5 Tips for Dealing with Anxiety in College

Tuesday, August 10 2021

Dealing with college anxiety is incredibly common. So common, in fact, that the American College Health Association survey found that almost three quarters of students reported moderate or severe psychological distress. If you’re a college student and you’re feeling stressed, you’re not alone. You don’t have to have a diagnosed anxiety disorder to experience common symptoms of anxiety, such as rapid breathing, trouble concentrating, or feeling agitated. As a college student, you’re often away from your usual support system, and you’re adjusting to a new way of life. This can make it difficult to practice healthy coping mechanisms for anxiety. 

In this article, we’ll help you understand some common triggers of anxiety and stress in college students, and give you tips for helpful coping strategies. 

If you just want to talk to someone who gets you, SonderMind is here for you. Our licensed therapists are ready to listen to you and help you navigate some of the most challenging and rewarding years of your life. Just tell us a bit about yourself and we’ll connect you with a therapist who gets what you’re going through and can give you coping strategies for success in college. 

Why can college cause anxiety?

It’s not surprising that this time of life can be difficult for many young adults. Understanding the challenges faced by students is the first step to managing college anxiety. The transition to college life often involves many major life events happening at the same time, including: 

  • Graduating high school and starting a new school
  • Moving
  • Adjusting to new living conditions and roommates
  • Changing eating and sleeping habits
  • Attending fewer family get-togethers
  • Adopting new personal habits 
  • Financial independence
  • More rigorous coursework and test anxiety
  • Performance pressures, for example if you’re a student athlete

Being away at college doesn’t make you exempt from normal life, either. Hard things still happen. Loved ones can get sick or pass away, parents may get divorced, and breakups happen. These life events can be more overwhelming when you’re already experiencing the stressors of college.  

And sometimes, you can be enjoying all that a new chapter of life has to offer and still feel anxious. If you notice that you’re starting to experience chronic anxiety when you’re in college, you’re not alone. In fact, research shows that the first two years of college are the hardest when it comes to social and individual adjustment. 

Additionally, many mental health conditions begin to show symptoms in the late teens or early 20s, right when most students are in college. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, stress can contribute to symptoms of mental health conditions. 

5 coping strategies for anxiety in college students

Many college students live with mental health conditions, whether they have generalized anxiety disorderpanic disorder, or are simply struggling with all of life’s demands. It can be helpful to understand that you are not the only one with feelings of anxiety, particularly when social media can make it seem like you’re alone. Here are five strategies to help you cope with college anxiety. 

1. Prioritize self-care

Self-care is not a nice-to-have, it is a must-have. Simply getting enough sleep has been proven to decrease anxiety. Some other ways to prioritize self-care and improve your well-being include eating a balanced diet and moving your body. 

If you typically grab a coffee on your way out the door before your 8 AM class, try stopping at the dining commons for a balanced breakfast instead. To get your body moving, you could go for a walk around campus when the anxiety starts to bubble up or join an intramural sports team. 

Self-care also means taking breaks from your busy college life. This doesn’t mean you’ll be avoiding the problem. Instead, you’ll be giving your mind a chance to reset and relax. This could look like going to see a movie, jamming to your favorite tunes, getting coffee with a friend, pausing to take some deep breaths, or relaxing on the quad. 

2. Avoid social isolation

It can be difficult to make time for socializing when you’re stressed and overworked. However, social isolation can feed anxiety. In fact, a study in the Journal of Public Mental Health found that loneliness was associated with higher levels of anxiety, stress, and depression. 

Getting out there and socializing, particularly when you’re in a new environment, can be difficult. Thankfully, many colleges offer programs and social events to help students find friends and socialize. Try attending a sporting event, striking up a conversation with a classmate, joining a club, volunteering, or talking to a resident assistant. 

If meeting up with other people feels like too much, you can start by studying in the library or a common area. This is a good first step because you’re no longer isolated, but you won’t feel pressure to strike up a conversation. 

Don’t forget to call home as well. A good talk with someone who truly knows you can help you feel less alone in a new environment. And if you really don’t want to be talking to strangers or someone in your family, you can always talk to someone who gets what you’re going through. SonderMind therapists are ready to listen to you and help you navigate the challenges of college life. You can talk to a therapist who takes your insurance either in-person or online — whatever works best for your schedule. 

3. Find a hobby

College campuses are well-known for having clubs you might not even have dreamed of — think skydiving club, clown nose club, or squirrel club. Perhaps you could find a club that fits your interests, take up a new sport, try yoga, or take up a hobby you enjoyed in high school. 

If you’re experiencing homesickness, finding an activity that reminds you of home might be especially helpful. If you miss your pets, for example, try volunteering at an animal shelter. If you miss playing sports, consider attending a game at your college or joining an intramural team. 

For activities you can do on your own, consider practicing mindfulness, meditation, or going on a walk exploring your college campus or surrounding area.

4. Create a study plan

Sometimes, college can feel overwhelming when you don’t have your coursework organized. The assignments seem to pile up, and before you know it, you’re pulling all-nighters. 

Try going through your syllabus for each course and writing the date of each exam and assignment on a calendar. This will give you a visual picture of your semester. From there, you can plan a study schedule that will help you stay on track with each class. This master calendar will also allow you to predict weeks that will be especially busy and stressful. This might help you have better time management. 

If you have a hard time organizing your studies, an academic adviser or tutor at your college may be able to help you. 

5. Try talk therapy

Sometimes, it becomes difficult to address college anxiety on your own. Most colleges have mental health services and counseling centers on campus. 

A mental health professional can help you work through your anxiety, reassure you that you are not the only one living with those feelings, and give you healthy coping strategies. It can be difficult to take that first step in trying therapy and seeking professional help. However, it may end up being one of the best decisions you’ve ever made.

Talk therapy can help you see things from different perspectives to manage and cope with stress, anxiety, and other concerns that can come with college life. SonderMind can connect you to a mental health professional who can help. The relationship you have with your therapist is key to your success, so consider what's most important to you when finding the right therapist. If you find that the therapist you have is not quite the right fit, SonderMind will connect you to other therapists who may be better fits for you. 

Unhelpful coping strategies for college stress and anxiety 

So you know about healthy coping strategies. What about strategies or activities that may be detrimental to your overall mental health and wellness? Below, you’ll find just a few of the most common unhelping coping mechanisms that you’ll want to avoid. 

Drinking and substance use

You might find that you turn to drinking or substance use to get a break from college stress. You might also engage in these behaviors as you try to make new friends and adjust to a new social culture. This coping strategy is not ideal because it can lead to addiction, and it doesn’t actually solve the problem. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, heavy alcohol or drug use can occur more often with certain mental health problems, including anxiety and depression.

If you feel that substance abuse could be having an impact on your anxiety or stress in college, you may want to consider seeking professional help.

Poor eating habits

For the first time, you may be in an environment where you alone are responsible for what you eat. When stressed in college, you might overeat unhealthy comfort foods. Or maybe you’ll lose your appetite and undereat. It’s easy to begin to engage in poor eating habits while in college, but it is possible to eat healthy while on a budget.

If you notice a change in your eating habits, it’s important to keep an eye on your overall health and relationship with food. One study found that the prevalence of anxiety disorders was much higher in people with eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. In that same study, researchers found that an anxiety disorder may create a vulnerability to developing an eating disorder

Avoiding the problem

Avoiding the problem is different from healthy distraction when you’re dealing with anxiety in college. When you avoid your stress and anxiety, you might skip classes, fail to study, procrastinate, stay in your dorm, or spend excessive amounts of time on social media. None of these coping strategies do anything to address what is making you anxious in the first place.

How do I get help for anxiety in college? 

If you find yourself living with anxiety, try engaging in healthy coping strategies. Your college campus likely has mental health resources available to you. A licensed therapist can also help you deal with anxiety in college. 

If you or someone you know is in crisis, get help right away. Call 988 for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or find other suicide prevention resources here


Reach out to SonderMind for support

A mental health professional can help you work through your college anxiety and reassure you that you are not the only one living with those feelings. It can be difficult to take that first step in trying therapy and seeking professional help. However, it may end up being one of the best decisions you’ve ever made. Consider what's most important to you when finding the right therapist.

SonderMind can connect you to a mental health professional who can help. Just let us know what you’re looking for, and we’ll match you to a therapist who fits your needs. You can meet with your therapist in-person or online, whatever works for you. And because every penny counts for college students, we match you with therapists who take your insurance. 

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