Anxiety is something that many college students struggle with. No matter what background you’re from or life situation you’re in, an overactive mind, racing thoughts, overthinking tendencies, and debilitating nerves can be overwhelming. Sometimes, anxiety makes daily life seem like an insurmountable task, and it can keep you from participating in things that are important to you. While some people struggle with generalized anxiety, it’s also common to experience anxiety related to specific situations, like back-to-school anxiety, which is more prevalent than ever this fall.
Whether you happen to have generalized anxiety, situational anxiety, or specific triggers, finding techniques that work to keep you grounded and calm can be helpful both in the moment and long-term. Everyone is different — from your triggers to your specific needs when you’re feeling anxious. Learning about different grounding techniques and trying out each one for yourself can help you figure out which calming methods truly work for you. No matter what you need, here are a few grounding techniques for back-to-school anxiety to add to your routine.
- Deep breathing
Breathing is a tip you may have heard touted enough times to make your eyes roll, but sometimes, there’s truth in popular ideas! Trying out some deep, even breaths and noticing your breath as you focus on your different senses or areas of the body can give you something to direct your attention to — plus, it can lower your stress response and give you a sense of grounding.
“When going through big life changes or transitions, it’s normal to experience stress,” says Meredith Waller, LCSW, a licensed therapist who specializes in helping clients navigate anxiety and self-esteem. “Focusing your breath into your stomach area, versus your chest, can help activate the calming side of your nervous system and decrease your stress response.” If you’re feeling anxious, Waller recommends placing a hand over your stomach and taking five to ten deep breaths at a pace you’re comfortable with.
If you’re feeling anxious, whether about back-to-school season or otherwise, tuning into your breath can slow your heartbeat and calm your nerves, and you can do it pretty much anywhere.
For some people, trying to stay still can actually make anxiety worse and intensify that jittery feeling. If you find that this is the case for you, try out some movement or even exercise to take your mind and body away from that anxious state. According to research on the connection between exercise and anxiety disorders, exercising and movement can decrease the stress hormones in your body and redirect your energy toward something productive — plus, it releases endorphins, which naturally help to boost your mood. While this option isn’t for everyone, it can be a great alternative for those who can’t sit still when they’re anxious.
- focus on something tangible
Ashleigh Edelstein, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Austin, Texas, says that focusing on one object when you’re feeling anxious can help you feel more grounded. She tells Her Campus, “The next time you feel anxious, take an object and hold it. Mindfully study it and name the qualities — colors, textures, weight — while you take a few deep breaths. Feel the weight of it in your hands and notice what it feels like to hold it. This practice can quickly calm your mind if you’re having racing thoughts.”
Edelstein also recommends making a playlist to help manage anxiety in the moment. “Figure out what kind of sounds help you feel grounded and create a playlist,” she tells Her Campus. “This could be music, running water, ocean waves, nature, or even wind chimes. Get creative and experiment with a combination of different sounds!”
- nOURISH YOUR BODY
The jittery nerves and upset stomach that accompany anxiety can leave you feeling a bit lightheaded, drain your energy, and in some cases, prevent you from eating normally. In order to function optimally (and take care of yourself during college and beyond!), you need to be nourished effectively. Not only will nourishing your body help calm you down and give you the energy you’ve been lacking, but the act of cooking and making food can even be ritualistic and soothing. Whether you want to try out a comforting recipe or put on a cup of tea, nourishing your body can work wonders for anxiety.
- Stay hydrated
Speaking of filling up, staying hydrated is another way to curb some of the physical sensations of anxiety. Water restores electrolytes, reduces the stress hormone cortisol, and keeps your organs — including your brain — functioning at optimal level. Drinking a cool glass of water in a time of uncertainty can clear your head, refresh you and help you center back to your surroundings. So the next time you’re feeling the back-to-school jitters, grab your favorite water bottle, enjoy a sip, and remember to ground yourself in the present.
- Try meditation
If having anxiety makes you long for silence, meditation could be the perfect solution for you. “Many studies show that consistent meditation practices reduce overall anxiety and help you to feel calm,” says Eric E. Strom, a clinical social worker who works with college students. “The practice does not have to be long, and there are many apps out there to help,” he tells Her Campus.
Find a quiet space where you can sit or lay down, close your eyes, and focus on your surroundings and thought processes. Contrary to popular belief, the goal isn’t to get the anxious thoughts completely out of your head (in fact, that can feel impossible!). Rather, meditation can help you calm down, acknowledge those racing thoughts, and help with present-moment awareness, acceptance, and letting go.
Try an app like Insight Timer, Calm, or Headspace, or search for meditations specifically designed to help with anxiety. If sitting in meditation isn’t your thing, try a walking meditation, spending time in nature, or even listening to your favorite music — all of these are forms of meditation, too!
- practice (Literal) grounding
“It’s really helpful to focus on the present moment, since most of our worries live in the past or future,” Waller tells Her Campus. And if you’re feeling anxious, whether about back-to-school or otherwise, literally grounding into the earth and drawing your awareness to the present can be a powerful tool.
Strom tells Her Campus, “Sit with your feet on the floor, or even your whole body on the floor. Feel the connection between your feet, body, and the floor. Notice the pressure, the sensations, textures…and focus on that as you breathe.”
If you’re feeling anxious, try practicing this in your dorm room, going outside and putting your feet on the ground, or sitting in the grass — and see how it makes you feel.
- Take a bath
If being outside isn’t a relaxing experience for you, try taking a warm, calming shower or bath. Having a sensory experience can be a valuable grounding tool during times of anxiety, enabling you draw awareness to the present moment and taking your focus away from your racing thoughts. If you have access to a bath before heading back to college, try adding some epsom salts or essential oils to the water for de-stressing properties, muscle relaxation, and a pleasant aroma that will bring a feeling of calm.
Anxiety is a difficult experience no matter what the cause, but these grounding practices can help you manage your racing thoughts and establish that elusive sense of inner quiet.
In addition to the above practices, Strom recommends identifying practices that make you feel calm (i.e., journaling), talking to a supportive friend or family member, or seeking professional support if you feel like you could use some guidance. “Get a therapist to address whatever anxiety or mental health concerns you may be experiencing,” he tells Her Campus.
Edelstein says that once you find a combination of practices that work for you, keep a list so you remember it the next time you feel anxious. “When you’re already nervous, anxious, or stressed, it can be hard to remember what’s worked before,” she tells Her Campus. “Any time something works, write it down somewhere you can easily access it. Keep your list handy so you can refer back to it later!”
Whether you’re feeling anxious about heading back to school this semester, or you want to work on feeling more grounded in between classes, these tips can help you get started. Remember, the right techniques are all about what works for you, so check in with the way you feel and practice what feels right in your body.
Jayakody, K., Gunadasa, S., & Hosker, C. (2014). Exercise for anxiety disorders: systematic review. British journal of sports medicine, 48(3), 187-196.
Saeed, S. A., Cunningham, K., & Bloch, R. M. (2019). Depression and anxiety disorders: benefits of exercise, yoga, and meditation. American family physician, 99(10), 620-627.