5 Things You Should Know About Having Anxiety

It might be known as "the best four years of your life," but college is also a crazy stressful place and anxiety has become a mental illness that makes its way into the lives of numerous college students. It's important to educate yourself regarding the disorder, especially due to the rising number of students with anxiety. So, whether you are diagnosed with it, feel like you may have anxiety or simply want to find out more, here are five things to know about the disorder.

1. Anxiety is the most common mental health diagnosis for college students

TheNew York Timesreported that anxiety has officially surpassed depression as the most frequent diagnosis for college students. In fact, the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State conducted asurveyof over 100,000 college students and found that one in six students has been diagnosed or was treated for anxiety in the past 12months. The study also reports that over half of students visiting their school campus health clinics list anxiety as a health concern. The point is, if you have anxiety, you should know that you are not alone.

Related: "6 Signs You’re Way Too Stressed Out & What To Do About It"

2. There are many types of anxiety disorders

Types of anxiety disorders are including but not limited to: Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder & Agoraphobia, Social Anxiety Disorder, and specific phobias. What do these mean? Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by excessive worry about everyday things, ranging from work to family concerns. It can be extremely difficult to get through a day without feeling intense anxiety.

In comparison, Panic Disorder is when an individual experiences sudden spontaneous panic attacks, sometimes even when sleeping. This could lead to agoraphobia, when a person stops going to places or getting into situations where they have previously had a panic attack, as a preventative measure. This means people could adjust their entire lives in fear of repeating a panic attack.

Another common form of anxiety among college students is test anxiety. Dr. Roy Stefanik, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, says, "When you have excessive uneasiness, worry, fear or apprehension about the outcome of an exam to the point that it hinders your performance or impairs the quality of your life, it becomes a problem." One of the most common symptoms of test anxiety is "blanking out," or feeling like everything you've studied in preparation for the exam has been wiped out of your mind. An even more severe symptom is experiencing panic attacks.

Kayleigh Stewart, a sophomore at New York University first began experiencing these very symptoms during her senior year of high school. "I started having panic attacks and migraines over school work- specifically my AP's, college applications, and whether I would be able to get into college," she says. She adds that her anxiety is mostly performance-based, but can also be triggered by social or medical situations. Because there are so many types of anxiety disorders, if you feel like you might have some form of anxiety it's important to consult with a doctor instead of trying to diagnose yourself.

3. Only one third of American adults receive treatment

There are several options for treatment of anxiety disorders, including medication and cognitive behavioral therapy(CBT). The Mayo Clinic describes CBT as a form of counseling that helps the patient become aware of irrational and negative thinking, in order to respond to anxiety-triggering situations in a more effective way. Despite the available forms of treatment, only one in five teenagers find treatment for their anxiety. This could be either because they dismiss anxiety symptoms as everyday stress, or because they fear the stigma related to mental health disorders.

Ariel Vaisbort, a junior at Western University, says that she thinks the stigma toward anxiety and depression arises from the misconception that they are controllable. "My anxiety would be set off by things out of my control, and many of the people close to me didn't understand it."How can that stigma be dispelled?

Carly Tennes, a sophomore at New York University, believes that honesty is the best way to break the stigma. "Through being completely honest with your friends and family about your struggles, you can easily break the stigma of mental illness. As the people you'd be telling most likely know you fairly well, learning that someone they care about struggles with mental illness will break the stigma, as in a way, it further proves that individuals with such conditions are more complex than their diagnosis."

Kayleigh initially did not seek treatment out of embarrassment and worry that she would sent home from school for having anxiety. "My anxiety only got worse because I wasn't really doing anything about it," she says. "One thing after another and I finally had a breakdown in the middle of my freshman year and sought treatment, after which things have most definitely improved! I was very surprised that once I started talking about my mental illness more often, people usually responded with grace, kind words, and sometimes their own personal experience. Being open about my anxiety has been a huge part of my recovery, and I've found college a very safe place to do so."

Although seeking treatment is not going to immediately solve all anxiety disorders, both Ariel and Carly also found their symptoms improved after trying different treatments. Regarding her experiences with a therapist, Ariel says, "I think talking to my therapist helped a lot more than the medication because she helped me figure out stress management techniques and reminded me that school is not the most important thing in the world- my mental and physical health is."

Carly has also tried various forms of treatment for her anxiety. "For the first year and a half of my college career, I tried to deal with my anxiety simply through a

lternative methods like yoga and writing. Although sometimes these methods worked by themselves, my anxiety got so bad to the point where they lost some of their effectiveness, and so I decided to start adding therapy to the mix." She advises college students who have anxiety to really understand their diseases, so they can figure out the type(s) of treatments that work best for them.

4. There is no specific cause for anxiety

Anxiety can be caused by a variety of stress-inducing factors, from external ones such as a traumatic event or stress from school, work, or finances to medical factors (stress can be a side effect of medication or another illness). In college, many of the causes of anxiety are linked to the transition into living and going to school away from home. At college, "students experience many firsts, including new lifestyle, friends, roommates, exposure to new cultures and alternate ways of thinking," explains Hilary Silver, a clinical social worker and mental health expert for Campus Calm.

Another cause could be related to the cultural shift unique to our generation. Margaret Ross, who is the director of Behavioral Medicine at Boston University, says that technology is a huge influence. “Parents have micromanaged the lives of their children. They do everything on the computer. They don’t have the common sense that people in the past may have had in knowing when they need help.” Ross also says that the economic slump in the past few years have put more pressure on college students to pick a lucrative major instead of one they enjoy and to find a well-paying job. The overwhelming nature of college means that any and all of these factors can lead to anxiety.

5.Social media pressure could be a cause for anxiety and depression

A study by Medical News Today shows that there is a correlation between how much time teenagers spend on social media and the rate of anxiety and depression. There is understandably a ton of pressure to be present 24/7 on social media and available to respond to messages and texts; however, giving into that pressure can mean losing out on sleep, lower self-esteem, and anxiety. Also, try to remember that social media isn’t the same as reality. Although it can be fun, remember to take time off for yourself and your mental health.

Ultimately, it's important for us as college students to take the time and understand what anxiety is, who it affects and what to do if you feel like you might have anxiety. Mental health disorders are just as serious as physical illnesses, so learning about them is the first step in preventing anxiety disorders from becoming a huge part of our collective college experience.