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  • Writer's pictureLia Damiani-Tinney, LMHC

4 Ways to Cope with Anxiety as a College Student

College can be an exciting time. You’re meeting new people, living on your own for the first time, choosing classes that you actually find interesting, learning new things about yourself and getting your first taste of independence.

…and then there’s a whole lot of pressure to succeed, pick a major, choose the right career, take care of yourself while living on your own for the first time, all while getting good grades so you can get your dream job and pay off all of that student loan debt.

It’s okay if you feel anxious about college because it definitely can be stressful. Experiencing some anxiety can be helpful because it can act as a motivator; if you’re worried about a test, you’re more likely to take the time to study. It’s when that anxiety becomes overwhelming that problems can arise.

If you’re experiencing overwhelming anxiety as a college student, you’re not alone. According to the Fall 2018 American College Health Assessment, 63% of US college students report overwhelming anxiety and 23% report receiving an anxiety disorder diagnosis. These numbers have continued to rise, especially since the start of the pandemic.

The good news is that coping with anxiety is manageable. Even creating small changes to your routine can decrease anxious feelings. Here are 4 tips you can use to cope with anxiety while you’re in college.

1. Take small steps:

When you’re feeling anxious, your first instinct might be to avoid what’s causing the anxiety. You might find yourself skipping class, pushing off assignments until the last minute, or isolating. This might delay feeling anxious in the moment but can create more problems in the future which will inevitably cause more stress.

To tackle this, start by creating the smallest possible goals that will help you eventually get back on track. For example, if you’re worried about an exam try just opening your textbook to the first page. From there, continue creating small goals, like reading the first sentence of the page. These probably sound silly because of how easy they are, but that’s the point. You already know you can open your book and read a sentence, which means you can easily get it done. You might even feel motivated to read the next few sentences, which can turn into a paragraph, then eventually a chapter. Eventually completing these smaller goals will add up and you’ll achieve more than you would by avoiding studying all together. Approaching a large task by breaking it down into smaller, manageable parts can help you feel more motivated and less overwhelmed.

2. Watch out for negative self-talk

It can be so easy to start criticizing yourself for not measuring up to your own standards. Tearing yourself apart doesn’t help in the long run and can cause you to feel more anxious and depressed. To become more aware of when that negative self-talk takes over, start noticing the situations that trigger these thoughts like what time of day it is, who you’re with, what you’re talking about, etc. Once you have a better idea of what triggers these thoughts, try imagining saying these critical thoughts out load and directed to a friend. If you can’t imagine saying something so harsh to a friend or loved one, you don’t deserve to say it to yourself.

You can also try thinking of objective facts that can prove that thought wrong. If you catch yourself thinking “I’ll never be able to do this, I’m a failure” try to think of times in your life when you accomplished something. Getting into college is a massive accomplishment so you can start there. By building evidence against this thought, you’re showing yourself how that thought is just a thought, not a fact.

3. Sleep

If you’re feeling anxious about grades you might be considering pulling an all-nighter to cram before a big exam. This might seem like a good idea in the moment, but According to the American Sleep Association, lack of sleep can impair our memory, concentration and reduces our ability to complete math calculations. Not sounding too good if you’re studying for a math exam, right?

Lack of sleep also affects your emotions causing you to feel more irritable, depressed, or anxious. The CDC recommends an average of 7 hours of sleep per night for anyone 18 and older. This isn’t a PSA to go to bed at 9 every night, just give yourself enough time to get 7 hours of sleep. If you’re a night owl, try signing up for classes that are later in the day so you have time to sleep.

4. Talk to someone

Literally anyone. As a freshman, everyone is in the same boat as you and might be feeling the same way you do. Look for activities on campus for freshmen or new clubs/sports to join. If meeting new people is making you feel more anxious, try calling a friend from home or your family. Hearing from the people who care about you can help with feelings of loneliness.

If you’ve tried one or all of these tips and still find that your worries are difficult to control, therapy might be a good option. Please use the contact tab or call (305)-395-2023 for a free 15 minute phone consultation.

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