Coping With Generalized Anxiety Disorder in College

Female student sitting on the floor outside on campus

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If you're getting ready to graduate high school, going to college for the first time, or just returning after a holiday break, college life can make your generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) worse. The stress and changes from moving into your dorm room, entering new classes for the first time, or even leaving your parents' home can be stressful and difficult. The following is a brief overview of some common issues college students with and without GAD face along with tips to help manage your anxiety while at school.

Anticipatory Anxiety

One type of anxiety that is common for all people but can be more pronounced and uncomfortable for people with generalized anxiety disorder is anticipatory anxiety. This is a type of anxiety that occurs leading up to a predicted event or occurrence. You can get anticipatory anxiety anytime you are waiting for things, ranging from something as simple as a phone call to something more important like your wedding day. College is a new and exciting milestone so it's common to have anticipatory anxiety in the weeks before heading off to campus.

One common suggestion for anticipatory anxiety is to simply try and enjoy it. Many people say they feel “alive” when waiting for something, and if you can shift your mindset away from one that is trying to escape or get a situation over with, you may enjoy this sensation rather than try to end it.

But anticipatory anxiety can be much more serious if you have GAD. For some, it can be crippling, preventing you from preparing for school appropriately or even making you consider not going to school at all.

If your anxiety has gotten so bad that it is interfering with your plans and your life, talk to your parents and your doctor about getting help through therapy or medication.

Separation Anxiety

Another form of anxiety that can be associated with college is separation anxiety. Teens who are leaving home can struggle with the anxiety of being on their own for the first time. This anxiety often occurs within the first few weeks to months of going off to college. Many people will cope by calling or visiting home frequently while others face homesickness. Homesickness is a natural developmental process that can be helped by having regular and warm conversations with family and friends who can give you support.

Most students will overcome these feelings once they can connect with their campus and other students, but there are some students who may not be socially or emotionally ready to make the leap. If you feel that you cannot go away from home, therapy is one option, but going to a school locally is another valid approach. You can still get a valuable education but remain at home while you undergo treatment for GAD.

Social Anxiety

Teens with social anxiety can have a challenging time in college. After all, much of campus life is social—from participating in class to initiating friendships or romantic relationships to approaching your professors.

Many students with social anxiety seek professional help from a mental health professional (on or off-campus), and you can also do additional things on your own while receiving treatment. For example, if you are worried about an upcoming class presentation, try to choose a topic that you are really passionate about. Fostering passion will make it much easier to share your knowledge with the class. Or, if you're having anxiety about making friends, approach someone who also seems shy or anxious so the interaction is less intimidating.

Test Anxiety

Bad study habits, poor past test performance, unrealistic expectations, and underlying anxiety problems can all contribute to test anxiety, which can take a major toll on your academic success.

In addition to talking to your professor and/or student counselor about test anxiety, there are some ways to help you stay calm and focused come exam time. Techniques can include making sure you're prepared, getting enough rest, taking deep breaths when you begin to feel anxious, and doing your best to push away any negative thoughts.

Anxiety Over Peer Pressure

Peer pressure in college can be tough to deal with, whether it's pressure to drink, use drugs, have sex, or just fit in. Many students are anxious about the college party experience, for example, and the ability to make the right decisions without the guidance of parents or caregivers.

One way to avoid peer pressure is to get involved in clubs or organizations or sports, which can help you meet like-minded peers and may minimize the need for social acceptance from others.

A Word From Verywell

While developing coping strategies that can help you manage your anxiety is a great first step, you don't have to through it alone. Most colleges and universities have some form of a counseling center on campus that can help with feelings of anxiety, whether you have been diagnosed with GAD or not.

If you're feeling particularly anxious, consider making an appointment with a college counselor or joining an online anxiety support group. For people with GAD, seeking outside help can be especially important since that continued support can make the difference between a pleasant and turbulent college experience.

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