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Anxiety and Stress Reduction

Stressed student in front of computer 

Feelings of anxiety and stress are an expected and normal part of life. Although stress and anxiety are often used interchangeably, they are different from one another. Stress is often caused by an external trigger, such as an upcoming exam or presentation. People under stress can experience mental and physical symptoms, like irritability, physical symptoms, and difficulty sleeping or concentrating. Anxiety is persistent, excessive worry that does not go away even when the stressor does. The symptoms of anxiety can look similar to those experienced when stressed.

Anxiety is very common in college students. According to the American College Health Association's Fall 2018 National College Health Assessment, 63% of college students in the US felt overwhelming anxiety in the past year. Some studies suggest that the first year of college is an especially high-risk time for the onset or worsening of anxiety.

Common Anxiety Symptoms in College Students

Anxiety can affect emotional and physical well-being in different ways. Let’s take a look at each of these areas.

Physical Symptoms

  • Muscle tension/shakiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Lightheadedness/Dizziness
  • Stomachaches /Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • High blood pressure
  • Sweating

Emotional Symptoms

Prolonged anxiety can affect emotions so much, it can lead to panic attacks for some individuals. Panic attacks last for a brief time, yet they can feel quite intense and scary. Anxiety can also lead to other mental health concerns, like depression or social isolation.

In addition to the primary symptom of excessive and irrational fear and worry, other common emotional symptoms of an anxiety disorder include:

  • Feelings of apprehension or dread
  • Watching for signs of danger
  • Anticipating the worst
  • Feeling tense and jumpy
  • Irritability

Cognitive Symptoms

Anxiety can negatively affect cognitive thinking processes. Research suggests that anxiety overpowers the brain and greatly changes nervous system activity. Some cognitive symptoms are:

  • Anticipating the worst outcomes
  • Feeling like your mind has gone blank
  • Irrational fears and dread
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering things

Things to Avoid When Anxious

Coffee

Cup of coffee and laptopAvoid drinking too much coffee. Caffeine can make you jittery and increase anxious feelings. Too much caffeine can also produce withdrawals if you try to stop abruptly. Keep your caffeine intake low or slowly wean yourself from it. Take notice of the places where you might find caffeine besides in coffee, such as certain teas, sodas, ice creams, and candy. 

Drugs and Alcohol

It might be tempting to use alcohol or drugs to reduce the feeling of anxiety. Over time, this strategy can backfire – especially if you are using it to cover up or escape from anxiety or other difficult feelings. Research shows that this quick-fix method to self-medicate can make things worse, and puts you at greater risk of alcoholism and other problems with substance abuse. And one of the biggest costs is that you never really address the underlying problems, like anxiety. It’s still there. You may try to use drugs or alcohol to relieve anxiety, but when you are already feeling anxious, you might find yourself in a situation where you are feeling with an unstable frame of mind.

How to Manage Anxiety

The good news is that anxiety is a common and treatable. Here are some positive coping strategies you can try when you are feeling anxious or stressed:

  • Take a time-out. Practice yoga, listen to music, meditate, get a massage, or learn relaxation techniques. Stepping back from the problem helps clear your head.
  • Eat healthy. It’s tempting to eat junk food or grab food on the run when you have a busy schedule, but it is important to eat well-balance meals with fresh fruits, vegetables and grains. Keep healthful, energy-boosting snacks on hand and drink lots of water.
  • Get enough sleep. College students typically have hectic schedules, which can cut into valuable sleep time. Lack of sleep can cause anxiety and when you are stressed, your body needs additional sleep and rest. Take naps if you need them, but keep them short.
  • Exercise to help you feel good and maintain your health. Recruit an exercise buddy to keep one another accountable.
  • Deep breaths. When you are anxious, your body starts to go into a fight-or-flight response and your breathing can become shallow. Deep breathing from your diaphragm starts up the body’s relaxation response. Inhale and exhale slowly. The good thing about deep breathing is you can do it just about anywhere.
  • Do your best. Instead of aiming for perfection, which isn't possible, be proud of however close you get.
  • Accept that you cannot control everything. Put your stress in perspective: Is it really as bad as you think?
  • Welcome humor. A good laugh goes a long way.
  • Maintain a positive attitude. Even though it may seem difficult at times, maintaining a positive attitude can be a powerful tool when dealing with and preventing anxiety. Anxious feelings lead to anxious thoughts, which can become a tough cycle to break. Make an effort to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
  • Get involved. Volunteer or find another way to be active in your community, which creates a support network and gives you a break from everyday stress.
  • Learn what triggers your anxiety. Is it work, family, school, or something else you can identify? Write in a journal when you’re feeling stressed or anxious, and look for a pattern.
  • Find Relaxing Activities. It is important to find ways of disconnecting from the fast-face of college life. Do things you enjoy when you can, even if it is for ten minutes. Try yoga, deep breathing, relaxation exercises, or going for walks.
  • Talk to someone. Tell friends and family you’re feeling overwhelmed, and let them know how they can help you. Sometimes, it’s better to talk to someone who is not in your inner circle. A therapist or peer counselor can be a good support. An online resource that can help is Drexel's 7 Cups of Tea.

Resources


The content provided here is intended for informational purposes only. It is not intended for self-diagnosis or self-treatment, nor should it replace the consultation of a trained medical or mental health professional. Please note that outside links are not under our control, and we cannot guarantee the content contained on them.