School Anxiety: Managing Anxiety For College Students

Reviewed by Aaron Horn, LMFT

Published 12/09/2020

College is a stressful time for many people, but what about college students who have anxiety disorders and other diagnosable mental health conditions? Anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety, and panic disorder can all cause additional struggles for those facing college life. If you're in college and are worried that you might have an anxiety disorder, there are many things you can do to manage anxiety and receive help or support. If you aren't familiar with anxiety disorders, you might wonder what kinds of anxiety disorders there are and how an anxiety disorder can impact a person's life.

Types Of Anxiety Disorders

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When someone talks about life with an anxiety disorder, they might say, "I have anxiety," or "I have an anxiety disorder." However, there is not only one kind of anxiety disorder that can be diagnosed. There are numerous types of anxiety disorders recognized in the DSM-5, the most recent version of the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, which is used by medical and mental health professionals who diagnose and treat psychological or behavioral health conditions. Here are some of the common types of anxiety disorders that you might see in yourself or others on your college campus.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Generalized anxiety disorder or GAD is a common anxiety disorder that affects about 6.8 million people aged 18 or older in the United States alone. This anxiety disorder is characterized by persistent and excessive worry, which may occur with or without cause. Potential symptoms of a generalized anxiety disorder include:

  • Excessive worry about a variety of topics
  • Irritability or agitation
  • Sweating or clamminess
  • Fatigue
  • Blushing or facial flushing
  • Heart palpitations or a rapid heartbeat
  • Trembling or shaking,
  • Panic attacks
  • Trouble focusing or concentrating (with no other cause or condition, such as ADHD, to account for the symptom)
  • Restlessness, trouble falling asleep, or difficulty staying asleep
  • Rumination or obsessive thoughts
  • Hypervigilance

Someone with generalized anxiety disorder can become overwhelmed easily, which can be particularly difficult if you are in college and are juggling a lot of responsibilities. The good news about generalized anxiety disorder, like other similar anxiety disorders, is that it is a highly treatable condition. Cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT is the best treatment known for anxiety. If you have a generalized anxiety disorder and seek therapy for the condition, CBT will likely be the first line of treatment you encounter. For all guidance regarding treatment, please consult a licensed medical professional.

Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)

Social anxiety disorder is exactly what it sounds like in many regards, but it might surprise you how much it can impact a person's life. Social anxiety is more than just being shy, reserved, or introverted, all of which are personality traits. Social anxiety disorder is not a personality trait. It is a mental health condition that can interfere with work, school, and other pursuits. Symptoms of social anxiety disorder include:

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  • Withdrawal from others or social isolation
  • Fear of embarrassment or humiliation
  • Heart palpitations, a racing heart, or a rapid heartbeat when anxious
  • The avoidance of social situations,
  • Panic attacks
  • Blushing or facial flushing
  • Trembling or shaking

Although not everyone with social anxiety disorder uses substances to cope, this can be a common problem among college students. A college student might drink to fit in, or as part of the normal experimentation process if they're of age, however they might also drink to relieve the anxiety that they feel in social situations.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder that's characterized by the occurrence of panic attacks. A person with panic disorder will often worry about when the next panic attack will take place. During a panic attack, someone might experience:

  • A pounding heart or rapid heartbeat
  • Feelings of impending doom or worry
  • Chills or sweating
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Stomach upset or nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Feeling as though they are going to die
  • Chest pain
  • Weakness
  • Derealization

Panic attacks differ from anxiety attacks. Though they are often short lived, panic attacks are debilitating, and can make life much harder. To be diagnosed with panic disorder, you must have had one or more panic attacks followed by either one or both of the following:

  1. A persevering worry regarding future panic attacks or their consequences
  2. Notable maladaptive changes in one's behavior that is related to the occurrence of panic attacks

Related Disorders And Concerns

Anxiety isn't the only mental health concern that is prevalent on college campuses. Concerns such as eating disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, PTSD, and more may all exist on your college campus. It's important that college students have the tools that they need to manage their mental health, which is why mental health information and support is so essential to young adults.

Stress In College

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While not all students have anxiety disorders, many are stressed out, and that's not something to ignore. Someone in college might experience testing anxiety, prolonged stress due to their many obligations, pressure placed on them by themselves, their parents, or the institution they attend, and so on. It's easy to say, "we're all stressed out - get over it," but that's not an adaptive, beneficial, or appropriate thought process. Prolonged stress can have a variety of different health detriments, so it is essential to learn to manage stressors in your life, whether that's on your own or with the help of a mental health professional. Stress management may consist of practices such as going to therapy, journaling, and time management, meditation, ensuring that one does not over-schedule themselves, and other modes of self-care.

How Many College Students Have Anxiety?

According to the AADA or Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 18.1% of adults in the United States alone will suffer from anxiety. When it comes to college-aged individuals, in particular, it must be noted that anxiety in college students is a particularly pervasive concern. The APA or American Psychological Association asserts that anxiety is an increasingly common issue among college students, saying"Anxiety is the top presenting concern among college students (41.6 percent), followed by depression (36.4 percent) and relationship problems (35.8 percent)." College anxiety, or anxiety about college, certainly doesn't help. College students face a lot of worries, whether those are grades, money, balancing work with education, familial issues, or something else. If you're a college student who is facing anxiety, know that you aren't alone and that you deserve to take time for both self-care and external support. The school will be there forever, but there's only one you.

How Do I Know If I Have An Anxiety Disorder?

The only way to know for sure if you have an anxiety disorder is to see a professional who is qualified to diagnose mental health conditions, such as a therapist. To find a therapist (or counselor), you can search the web, ask your doctor for a referral, or contact your insurance company to see what they cover. As a college student, there may be resources at your college or university. You may be able to seek support from a counselor or therapist that works on campus, or you might be able to find someone in your student health center who can talk with you and help you find external support in the form of a provider who is qualified to diagnose.

Understanding Anxiety

Anxiety is a common mental health condition, and college students certainly aren't immune. In fact, college students face a number of unique stressors that can worsen anxiety symptoms, and regardless of if someone lives with an anxiety disorder or not, the stress that's associated with the college experience can make someone feel as though they're drowning from all of the pressure. With the prevalence of anxiety disorders, you may have a friend with an anxiety disorder. If that's the case, the best thing you can do is to work to understand the condition and follow their lead in terms of peer support. If your friend is open about their battle with anxiety, listen when they talk about their struggles, and ask them, "How can I best support you?" Just like every person is unique, anxiety manifests differently for different people, and what helps each person always varies. Kindness and compassion go a long way, and the person in your life with anxiety will appreciate it.

Finding Help For Anxiety

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Again, many colleges and universities have on-campus resources that are a great place to start. However, if you attend a college that does not have these resources available, there are other routes to take. You might look for a mental health provider in your local area by searching the internet for "anxiety counselors near me" or "anxiety therapist near me," or you might consult your insurance company to see who they cover in your area. Another option is to ask your doctor for a referral. You can also try out an online counseling website, such as BetterHelp. Studies on cognitive-behavioral therapy show that the therapy modality is just as effective when conducted online, so online counseling is worth a shot if it sounds like it might be a good fit for you.

Take The Anxiety Test

Are you wondering if you have an anxiety disorder yourself? The Mind Diagnostics Anxiety Test is free and confidential, and it might be the first step to getting the help that you need. While it isn't a replacement for individual medical or mental health advice and treatment, the anxiety test on mind-diagnostics.com can help you to recognize your symptoms and see if you might be struggling with signs and symptoms affiliated with anxiety. Copy and paste this link into your browser to take the anxiety test: https://www.mind-diagnostics.org/anxiety-test.