, you will be referred to an off-campus treatment provider.

Remember to check on session limitations, as some schools cover only a limited number of appointments annually. If the allowable sessions are too few, ask for help investigating resources in the community.

Continue Reading