College is an exciting time, but let’s face it, it can be stressful too. From forming new friendships and navigating the campus as freshmen to finding a career path and interviewing for jobs as seniors, college is filled with nerve-wracking situations. For students with anxiety, these demands can be even more overwhelming. And the number of college students with anxiety has been steadily rising. According to the American College Health Association, 56.9% of students reported feelings of extreme anxiety during the 2015–2016 school year. Though extreme anxiety should be reported to a health care provider, general feelings of stress and worry can be alleviated with some simple lifestyle changes and adjustments to your daily routine.
Take care of yourself
With anxiety constantly shifting your brain into high gear, it can sometimes be difficult to remember to take care of yourself. Basic self-care is a very important part of every college student’s routine. Try to get at least eight to 10 hours of sleep each night, and make sure to eat a well-balanced diet, including fruits, vegetables, and protein. And don’t forget to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated!
Though coffee is a necessity when you’re working on late-night projects, try to limit it day to day. Caffeine helps pull you through those long all-nighters by blocking the neurotransmitters that make you tired and increasing the levels of energizing brain chemicals like dopamine. Those effects may appeal to a sleep-deprived college student, but caffeine inhibits the production of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a calming chemical. This GABA deficiency can be harmful to an already anxious brain and may even lead to panic attacks. So try to limit your caffeine intake and find energy elsewhere.
Set a routine and make a schedule
Being swamped with school and work can be overwhelming. But following a routine can help you feel more organized. To avoid overextending yourself, create a schedule to prioritize certain tasks over others. Be sure to include time for school, work, and fun, since too much of one thing can make your life feel stressful and imbalanced.
Take a time out
It’s always important to take a step back from school and clear your head. Make sure to set aside time each day to relax and unwind. Try yoga, meditation, or listening to music. Find a calming activity that you enjoy to decompress after studying for a test or finishing a paper.
Not only can exercise help clear your mind, but it can also elevate your mood and provide relief from everyday stress. Make exercise a part of your daily schedule. Frequent, short workouts, like a 10-minute walk, can be more beneficial than a two-hour fitness marathon once a week, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Explore the numerous fitness options available at your university, and choose one that you enjoy. Whether it’s a Zumba class or a bike ride around campus, exercise should be an integral part of every student’s routine.
Keep a mood log
Keeping a mood log can help you identify anxiety triggers. Whether it’s a simple list in the notes section of your smartphone or a detailed, handwritten description in a journal, you should record events and circumstances that might have contributed to your stressed mood. Is it a certain class or professor? Does writing papers cause you the most anxiety, or does studying for tests create the most concern? Sometimes there may not be an identifiable cause for your anxiety, and that is okay. Creating a journal will help you keep track of your moods and identify any patterns.
Develop a support network
Though talking about your problems sounds cliché, it really can help some students with anxiety. It’s a relief to unload your busy mind and talk every once in a while. A trusted friend, family member, or even a mental health provider can support you throughout college and later in life. Finding someone who will listen and acknowledge your feelings will help you to handle your stress in a positive way.
While these tips may not get rid of your anxiety completely, they should help curb the worst of it during stressful times. A little stress isn’t always a bad thing. Just make sure to relax and look at the big picture so that a little bit of stress doesn’t become a whole lot of anxiety.