5 Signs of College Anxiety
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5 Signs of College Anxiety

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College is a transformative, challenging journey. For some students, a significant challenge can be college anxiety. Anxiety (generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD) is a disorder characterized by excessive and persistent worry. It goes beyond the typical nervousness that can be associated with exams or new social interactions. It evolves into a persistent feeling of fear, apprehension and unease that can interfere with your daily life and well-being. In one study, close to 35% of college students reported ever being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

What makes college students vulnerable to anxiety?

Even typically worry-free students can fall prey to anxiety. College is a whole new world and presents a number of challenges that can trigger GAD. These challenges can include:

  • Homesickness — Many college students may live away from home for the first time. Leaving the comfort of home and family can trigger the feeling of homesickness, which is a distinct form of anxiety. It can make you feel a longing for familiar surroundings and the support system left behind. Homesickness can contribute to the overall stress experienced by college students. 
  • Academic pressure — College can present a new level of rigorous academic demands, including exams, assignments and the pressure to excel. These new demands can significantly add to anxiety. The fear of academic failure or not meeting expectations can create a constant undercurrent of stress.
  • Social dynamics — For many students, college can be a shift in social dynamics. Many students leave behind familiar environments and face a new social setting. This can lead to feelings of isolation, loneliness and anxiety that can be connected to making new connections. 
  • Financial stress — The financial burden of college, from fees to daily expenses, can add another layer of stress. Anxiety can be fueled by concerns about student loans, jobs and managing finances. 
  • Independence challenges — While gaining independence is a crucial part of college life, it can also be incredibly daunting. Many students will be managing responsibilities, making decisions and navigating life without the immediate support of family for the first time. This can contribute to feelings of being overwhelmed and anxious. 

What are some signs of college anxiety?

Recognizing the signs of anxiety is essential for both students and those who support them. Common signs of anxiety can include:

  • Excessive worrying — Occasional worrying is a part of life. However, excessive worrying that is constant or irrational about various aspects of life can interfere with your quality of life and well-being. Excessive worrying about academic performance, social interactions, the future and homesickness can be signs of anxiety. 
  • Physical symptoms — Physical symptoms of anxiety can be headaches, stomachaches, muscle tension and fatigue. 
  • Behavioral changes — Anxiety can cause behavioral changes like withdrawal from social activities, changes in sleep patterns or avoiding academic responsibilities. 
  • Cognitive impairment — Heightened anxiety can cause an inability to focus on tasks, make decisions or retain information. This can have a drastic impact on academic progress. 
  • Social isolation — Anxiety can lead to an avoidance of social situations, in turn leading to difficulty in making friends or having a sense of being disconnected from the college community. 

Support for college students struggling with anxiety

Sometimes, anxiety may be reduced or effectively managed with lifestyle changes and stress management techniques. However, there are times when you may need to reach out for help reducing or managing your anxiety. You should consider seeking help when:

  • Symptoms persist
  • Academic performance declines
  • Social relationships suffer 
  • Physical health is affected 
  • Homesickness intensifies 

Factors like these may be signs that you have chronic anxiety. And chronic anxiety may indicate the presence of an anxiety disorder like GAD, something that no amount of self-help strategies or willpower can fully address.

Anxiety disorders are complex mental health conditions that often require a comprehensive treatment approach. Treatment depends on individual needs but may involve: 

  • Psychotherapy
  • Medication
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Social support
  • Relaxation techniques


If you or a friend is struggling to cope with ongoing anxiety, you’re not alone. Not only is seeking support a sign of strength, but prioritizing your own mental health helps to normalize and destigmatize mental health care.


How to get help for college anxiety

If you suspect you or a friend is suffering from college anxiety, there are ways to get help:

Lightfully U: Guiding you to a brighter, healthier college experience

At Lightfully U, we understand the challenges that anxiety can pose to your academic success and well-being. Our licensed clinical experts are committed to providing you with the compassionate guidance and support you need to navigate the complexities of anxiety. The framework of Lightfully U consists of evidence-based, clearly defined, data-driven and whole-person-centered care. We want to reassure you that you don’t have to navigate anxiety-related challenges alone. 

Change is possible. When you’re ready to find additional support as you address anxiety or an anxiety disorder, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.

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