Dealing with Anxiety in College

Here are some scenarios for you: Staring at the ceiling in your dorm room, unable to fall asleep, the night before an exam or even a class you don’t like. Walking out of class to go to the bathroom just so you can take a breather. Biting back tears in class as you realize this field might not be meant for you. Getting increasingly nervous walking around campus because people keep staring at you and you can’t figure out why. Palms growing sweaty as you order food and sit alone in the dining hall. Feeling a hot pressure in your chest any time you have to pick classes, any time you visit your advisor, any time you open a document.

All of these moments and more are often caused by anxiety, and if you’ve clicked on this article looking for a solution, then let me say, I’m here to help and I’m sorry you’re dealing with it. Anxiety is actually a very common disorder across college campuses, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, so please don’t think you’re the odd one out. No, seriously, I’m telling the truth, check out this infographic. It’s not something to become accustomed to (in the sense that, you don’t mind having it), but you’re not strange or a freak or any of those other things we tend to label ourselves with when we put ourselves down. 

I’ve dealt with anxiety for as long as I can remember, and when the journey of college began, I was horrified. It started so bad that one day I ran across campus holding back a panic attack until I got to my dorm room (every time I look back, I’m so thankful my roommate hadn’t been there, it would have been mortifying). Yet, as time passed, I learned to deal with things and yes, I’m sure I could sit here telling you to “take deep breaths,” but we’ve all heard that. It does work, but it’s not the only thing that can help. So, from one anxiety-ridden student to another, here are a few ways to deal with anxiety without stunting your entire college experience.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. College is confusing but what I’ve come to understand is that people really don’t mind when you ask questions. Your professors, your classmates, your RA, your advisor... they don’t care. In fact, everyone loves when you ask questions, especially your professors and your advisors. People tend to run into trouble when there isn’t enough communication, but if you ask questions at the state, there’s a smaller chance of running into trouble later on.  If there’s a smaller chance of running into trouble, that means your anxiety might not be as strong, it might end up not being there at all. It’s a cycle: questions lead to knowledge, knowledge leads to confidence, and confidence leads to less anxiety. So try your best to spit out that first question, because one leads to another and another and something great might happen along the way (you might figure out your major just by asking questions).

Practice the act of being alone. This might not seem important, but college has become a stepping stone to adulthood—whether we want it to be or not—and in adulthood, you will have to deal with being alone. Whether it be in an apartment or during a job interview or on a bus late at night. So, try to become comfortable with being on your own. Order food and eat alone, go to the gym alone, go out to events alone if no one has time to go with you, join clubs alone. I say this because if you’re confident enough to function through the whole day alone, than you’ll eventually have enough confidence to handle a problem alone, whether that be at a job or in class.

Practice the act of socializing. Yes, anxiety does go both ways, doesn’t it? Some of us are not comfortable being alone, some of us are not comfortable socializing. Well, if you’re in a major to get into a career that banks on socializing skills, college is your playground. Talk to your neighbors in class, ask for numbers, even if you only text each other for notes. Go out to events on campus and talk to someone in line if it’s taking forever and an awkward tension is growing. If you commute, like I do, join clubs on campus and be active. Make yourself visible and keep it that way. Work on standing out instead of fading into the corner; it’s hard but it helps.

Classes don’t control you, you control them. This is a general statement and it means that you have to take control of your education. If there’s a professor you enjoy, talk to them about the subject of the class. Don’t be a stranger to your advisor, seek them out with purpose. Ask about internships if that’s what you need. Go to your major’s department, make your face familiar. Essays and assignments and the like are all horrible, there’s no way to get around that, but that work can trap you. Take a step back every now and then and ask yourself whether you’re progressing or just surviving. When we experience anxiety, we tend to do what we can to stifle it. In this case, finishing the work (whether it’s the last minute or not) usually fixes the problem. Yet, if that’s all you’re doing, anxiety can pop up again later on once other, bigger issues pop up. If you’re an active student in your major’s department, anxiety-inducing issues are less likely to appear later on in your academic journey.

And last but not least...

Take a break. Once you’ve asked questions, fall silent for a few hours. If you went out to an event, have a movie night in. If doing too much at once makes you panic, spread the meetings out. Just because you’re doing a smaller amount of things, doesn’t mean you’re not doing anything. Treat yourself to your favorite food when you’re eating alone. Take a day off of classes if you need it. Find a balance between everything and forgive yourself if things topple over, life is crazy and there’s no way to know what’s going to happen. Believe in yourself and yes, take a deep breath. Drink a big glass of water. No one is staring at you, that question wasn’t stupid and you don’t look silly, . Actually, everyone is heaving a sigh of relief, because they didn’t get it either and you were brave enough to ask.

If nothing ends up working, remember that dealing with anxiety is overcoming it, even though it doesn’t feel like that. It’s hard and difficult and punches you in the gut and sometimes makes you cry, but it’s not impossible and you’re not alone. You can do this. You can do this.


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