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Helping College Students with Anxiety

Instructor: Wendy A. Garland

Wendy has a Ph.D. in Adult Education and a Master's Degree in Business Management. She has 10 years experience working in higher education.

Anxiety is a common problem that many college students face. This lesson describes the differences between everyday anxiety and anxiety disorders, as well as prevention and treatment. Following the lesson, you'll be able to test your knowledge with a quiz.

Anxiety in College

As students transition from high school to college, they face many anxieties. Dealing with new friends, new roommates, and a new lifestyle, as well as exposure to different cultures and alternate ways of thinking, can all cause severe anxiety. Other factors can also greatly contribute to a student's stress and anxiety, such as the sudden loss of a familiar support system.

Like depression, high anxiety levels can cause students to adopt bad habits such as drinking, smoking, and taking part in risky behavior, such as practicing unsafe sex. Likewise, anxiety can cause lifelong mental conditions and, if left untreated, could even lead to suicide. Therefore, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment are extremely important steps which parents are encouraged to take in order to keep students from suffering.

Differences Between Everyday Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders

It is important to know the difference between everyday life anxieties, which pass in a day or two, and anxiety disorders so they can be treated properly and not dismissed or overemphasized. Everyone, including friends, parents, and teachers, should help look for signs of anxiety. Some signs of everyday anxieties often include:

  • Worrying about an upcoming exam, or a relationship
  • Embarrassment when facing an awkward social situation
  • Nervousness before public speaking or other similar events
  • Fear when facing real danger, such as severe weather
  • Anxiety, sadness, and disrupted sleep after suffering a trauma, such as a death in the family

Signs of anxiety disorders, while similar in nature to everyday anxieties, are much more prolonged and severe. They can include:

  • Chronic, unreasonable worry which interferes with homework, school activities, and everyday life
  • Fear of public opinion to the point of avoiding going outside altogether
  • Constant, random panic attacks, and the persistent feeling of impending doom and disaster
  • Irrational, crippling fear of benign everyday objects and places
  • Obsessively performing repetitive actions
  • Debilitating nightmares, flashbacks, and emotional numbness

Different Types of Anxiety Disorders

The three most common forms of anxiety in college students are panic disorders, social anxiety disorders, and obsessive compulsive disorder. However, many others exist, so it is important to refer students for specific diagnosis.

  • Panic Disorder

This form of anxiety involves feeling extreme panic over the most innocuous matters, and after a while, for no reason at all. The panic felt by those suffering from this disorder is often severe enough to make them feel as if the world is closing in on them to the point where they fear and consider they might be dying.

  • Social Anxiety Disorder

Students who suffer from this form of anxiety avoid any and all social events, even those of close friends and family members, for fear of judgement and embarrassment if faced with a socially awkward situation. While it can affect anyone, it tends to be found in the more shy students.

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

A well known disorder, this form of anxiety involves obsessively repeating the same tasks over and over in fear of consequences of the task going unaccomplished. In its most severe form, OCD can take over students' lives and keep them from a normal and productive collegiate career.

Prevention and Treatment of Anxiety

Since anxiety is a very real threat to college students, it is imperative to take steps to prevent anxiety if possible, or to treat it as early as possible. Here are some simple steps students can take to accomplish this:

  • Physical Activity

Just as with stress and depression, any physical activity can stem the tide of anxiety by taking students' minds away from the negativity they feel. Exercise can also promote joy, especially if students partake in activities they enjoy. Working out at the gym, playing soccer, or simply going for walks can help relieve anxiety because the endorphins produced by the body during physical activity help elevate students' moods.

  • Healthy Dietary Habits

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