College Students and Anxiety

There’s no doubt that college can be a lot of fun. But it can also be stressful. That’s particularly true for incoming freshmen. New social situations, new academic pressures and a major change in routine—all while living away from home for the first time—can lead to a lot of anxiety. 

For some students, this anxiety stays at a manageable level. With time, it may even go away entirely. For others, however, college-related anxiety can snowball, interfering with their ability function. 

Uncontrollable anxiety that’s frequent and intense may be a sign of anxiety disorder. Common symptoms of anxiety disorder can include any of the following: 

  • Frequent or constant worry
  • Negative thoughts
  • Feelings of fear
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Panic attacks
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Muscle tension
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid heartbeat 

When (and where) to get help 

Does your anxiety feel out of control? Does it prevent you from enjoying college life? If so, it’s time to get help. Fortunately, anxiety disorder is usually highly treatable. In fact, most people feel significantly better in just a few weeks. 

College students can get help from a variety of resources. Most campuses, including the University of Iowa, have student health centers, which can direct you to psychiatrists and/or therapists. Or you can search online for a mental health practice in your area. [If you’d like to see a psychiatrist or therapist at Psychiatric Associates of Iowa City, request an appointment online or call (319) 356-6352.] 

How anxiety is treated 

A combination of therapy and medication is often the most successful way to treat anxiety. Therapy shows you how to manage your anxiety by helping you understand how you think and act when you're anxious. Medication helps to reduce—or potentially even prevent—feelings of anxiety by regulating serotonin levels in the brain. 

Some people worry that anti-anxiety medication will make them feel “out of it” or not themselves. Medications that regulate serotonin, however, typically don’t have that affect. In fact, most people who take anti-anxiety medication say they feel just like themselves—but without the anxiety. 

Other steps you can take 

In addition to making an appointment with a mental health care provider, you can also take these steps to help manage your anxiety:

  • Don't fight your feelings. Anxiety feeds itself. The more you worry about it, the worse it gets. Instead, try to understand that your anxiety is just a feeling and will pass.
  • Exercise. It's a great way to relieve tension and help your body feel relaxed.
  • Let go. Keep in mind that you can't control everything about a situation. Change what you can and let the rest take its course.
  • Examine your life for stress, and try to find ways to reduce it.
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol, which can make anxiety symptoms worse. (Yes, even alcohol, because it changes the levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in your brain.) 

Don’t suffer needlessly 

Treating your anxiety can make a big difference in your quality of life in college and beyond, so don’t wait to get help. In fact, the only regret among most people who’ve sought treatment for anxiety is that they didn’t get help sooner.