8 Signs of Student Anxiety and What to Do If You Have Them


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College students deal with a lot of stressors in their lives. Balancing academic responsibilities, navigating increased independence and creating a thriving social life aren’t easy. But for many students, their anxiety is getting out of control. A recent international study showed that, on average, 32% of college students deal with abnormal levels of anxiety. And for undergraduates, those numbers are likely even higher. 

Anxiety is often a normal, protective and adaptive response to perceived threats, stress and challenging situations. In some cases, however, anxiety can involve intrusive thoughts and concerns resulting in persistent worry and tension. This may indicate the presence of an anxiety disorder, a challenging but treatable mental health condition. If you’re a college student with anxiety, there are resources available to help you. Don’t let anxiety stop you in your tracks. Learn what it is and how to deal with it alongside Lightfully’s licensed clinical experts.

What does anxiety in students look like?

Not all anxiety is bad. Anxiety can actually be helpful in dangerous situations. It makes you pay attention to your surroundings and remain aware. But anxiety disorders aren’t the same as being mindful of the danger of falling off a steep ledge. If you have an anxiety disorder, you’re more likely to have a reactive response to things that may not typically cause anxiety. It might even lead you to avoid situations where you might become anxious, such as the classroom or social situations.

The signs and symptoms of student anxiety may not always be obvious. But there are many symptoms that can help you determine if you might be struggling with an anxiety disorder. Some common signs and symptoms of student anxiety include:

  • Excessive anxiety over an extended period of time (six months or more)
  • Difficulty controlling worry or fear
  • Feeling restless or on edge
  • Getting easily fatigued
  • Poor concentration and irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Significant distress or impairment in social situations

Common types of anxiety

Anxiety is a common human experience. In the clinical sense, anxiety can refer to a number of anxiety disorders. For treatment to be effective, it’s crucial to get a diagnosis. That way, your treatment team can tailor their approach to meet your specific needs.

  • Generalized anxiety disorderGeneralized anxiety disorder is characterized by chronic stress and worry that doesn’t have a physical source. This can result in panic attacks, avoidance of social or classroom situations, and low emotional tolerance for everyday situations.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)OCD often manifests as a pattern of unreasonable thoughts and obsessions. This causes a person to act compulsively, performing repetitive behaviors such as cleaning, counting, orderliness and following a strict routine.
  • Panic disorders — Panic attacks often cause sudden, deep fear and feeling short of breath. You may even feel like you’re having a heart attack or are dying. If you are experiencing recurring panic attacks, you may have a panic disorder

Strategies UC students can use to manage anxiety

University of California students who are struggling with anxiety can use several strategies to start managing their anxiety now. Here are a few such strategies: 

Seek help from a peer program

Your UC campus may have a peer program that can help you with your anxiety. Peer programs are made up of students just like you, so they can relate to many of the things about college that may be causing you anxiety. This shared experience allows them to support you if you’d like to talk about your feelings of anxiety. Check out the Peer Programs page to see if there’s a peer program on your campus.

Check out helpful videos and social media 

There are videos and social media resources available to you that may help you address anxiety. For instance, there are public service announcement (PSA) videos on mental health topics available to you. You can also find UC-specific social media sites that can help you find resources that can help you address anxiety. 

Make some lifestyle updates

Small lifestyle changes can help with symptoms of anxiety. For instance, doing some mindful movement like yoga or tai chi can help reduce anxiety symptoms. It does so by helping you reorient your focus to the present instead of a stress-filled past or future. Other lifestyle updates that may help ease your anxiety include: 

  • Improving your diet — A poor diet may not be providing the nutrients needed to produce enough neurotransmitters like norepinephrine, serotonin and γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which can increase anxiety symptoms. You can improve your diet by eating more fresh, whole foods and replacing sweetened beverages like tea and soda with water. 
  • Getting more sleep Neurotransmitters are replenished while you’re sleeping. So, not sleeping enough may be part of the reason you’re experiencing more anxiety symptoms. If you’re not sleeping enough, try blocking out sleeping time on your schedule or some form of white noise (the sound of waves rolling in on a beach, maybe). 

Seek help from mental health professionals 

Chronic anxiety symptoms and anxiety disorders often require you to seek help that goes beyond strategies you can do on your own. Fortunately, there is professional mental health care available to help UC students treat their feelings of anxiety and anxiety disorders as part of UC SHIP, including: 

Lightfully U supports UC students struggling with anxiety

Lightfully U is a Virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (vIOP) designed to help busy college students treat mental health issues like chronic anxiety and anxiety disorders.

We offer flexible program options to fit your needs and schedule. You’ll get support from expert therapists trained in multiple levels of care, all from the comfort of your home or dorm. 

Process-based therapy (PBT) is a key part of Lightfully U’s vIOP. This is a form of treatment that Lightfully has pioneered the use of so you can experience a personalized, holistic mental health treatment plan designed for your needs. The framework of PBT consists of evidence-based, clearly defined, data-driven and whole-person-centered care.

Change is possible. If you’ve been struggling with persistent anxiety symptoms, contact our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.

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