Depressed young woman talks to therapist

Tips for Coping with the Stress and Anxiety of College

Categories: Mental Health

“We all experience stress as we readjust our lives, especially during college. In so adjusting to different circumstances, stress will help or hinder us depending on how we react to it,” The University of Alabama Counseling Center.

Anxiety among college students is extremely common. According to the American College Health Association Fall 2018 National College Health Assessment, 63% of college students in the US felt overwhelming anxiety in the past year. In this same survey, 23% reported being diagnosed or treated by a mental health professional for anxiety in the past year (Harvard.edu). There are many triggers among college students that, if not handled in a positive way, can cause even more stress and anxiety.

Common Anxiety Triggers

College students typically have heavy course loads while trying to balance jobs, extracurricular activities and a social life. You are not alone! Feeling overwhelmed is completely normal. There are various anxiety triggers that are common for college students to run into during their time in school.

Pressure to Excel and Meet Expectations.

Many students feel the pressure to excel at their studies as well as meet expectations they set for themselves and that are set for them by family members and professors. At the end of the day, you need to make sure you are doing your best to meet YOUR expectations. Do the best you can and feel confident in yourself.

Worries about Finding a Major/Career Path.

It is okay to not immediately know what you want to do in your life. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 1/3 of students in the United States end up changing their major within the first 3 years! Ultimately, changing your major means that you are picking something you enjoy more, which will benefit you in the long run. This is exactly what college is for – finding out what you want to do – and exploring is part of the process.

A lot of colleges will have resources, such as the career center, where you can speak with a faculty member about your major choice. There are also many fun quizzes online, like this one from The Princeton Review, to help match your personality with a potential career.

Finding a Job/Internship.

College is the time where students are gaining the knowledge and tools to work in their field of choice. There is a huge pressure to find prestigious internships and later a successful job. Try not to stress and be sure to use the resources your college has to offer such as your professors and the career center.

Finding and Making New Friends.

Always know that almost everyone is nervous about making friends at college. What’s great about college is it brings people of ALL backgrounds and interests together in one place. Many colleges have clubs and organizations for anything you can think of and joining these groups can help you find people with similar interests. Check out this article on TalkSpace for some tips on dealing with the anxiety of making new friends in college.

Becoming Homesick.

Your feelings are normal. The feeling of being homesick represents feelings of grief or loss, and more people experience this than you would think. According to the UCLA Higher Education Institute, 69 percent of first year college students report feeling homesick.  To cope with feeling homesickness, you need to start by knowing your feelings are normal and temporary. Reaching out for support, staying in touch with family, and establishing routines are all ways you can cope with these feelings. For more tips, check out this article from U.S. News.

Fears of Growing Up and the “Next Steps.”

Almost everyone graduating college has fears and anxieties of what’s going to happen next. For some, these feelings are now being heightened due to COVID-19. Know that there is not a place you should be after graduation. No two people’s paths are exactly the same. Take it day by day, focus on self-care, and do things that help you relax. This book list from Business Insider outlines 21 books for recent grads that will help guide them through their next chapter.

Tips on How to Cope

  1. Take time for self-care

    Self-care can mean anything from getting enough sleep, to eating well and exercising, to even curling up with your favorite book after a long day. Self-care looks different for everyone, and that’s okay. It’s important that you are taking time for yourself each day to do something that makes you happy. Check out PureWow’s 50 free ways to practice some self-care from the comfort of your home.

  2. Get enough sleep!

    We can’t reiterate this enough. Although this ties into self-care, it’s vital to academic success and to reducing stress. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, college students who pull “all-nighters” are more likely to have lower GPAs. Depression, weight gain and high blood pressure are also a few of the health issues that can be related to insufficient sleep (The American Institute of Stress). These issues will then almost always lead to stress.

  3. Change your mindset

    Although it’s never as simple as saying, “think positive,” studies have shown that positive thinking may improve physical well-being, produce lower feelings of depression and lower levels of distress. Know that everything has a beginning, a middle and an end. Whatever struggles you are facing will fade, and you can always ask for help when you need it.

  4. Don’t Procrastinate

    Sometimes when stress and anxiety creep up, it’s hard to focus and put your mind to a task. A study done by Piers Steel, a business professor at the University of Calgary, estimates that 80-95 percent of college students engage in procrastination. Sometimes the first step to take to overcome this is to make a list. Fast Company has a great guide on how to make an actually effective to-do list if you’re a procrastinator. Forbes also put together a great list of 29 time-management secrets.

  5. Ask for help

    You should never be ashamed to reach out for help and utilize your resources. Many colleges offer various resources for students who are struggling. Taking this step can ultimately help you find the root of your anxiety and develop effective coping methods that are unique to you. The Jed Foundation is a nonprofit that protects emotional health and prevents suicide for our nation’s teens and young adults. They have a free, 24/7 confidential support line.

The majority of college students feel what you are feeling, so remember that you are not alone. It’s important to be able to recognize these anxiety triggers and then know what to do to make yourself feel better and decrease your stress. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your college’s counseling center for support.