My first day of college I had an anxiety attack.
My heart beat so fast I thought a firehose of blood was rushing through my body. I wasn’t sure if I could get out of the parking lot. I did. And then I walked to the main hall ’s glass doors and stood outside. Students passed by me unaware of the way my lungs squeezed. I knew it was college anxiety, but it didn’t make walking through those doors easier.
I went in. I glanced at my schedule and focused on finding the right room and grabbing a seat in the second row. I read that the best students sat in the front row, but I didn’t want a professor to stare at me.
The second row was good enough. I took a deep breath and sat down. I took out my blue elephant notebook and 2 purple pens. I opened the notebook and printed the name of my class and the date on the top of the page. I looked up at the professor and knew I made it through those first steps.
But could I really succeed? Would I really graduate?
I did, but not without going through a lot of college anxiety.
College is a stressful time for every student. It’s a time of transition and change whether you are freshman coming straight out of high school, or a returning adult who has been out of school for years.
You feel nervous about classes and assignments. You worry about your grades and how they compare to other students. You worry about meeting new people and being liked and respected.
Also, you could be worried about prior bad academic experiences and doubt yourself. Will your professors think you’re smart?
Or maybe past traumatic experiences make you fearful. In my case, I was afraid of being sexually assaulted again. I was scared to make friends and connect with others–not knowing who I could trust. I didn’t know if I was safe.
I was scared I wasn’t strong enough to meet this challenge.
Many elements contribute to college students’ anxiety. If you think you have college anxiety, face it and confront it. Anxiety doesn’t disappear by itself.
10 Tips for Overcoming College Anxiety
Before I give you these 10 tips, keep in mind that help is available to you. If you’re concerned about the amount of anxiety you feel, seek professional help. These tips helped me and many other students, but I’m not a mental health expert. Please don’t rely on any blog post for solutions or easy fixes to anxiety.
#1 Break everything down into small steps.
Don’t think about the whole picture of your academic life. Take small steps on your way to achieving your college goals. Go to all your classes for the first week, and then count that as a success. Build upon that first success.
Look at what things make you nervous and divide them up into a series of small steps. Focus on completing those small steps. As you complete each step, you build momentum. Each small thing you do is one step forward in your college career.
#2 Talk yourself up!
Admit it. You talk to yourself. Make sure the sentences you say are positive. Tell yourself you’re confident, successful, smart etc. Tell yourself you can face anything. These could be affirmations you repeat. Or just commit to always talking positively to yourself. Even if you don’t believe these messages yet, your subconscious will. Eventually, your conscious mind will accept those messages as the truth.
#3 Let go of past failures.
Everyone has failed at something. But keep in mind that you endured, you kept going despite that failure, disappointment or trauma. You can’t change the past, but you can control how it affectis you now. Limit how much you reflect on these times. Accept that they happened. But move forward and don’t let past events limit your future. Don’t be afraid to get help as you go through this process.
#4 Practice meditation or deep breathing exercises.
Meditation or deep breathing exercises will help you calm your nervous system. Search online or on YouTube to learn all kinds of meditation and breathing exercises. My favorite technique is simple:
I take 5 slow deep breaths and count down from 5 to 1. It’s an easy exercise to try before an exam or another stressful challenge. It clears my mind and calms the shakiness in my body.
#5 Take up a relaxing hobby.
Select a hobby that interests you without stressing you. I enjoy coloring. I appreciate the beauty of what I color without worrying about how perfect the picture looks. Read, collect something, write poems, play an instrument etc. Choose a hobby that helps you concentrate on the present without worrying about anything else around you.
#6 Exercise regularly.
Find an exercise you enjoy and do it! Any exercise you can think of (running, walking, yoga, cycling, swimming etc.) benefits you mentally and physically. Your exercise routine doesn’t have to be intense or high impact. You don’t have to do it every day but try to exercise 3 times per week.
Select an exercise that helps you focus on what you’re doing. I can’t stand walking on a treadmill because it makes me think of a million other things I should do. I practice yoga because I concentrate only on breath and movement.
#7 Create a support system of trustworthy people.
Talk to people who listen to you without judging you. Sometimes this is family and friends but consider other people too.
There are counseling services at colleges. If you don’t feel comfortable with psychologists or psychiatrists at school, ask your physician for recommendations. Another idea is to find a support group. Sometimes it’s easier to connect with others who are experiencing similar things. Focus on connecting with and speaking to people who have a genuine interest in helping you as you work through your anxiety.
#8 Talk to your professors
If your anxiety stems from work you have in class, then let that professor know how you are struggling. Professors will make every effort to assist you and get you the academic help you need to get good grades in class.
Likely, they will recommend a tutor or help you during office hours. Just don’t let anxiety be an excuse for not trying hard in class. Millions of other students with anxiety do extremely well in class.
#9 Recognize what stresses you by keep tracking of how you feel.
Keep a journal or log to record your feelings. I suggest a daily journal where you write about your day. Also, if you have an anxiety attack write down:
- Symptoms—what did you experience physically and mentally?
- Thoughts and Emotions—what were you thinking and feeling?
- Circumstances—where were you and what were you doing?
- People–who was with you or around you at the time?
Keeping track of how you feel will help you recognize patterns or situations that create extreme stress. Then you can make informed decisions about how to limit or eliminate those stressors.
#10 Realize that you’re not alone in experiencing college anxiety.
The American College Health Association (ACHA) 2015 National College Health Assessment survey, found that nearly one in six college students had been diagnosed with, or treated for, anxiety. http://www.bu.edu/today/2016/college-students-anxiety-and-depression/
This means that many of the students around you are living with anxiety. Don’t be afraid to reach out and talk about your experiences. This is how you find people who can empathize.
I overcame my college anxiety and thrived in college. Not in that first week of classes, or the first semester. I can’t give you an exact date of when I got through it. Day after day, I became more confident and happy at college. I was excited to learn and experience new things. I didn’t fear them. And for someone who wasn’t sure she could walk through that first set of doors it was an amazing change.
I’m grateful I didn’t let my anxiety stop me from graduating.
What advice do you have for students dealing with college anxiety? Please comment below with your ideas.