How Much Stress Is Too Much? Managing Anxiety in College

What To Do

If you or someone you know is dealing with an unhealthy amount of anxiety, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible. “Because anxiety is a habit, the longer anxiety goes untreated, the stronger the habit grows so that it can worsen over time,” says Roemer. 

Anxiety is a complicated problem, so the solution won’t be the same for everyone. Treatment options include medications, though most doctors recommend turning to therapy before drugs.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, often available for free through university health centers, helps people with anxiety disorders really understand the cause of their anxiety and how to alter their outlooks to better deal with it.

“For the person who’s afraid of social situations, we help them to gradually confront these situations to learn that they probably don’t need to worry as much as they do,” Abramowitz says.

Anxiety will always be a part of a normal life, but therapy can help people learn to cope in healthy ways and look at anxiety in a new light.

“Having compassion for yourself, rather than criticizing yourself for experiencing anxiety, will help keep the anxiety from escalating,” says Roemer. "It's our automatic reactions to our anxiety that are likely to make it problematic, rather than the anxiety itself.”

But most importantly, anxiety isn’t just something that’s all in your head. And if anxiety has become a constant part of your life, it doesn’t always have to be.

“These are real problems, but they’re also treatable,” says Abramowitz. “It’s a matter of getting the right kind of help.”

For anyone experiencing anxiety in college, there are many simple things you can do to cut down on stress:

  • Learn yoga or meditation – Relaxation techniques like these can be really helpful in managing day-to-day stress. Grab a couple of friends and try out the yoga class at your student health center for free!
  • Journaling – Writing can help you sort out your thoughts, and seeing it on paper can help you put it all in perspective. Keep track of what makes you anxious, and focus on what’s really happening and what you can do about it.
  • Keep a detailed planner – If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your responsibilities for class and other activities, make sure you keep a detailed and up-to-date record of everything you need to do. Managing your time well will help cut down on stress.
  • Take care of yourself – Staying healthy—both mentally and physically—always starts with eating well, exercising regularly, and getting lots of sleep.
  • Talk to friends – There’s a reason why it feels good to vent to your girlfriends when you’ve had a particularly rough day. Talking through what makes you anxious is one of the best ways to relax.

For more information on anxiety and how to seek help, check with your university’s health center, or go to these websites:

Lizabeth Roemer, Professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Boston and co-author of The Mindful Way Through Anxiety: Break Free From Worry and Reclaim Your Life
Jon Abramowitz, PhD, professor and associate chair of psychology at UNC-Chapel Hill
Kelsey, student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Lindsay, senior at Wake Forest University


Laura is a senior (class of 2011) at UNC-Chapel Hill, majoring in Journalism and French. She spent two years writing for her campus newspaper and interned at USA Weekend Magazine in D.C. this summer. She is also a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and recently spent a semester studying abroad in the south of France. Besides reading and writing, she loves being outdoors (particularly hiking and backpacking, ideally in the N.C. mountains), traveling, coffee, and attempting to play the guitar and/or ukulele. Her major life goals include learning to salsa dance and swimming with manatees. Though the thought of entering the real world still terrifies her a little bit, she plans to pursue a career in the magazine or publishing industries.

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