Combatting anxiety in students on campus

Take a look around you the next time you walk into the Memorial Union. I bet some students will pass by playing on their phones, others may sit studying for hours at a table and a handful will chat with their friends while waiting to order food in line.

At the end of the day, these students will go their different ways. After all, they have different lives, majors, hobbies and interests. But some have one thing in common: a paralyzing fear of the unknown hits them. This fear might make them fidget, have panic attacks and worry about things completely out of their control.

They have anxiety, and according to the American College Health Association, one in six college students has it, too.

Anxiety disorder is a chronic condition characterized by an excessive and persistent sense of apprehension, according to Medical News Today.

A University of Michigan study about the estimated attitude and beliefs concerning treatment for college students found that “most people with mental health disorders still do not receive treatment."

The Campus Solution

One option for students is campus-based counseling. ASU’s Counseling Services offer confidential, time-limited, counseling services for any student experiencing emotional, mental and physical concerns that affect one's ability to achieve academic and personal goals.

“Anxiety is the most common concern that students report when they come to the counseling center,” says Aaron Krasnow, Ph.D, associate vice president at ASU Counseling Services and Health Services.

Because college students are so focused on their projects, papers and finals, feelings of stress and anxiousness may just become an everyday feeling for them, Krasnow says. Anxiety is a normal experience; almost everyone feels it from time to time, he says. 

“About one third of all people at some point will experience anxiety that persists long enough or is at a high enough intensity that it interferes with their life," Krasnow says.

One of the most effective ways for treating anxiety is group counseling, Krasnow says. It allows you to learn new things and often challenge the anxiety head-on but with the support of others who are going through the same thing, he says.

First appointments at ASU's Counseling Services are free. Afterwards, appointments to discuss service options or gather more information are also free. Otherwise, all other appointments are a flat rate of $15 per session, but students with financial needs can receive a fee-waiver.

Melissa Wallace, early childhood and special education sophomore, says she tends to feel the most stressed and anxious when she has a big assignment due in addition to internships, work, other classes, friends and family.

"I have never really thought about going to the ASU Counseling Services for the times I am really stressed or anxious," Wallace says. "I really just lean on those around me to talk to about it." Wallace says she feels much more comfortable talking to her family and close friends rather than a stranger.

It is also normal for a college student to experience test anxiety and feel overwhelmed while trying to balance other challenges in life.

The American College Health Association’s Spring 2014 National College Health Assessment found that 21.8 percent of college students say anxiety has affected their academic performance, and 86.4 percent felt overwhelmed by all they had to do.

More than half of the students visiting campus health clinics listed anxiety as a concern, according to a study by Penn’s Center for Collegiate Mental Health.

“The more students think about what they have to do, the more paralyzed and anxious they become,” writes Jan Hoffman in a blog for The New York Times.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says people can experience one or more of these following symptoms of anxiety:

Emotional Symptoms

  • Feelings of apprehension or dread
  • Feeling tense and jumpy
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Anticipating the worst and being watchful for signs of danger

Physical Symptoms

  • Pounding or racing heart and shortness of breath
  • Upset stomach
  • Sweating, tremors and twitches
  • Headaches, fatigue and insomnia
  • Upset stomach, frequent urination or diarrhea

Taking the First Step

Nicole Tower, journalism sophomore, was diagnosed with anxiety in November 2015. Although, she did not experience all of these symptoms of anxiety before going on medication, she suffered from panic attacks almost weekly, she says.

Krasnow says when students are feeling anxious to a point where these symptoms interfere with their daily routine, it is important for them to first acknowledge what is happening in a non-judgmental way.

Tower says it took her a while to realize she had anxiety because of the “if you don’t see it, then it doesn’t exist” mentality. 

“I didn't see any need to go to a doctor at first,” Tower says. She says she didn’t want to put chemicals in her body to help her be “normal.”

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, only about one in three of those suffering from anxiety actually receives treatment.

Tower says she has never used ASU's Counseling Services, and she admits it was a resource she should have taken advantage of during her first semester in college — but she says she wasn’t fully aware of it.

Tower also says she wasn’t totally confident in admitting she needed help with her anxiety at that point, which made her uncomfortable in asking around for information about the services provided at ASU.

For students like Tower who are not yet comfortable going to the counseling center and admitting they have anxiety, Krasnow says there are other ways to find relief from anxiety.

Krasnow recommends exercising, spending time with close friends, reading self-help books, and doing meditation or yoga. These are only a few alternatives to relieve anxiety.

“Seeking help and support nearly always leads to a less anxious life," Krasnow says. "It’s hard to do, especially when you’re anxious, but it works.” 

If you suspect that you’re experiencing anxiety, here’s a list of questions to ask yourself according to Best Colleges website

• Are you experiencing anxious or worrisome thoughts on a daily basis?

• Are you plagued by fears others perceive as unfounded or irrational?

• Do you avoid everyday social activities because they cause you anxiety?

• Do you experience sudden heart-pounding panic attacks?

• Is your anxiety interfering with your schoolwork, social life and family?

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