Dealing With College Anxiety

Denisha Smallwood

Anxiety is very common for college students. Many things may cause anxiety, such as living away from home, attending college-level classes, getting good grades, picking a major, entering into new relationships, thinking about life after college, etc. All of these things are big milestones and while they can be exciting, they can also make you feel stressed and be anxiety inducing.

What is Anxiety?

According to the American Psychological Association, anxiety is “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.”

Have you ever been so worried about passing an important final that you couldn’t even think straight? That’s one example of what anxiety can do to you.

Anxiety from School

Worrying about getting good grades can overwhelm any student. No matter how hard you study, you may still believe or have a fear that you won’t be able to pass.

Here are a few tips that I’ve used to calm my college class-related anxiety:

  1. Have a study schedule that you stick to 80-90% of the time. It’s easier to study throughout the semester than try to rush and memorize the entire book the night before the exam. Also, it allows you to study in a calm, relaxed manner during times when your grade is not on the line. The more confident that you are in knowing the material the less you worry about the exam.
  2. Go to sleep! Seriously. Many students underestimate the amount of sleep they need to maintain their body’s homeostasis. Get a good night’s rest. Especially before a big exam! It helps your body relax and re-balance itself.
  3. Portion out your paper. If you have a big 10-page paper, plan out your time wisely. Try writing a page a week until it’s due. Final papers can be very stress-inducing because you have to make sure everything is correct, researched, cited, and grammatically sound.  Divvy it out over a few weeks so you can take your time to perfect your paper and get an “A”.

Living Away from Home

Living on campus, especially on your own for the first time, can be exciting, but it can also feel overwhelming. You have freedom but you also have the responsibilities that come with it. It can cause a lot of worries, but there are always ways to make your life easier.

Here are a couple of ways to help with anxiety for college students:

  1. Become Friends with Your RA. The Resident Assistant (RA) in your dorm is there to help you with any problems that might arise. This can range from conflicts with your roommate to dealing with noise disturbances to feeling lonely or isolated, etc. Talk to your RA about what’s going on and see what help they can offer. Usually, they can help settle roommate or dorm disputes, or if not, point you to some extra school resources or clubs that can help.
  2. Make Friends! Sometimes the most obvious solutions are best. Many times the anxiety of living away from home centers on feeling lonely or isolated. Want to feel better? Start looking to make some friends.  The good news? College is actually a pretty easy place to do so. Most classmates are usually around your age and are going through the same things you are. Make the first move, introduce yourself, join some clubs, go to an on- or off-campus party, etc. People at school are looking to make friends just as much as you are.
  3. Call Your Family. Just because you are living away from your family doesn’t mean that you can’t still have a connection to them. I love calling my family members at least once a day. It may be for just five minutes or an hour. It feels good to connect with my family no matter where I am, and it can be a great stress reliever.

General Anxiety Tips

We’ve talked about some specific anxiety-reducing ways, but here are some more tips for any situation:

  1. Breathing. Many people underestimate the power of breathing. If you are feeling anxious, try some breathing techniques to help calm you down.  Breathing in and out slowly. This helps slow down your heartbeat and make you feel less stressed.
  2. Power Napping. Take a 30-minute nap to refresh yourself instead of drinking yet another cup of coffee. Power napping can help you reset, feel more refreshed, and help you focus more on being productive.
  3. Meditation/Yoga/Exercising. Exercising can help you take your mind off things while helping to keep your body in shape.

Remember, anxiety is a temporary emotion that many people feel, especially college students. Most of us can power through stressful moments. If you have or think you have more a more serious condition—such as anxiety disorders or panic attacks, you should seek help with school health centers. If you’re having difficulty handling your anxiety, it’s okay to ask for help. We can all use some outside perspective and help. Speak to your school advisor or health center if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

About the Author

Denisha Smallwood is a Senior at Baruch College majoring in Accounting.

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