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College Success

How You Deal With College Anxiety

06.30.2023 • 11 min read

Jennifer Rivera

Subject Matter Expert

Learn how to deal with anxiety in college. Read about what anxiety is, why anxiety relief is essential, and tips on dealing with anxiety.

In This Article

  1. What Is Anxiety?

  2. The Importance of Anxiety Relief

  3. Why Are College Students Susceptible to Anxiety?

  4. 8 Signs of Anxiety

  5. What Should I Avoid If I Feel Anxious?

  6. 10 Tips To Deal with Anxiety

Let’s face it: the college experience sounds like a recipe for anxiety. You have to balance class assignments, work and school schedules, new relationships, a budget… oh yeah, and find time to take care of yourself.

The constant stress levels never seem to decrease as you keep adding one more thing to your list.

“If only summer would get here sooner!” you think to yourself.

If you have anxiety about school and don’t know how to separate anxiety and college, keep reading. This article will discuss college anxiety and relief strategies so you can understand and cope with college anxiety.

What Is Anxiety?

Are you feeling anxious? Especially about college classes and responsibilities? If you have applied for college and you’re anxious about keeping up with everything, you’re not alone. Many students feel the same way.

In the spring of 2022, nearly 35% of college students were diagnosed with some form of anxiety. While the pandemic certainly didn’t help, these trends have been on the upswing for some time. Many more college students may experience anxiety even if they haven’t been formally diagnosed.

Anxiety is a feeling of fear or terror over non-life-threatening situations. Repeated instances of these feelings may point to an anxiety disorder.

Here are 5 common types of anxiety:

1. Anticipatory Anxiety

This type of anxiety means you’re playing events over in your head long before they happen, and actually experiencing dread or fear over them, sometimes for weeks in advance.

2. Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is when we’re worried and fearful about being away from a place or a person/people. While this is normal at some stages in life (e.g., babies, toddlers), this becomes more problematic for young adults and adults.

3. Test Anxiety

As the name suggests, this kind of anxiety occurs when you’re fearful during a test. This doesn’t ‌ have to be the paper/pencil kind of test, but can expand to cover any ‌ evaluation—like a driving test, for example.

4. Social Anxiety

This kind of anxiety isn’t only about being in social places; it’s more the fear of being judged harshly or being watched by other people. Even imagining this kind of scenario can bring on bouts of panic.

5. Generalized Anxiety

Generalized anxiety can explain a multitude of different triggers for anxiety, and often people with generalized anxiety can feel many of the types of anxiety described above, as well as a host of other triggers for anxiety.

The Importance of Anxiety Relief

Alleviating your anxiety is crucial because anxiety can harm your physical and mental well-being. Long-term anxiety adds stress to your body. This stress can reduce the function of your immune system and cause depression.

Due to these severe consequences, it’s important to recognize anxiety early and use strategies to relieve it. Anxiety is not something to fear since some anxiety is normal, but awareness is key.

Everyone faces anxiety, but for many college students, anxiety runs high. The chart below shows anxiety and stress statistics related to college students:

Table with statistics of stress and anxiety in college students

As you can see, anxiety and depression are linked. Both can impact your grades and ability to succeed in college. In fact, anxiety tends to work on a cycle: you get anxious due to an upcoming test, you perform poorly due to the anxiety, and then you feel even more anxious about school.

While anxiety in students does ebb and flow, it’s almost always there, sitting below the surface, ready to break out. It’s important to get a handle on anxiety as a college student so it doesn’t become a chronic disorder in adulthood.

Understanding the cycle of your anxiety and recognizing it is the first step toward working on it. Once you notice anxiety rising, you can start to alleviate it.

Why Are College Students Susceptible to Anxiety?

Many, many people suffer from anxiety—19.1% of the adult population. College students are even more vulnerable to anxiety because of the immense change they experience during this time. These changes bring with them a variety of reasons to experience anxiety.

Here are a few examples of the challenges that can create anxiety in college students:


For many college students who go away for college, this may be the first time they’re not living with family. It takes time to make friends and build a new support system. In the beginning, students are vulnerable to separation anxiety and loneliness.

Difficulty Balancing Responsibilities

Nearly every adult struggles to find a work/life balance. Some college students are experiencing this for the first time and have to learn how to balance school, friends, and work all at once.

Older students ‌still living at home may be trying to fit school into their already established work and family balance. This can cause anxiety.

Social Pressure

Many new opportunities in college exist to form friendships: social activities, clubs, projects, and trips. We also have unspoken expectations for what ‌groups to join, which parties to attend, and how to do college the “right” way—a definition that varies for every college student.

Deciding how to handle these social situations, external judgments, and stressors can lead to anxiety, especially social anxiety.

Financial Problems

College is expensive. Many students—and‌ their families—make great sacrifices to attend. Creating a budget is essential for college students.

It isn’t just balancing work, life, and school that can make you anxious. It can also be the “what ifs” or the thought of student loan balances piling up. Knowing family members have put in extra work to get you to college can bring on anxiety.

Fear of the Future

While some college students have a clear idea of their future goals during and after college, many don’t. There’s constant pressure to know or decide what you’ll do after college.

Feeling uncertain or insecure about your future can cause stress and lead to anxiety.

Negative and Critical Self-Thoughts

Academic pressure, social expectations, financial insecurity, and uncertainty about your future can lead to critical self-thoughts. A college student overly critical of their success may feel they aren’t good enough to be in college. These negative and critical self-thoughts can bring on anxiety.

8 Signs of Anxiety

Do you think you might suffer from anxiety? You should talk to your doctor or counselor about your anxiety.

Here are some signs to look for:

1. Nervousness

If you are experiencing fear or worry frequently and in a variety of situations, that could be a sign of anxiety.

2. Losing Focus Quickly

Anxiety can interfere with our ability to focus. Students experience various stimuli on college campuses. But if you find yourself losing focus quickly when studying or with multiple other tasks, anxiety may be to blame.

3. Excessive Worry

It’s normal to worry about taking a test. But you may find yourself also worrying about ‌tasks like: where you’ll sit during the test, whether you should bring something to drink since it’s a long test, whether your instructor will think you’re cheating if you look up during the test—and what you’ll do if that happens.

This kind of downward spiral thinking (also called catastrophizing) can be a sign of anxiety.

4. Insomnia

If you can’t get enough sleep because your brain is continually “on” and thoughts are racing through your head that you can’t turn off, anxiety may be the cause.

People with anxiety often remain awake replaying conversations or scenarios, or worrying about future events. They may have trouble falling asleep, experience less fulfilling sleep (REM sleep) every night, or have vivid nightmares.

Unfortunately, lack of sleep makes anxiety symptoms worse, and anxiety makes it harder to fall asleep, so people with anxiety may become caught in an unhealthy cycle that affects their mood and ability to function throughout the day.

5. Missing Deadlines

Continually missing deadlines can be a sign of anxiety.

This can mean having a hard time keeping track of deadlines, or it can also manifest as procrastination. You know the deadlines are coming, but you convince yourself you can get this done “later,” and then you can’t.

While these things can happen to anyone, seeing them as a pattern might be a cue to talk to your health and wellness center or medical professional about getting screened for anxiety.

6. Isolation

Students isolate themselves for many reasons.

Isolating yourself to study for a big test or write that final paper is completely understandable. But if you find yourself becoming isolated only because you “don’t want to be around people” or so you don’t have to “deal with everything,” that might be anxiety talking.

Isolation can potentially make your feelings of anxiety worse.

7. Eating Disorders

Eating disorders and anxiety often go hand-in-hand and can make each other worse.

The more anxious you are about your appearance, the more likely you may be to engage in unhealthy eating behaviors. If you suspect an eating disorder, it’s essential that you seek medical assistance and talk to professionals about anxiety too.

8. Cycles of Negative Self-Talk

If we were as unkind to others as we ‌are to ourselves, we would be shocked and ashamed to hear those words come out of our mouths.

We can become so used to negative self-talk that we often don’t hear ourselves saying such things until we pay attention. This kind of self-talk can accentuate anxiety. Luckily, with practice, the cycle of unhelpful self-talk can be broken.

What Should I Avoid if I Feel Anxious?

If you’re feeling anxious (whether it’s an anxiety disorder or not), you can avoid things that increase your symptoms.


Caffeine is a stimulant. It’s meant to wake you up (or keep you awake) and put you into high gear, but it doesn’t discriminate. If your anxiety is heightened, more caffeine will likely increase your anxiety even more. Instead, choose a brisk walk or a cool shower to wake you up.

Non-Prescribed Drugs and Alcohol

Some people may experiment with drugs and alcohol to help dull their anxiety. While this may appear to work in the short term, the drugs and alcohol actually increase the symptoms of anxiety in many cases.

Similarly, these substances can only dull your anxiety until your body adjusts to them, which means needing more and more alcohol and/or drugs to get the same effects. This is a dangerous cycle that won’t cure anxiety.

Energy Drinks and Supplements

Similar to caffeinated drinks, energy supplements are designed to put your whole body on alert.

If you’re already on alert—focused on all the things that worry you— these supplements can send your feelings of worry and anxious thoughts to another level.

Social Media

While you aren’t going to avoid social media altogether (probably), it’s a good idea to know your limits.

Students often use social media as a coping mechanism for anxiety, and there’s now a great deal of research to show how too much social media can have a negative effect on our health and wellness.

While you don’t have to cut it out completely, think about setting limits on your phone or only using social media on your computer (not your phone).

10 Tips to Deal With Anxiety

If you’re coping with college anxiety or have general anxiety about school, you can take self-advocacy steps to reduce your anxiety symptoms. Use these anxiety relief strategies so you can get the most out of college.

1. Take Prescription Medication Regularly

Taking irregular doses of prescription medication will confuse your body and will not provide anxiety relief.

Set a time, place, and routine to take your meds, and then stick to it. Make sure your medical providers are aware of everything you’re taking so they can avoid any interactions between medications.

2. Set Boundaries

It’s important to socialize in college and go to class, but it’s also important to set boundaries. If a person stresses you out, find ways to spend less time with them.

If you’re anxious about joining in socially, try one small event that’s public and open, where you can easily walk away. Then challenge yourself to stay a little longer at the next one.

Know what boundaries work for you, and be aware of when your boundaries are too severe and leading to isolation.

3. Connect with People

Even when you feel like avoiding people, push yourself to make connections with people at least several times a week. While it may feel anxiety-inducing at first, social connections can actually help reduce anxiety.

If you’re anxious about living on campus, taking tests, or just that one class, talk to a friend or counselor about these issues. It helps to know you aren’t the only one dealing with them.

4. Connect with Disability Services

Even if you haven’t been officially diagnosed with anxiety, connect with the Disability Services Office on campus. Often, they have tips and ideas to lessen your anxiety symptoms.

Disability Services can help you understand how to see a healthcare professional to test for anxiety and what services or accommodations you might be eligible for if you are diagnosed with anxiety.

5. Talk With Your Professors

This can be so helpful, even if it is intimidating. Many college students experience anxiety and depression, and professors are becoming more educated on talking with students suffering from these disorders.

Have a conversation with your professors at the beginning of the semester. Make them aware of any accommodations you have through Disability Services, and give them a chance to ask any questions.

If you end up missing class or an assignment due to anxiety, don’t hide. Contact your professor immediately. While you may have to accept the consequences, there also may be something you can work out with your professor. This is more likely if you talked with them at the beginning of the semester.

6. Get Professional Assistance

If you believe you suffer from anxiety, depression, or any other mental health issue, go see a medical professional or a mental health professional.

You can get a correct diagnosis and discuss options for therapy and/or medication. If you aren’t (or don’t want to be) diagnosed, you can still seek counseling assistance at your college to help you cope with anxiety. Look for the counseling center, mental health services, or perhaps the clinic at your university.

7. Lead a Healthy Lifestyle

Staying as healthy as possible can do wonders for your mental health. Make sure you are eating enough (and eating a healthy, balanced diet), sleeping enough, and getting regular exercise.

If you can get a handle on those 3 things and practice self-care, you’ll be shocked at the positive difference it will make.

8. Establish Routines

One of the most underrated things you can do to manage anxiety is to establish routines. Routines help take the decision-making out of everyday tasks, so you don’t have to think about what comes next.

Routines can also help you feel accomplished and keep you on track with things like taking medication, eating a healthy diet, and getting regular exercise.

9. Plan Ahead

Get out your planner (electronic or paper) and plan ahead. Write out all your major assignments for the semester. Do the minor ones too, if it doesn’t give you too much anxiety seeing all that writing!

Think about your weekly class schedule and plan when you’ll study each subject. Plan your downtime and mental health breaks too. By learning how to manage your time in college, you will be able to use these skills for the rest of your life.

10. Relax, Take Breaks!

Some days you’ll want to bury your head under the covers and sleep the day away. Before you do, stop and think: have you planned any breaks for yourself?

If not, that’s an issue. Not having downtime will most certainly whip your anxiety into a frenzy. So before it gets there, plan some time to relax.

That means taking the time to detach from school, work, or anything that might cause anxiety. If you do have one of those days where you literally can’t get out of bed, contact the professors of the classes you’re going to miss and explain the situation. Take your mental health day, and then go over this list to see what you can do proactively to help your mental health.

One final note. If you find yourself thinking of harming yourself or someone else, please act immediately. Dial 988 in the U.S. for the National Suicide Hotline to get assistance immediately.

Anxiety can be a real struggle, and being diagnosed with a mental disorder can be scary. If you’re experiencing symptoms like panic attacks, they can leave you feeling helpless, but you do have the power to improve the situation.

When you follow these coping strategies and seek professional help, you can work through anxiety and find success in college.

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