What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a human emotion-everyone feels it. Anxiety can sometimes be motivating and help people take action or avoid dangerous situations. For instance, low to moderate feelings of anxiety or stress may help motivate us to study and prepare better for the exam, or leave a setting that could be unsafe. Anxiety becomes problematic when it starts to impair day-to-day function like if you avoid studying for a major exam that worries you, or if you cope with worry about your relationship by getting unnecessarily suspicious and then yelling at your partner.
Anxiety is prevalent among college students. In fact, the American College Health Association found that about 63% of college students in the US felt overwhelming anxiety in the past year (American College Health Association Fall 2018 National College Health Assessment).
Anxiety vs. Stress
There's a fine line between stress and anxiety. Both are emotional responses, but stress is typically caused by an external trigger. The trigger can be short=term, such as a big exam of a conflict with a roommate or long term, such as a chronic illness or a global pandemic. Anxiety on the other hand, is defined by persistent, excessive worries that don't go away even in the absence of a stressor. Chronic stress can turn into anxiety. Whether you are experiencing anxiety or stress does not truly matter, both can cause disruption to your academic, social, and/or personal life. The good news...both anxiety and stress can be managed!
Symptoms of Anxiety
Anxiety can show up in different circumstances for different people, and also be experienced differently depending on the context as well. In general, most people identify physical and psychological symptoms.
- Physical symptoms: Shortness of breath, racing heart, muscle tension, headaches, upset stomach or nausea, seating, shaking, insomnia.
- Psychological symptoms: racing thoughts, excessive worrying, think about a lot of "what if?" questions, feeling on edge or that something terrible might happen, feeling easily startled.
While anxiety can feel uncomfortable, we can never get rid of it completely. Anxiety is a necessary emotion and can be very helpful. Instead of attempting to eliminate it, we can learn how to better manage our anxiety.
- Anxiety is perpetuated by avoidance: stop avoiding anxiety-provoking situations. Try to push yourself outside of your comfort zone.
- Be compassionate with yourself: acknowledge that you are feeling anxious, but don’t beat yourself up about it.
- Other tips include:
- Exercise or engage in some form of daily physical activity (A quick-paced walk for 30 minutes can represent an adequate level of physical activity for a day and reduce anxiety symptoms over time compared to not exercising).
- Eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet.
- Get an adequate amount of sleep each night. 7-9 hours is generally considered adequate for college students.
- Practice mindfulness and/or meditation (see wellness videos below)
- Seek emotional support from friends and family
- Schedule regular breaks during periods of study
- Reduce or eliminate any excessive use of alcohol or other substances
- Limit caffeine intake and do not like drink it later in the day as this will negatively impact sleep.
Getting help with your anxiety
Whether you use the tips above or not, getting professional support for your anxiety symptoms is beneficial. If anxiety symptoms are interfering with your ability to do day-to-day activities, or if you have restricted your life activities as a way of coping with anxiety, professional support is extremely important. The Counseling Center is available to help you better understand and manage your anxiety. Call or email to schedule your appointment.
Additional Anxiety Resources
- Buckeye Recovering Network: Dealing with Anxiety in College
- 5 Tips for Navigating Stress and Anxiety in College
- Medical News Today: Treating Anxiety