How To Recognize and Deal With Student Anxiety

If you are a high school or university student, the chances are stress and anxiety are no foreign emotions to you. Unfortunately, 70% of adolescents name anxiety and depression the biggest problem for them and their peers. The same study—done by the Pew Research Center—proves that increased stress tops all other problems students experience, including bullying, poverty, and drug addiction.

In a society where a hectic lifestyle isn’t only endorsed but also expected, the biggest issue of experiencing regular stress is that it’s become a norm—and its seriousness is overlooked. Anxiety is a problem you need to learn how to recognize and deal with.

Especially while you are a student, anxiety must not be equated with concern over your grades, social life, or school assignments. Suffering from regular anxiety attacks is an illness that you have to take seriously. Not doing so can only hinder you from overcoming it.

Addressing and dealing with your student anxiety will not only help your well-being but contribute to creating a positive school culture in your community.

What Is Anxiety?

Credit: Priscilla Du Preez

The first step towards dealing with anxiety is learning what it is, how it manifests, and what triggers it.

It isn’t easy to define anxiety as it can—like any other emotion—be felt in many different ways and experienced in varying degrees. Referring to anxiety as an emotion may also be inadequate. Anxiety may manifest through different emotions, such as fear, sadness, or nervousness. Still, there is a difference between experiencing these emotions when the situation you’re in awakens them and suffering from clinical anxiety, which is not rooted in reality but triggered by hypothetical events.

You don’t necessarily suffer from anxiety as a mental disorder if you find yourself going through stressful periods occasionally. While that may be true, you can also be in danger of ignoring your condition.

To differentiate between anxiety as a healthy emotion and a mental health disorder, take a look at the table:

Occasional Anxiety Clinical Anxiety
  • Being stressed about a specific event or situation, like an important exam or a job interview
  • A period of worry or fear goes away eventually, usually when what you have been worried about is dealt with
  • The cause of stress is traceable, i.e., you are aware of what is making you anxious
  • Feeling anxious about taking action, completing a task, or interacting with people
  • Experiencing feelings of anxiety becomes second nature to you. You might have small periods of ease, but more often than not, you are stressed
  • Finding the roots of your anxiety doesn’t come easy to you, i.e., you often don’t know why you are experiencing fear, stress, and nervousness

While it’s useful to know these differences, the issue with anxiety is never as black or white as the rough distinction the table presents.

The Many Types of Anxiety Disorders 

What makes acknowledging anxiety that more difficult is the fact that there isn’t one mental disorder we call anxiety. Instead, there are various types of anxiety disorders, and you can suffer from more than one of them at the same time.

Some of the most common anxiety disorders are:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)—if you suffer from regular anxiety attacks that are not related to specific situations, such as going to a party or making a school speech, you may have a generalized anxiety disorder. Symptoms include feelings of stress, worry, and fear about any situation or aspect of life. GAD can impact your sleep, the performance of daily tasks, and your overall well-being
  • Social anxiety disorder (SAD)—if you shun social gatherings because you fear other people’s opinions of you, you may have SAD. Apart from avoiding socializing, SAD can manifest through specific behavior when the interaction is required, such as sweating, blushing, stuttering, or talking rapidly
  • Specific phobia—having a phobia is related to experiencing anxiety over specific fears, such as the fear of crowds, small spaces, or insects. Specific phobias are perhaps the least dangerous anxiety type. You can live a healthy life avoiding the places or situations that can expose you to your phobia triggers
  • Stage fright—also called performance anxiety, stage fright is a type of anxiety that causes stress and nervousness at the notion of addressing a crowd. While it isn’t uncommon to feel anxious before a school speech competition, for example, stage fright can be a manifestation of the SAD and detrimental to your success in school and at work. If you find yourself avoiding speaking in front of people and the mere thought of it unleashes panic within you, you likely have this debilitating disorder
  • Test anxiety—often associated with the fear of failure, test anxiety occurs when you feel excessive worry or dread before doing a test. Like stage fright, test anxiety can hinder your school progress and impact your attitude towards school and yourself. For example, you may feel so stressed about doing a test to the point where it’s easier not to do it at all. This happens often, and you always tell yourself you will do better the next time around, which doesn’t happen

Anxiety in Students—The Vital Statistics

The second step to take to deal with anxiety is realizing you are not alone. During the 2018–2019 school year, the two dominant reasons for students seeking professional help were anxiety and depression.

Credit: Statista

Further reports since then indicate that three out of four college students battle acute anxiety. These statistics are unnerving. Experiencing regular anxiety is no joke, especially when you are an adolescent.

In high school—and then college—you are supposed to learn, seek opportunities, explore new interests, and decide what career you want to pursue. The effects anxiety and depression have on you do not allow you to do that. Regular anxiety can result in:

  • Fear that prevents you from seizing opportunities
  • Lack of sleep that leaves you fatigued
  • Sense of uselessness that makes you perform poorly at school
  • Powerlessness you feel for not being able to overcome your anxiety and depression easily
  • Disinterest in the hobbies that once excited you
  • Tendency to isolate yourself from your peers and your family
  • Dread you feel towards any change, even when it is good for you
  • Loneliness that often stems from the self-imposed isolation

These issues affect your physical health too. It is not unheard of that students succumb to self-medication to deal with their anxiety. You may feel the only escape from the sense of powerlessness is drugs, alcohol, or an increased or decreased intake of food. These short-term solutions can then lead to long-term health issues, like substance abuse or eating disorders.

The worst outcome anxiety and depression can have is suicide. The suicide rates in adolescents were first reported to have grown between the years 2010–2015. Then, in 2018, suicide was the second leading cause of death for the age groups 10–14 and 15–24.

Students With Anxiety—The Biggest Causes

Credit: Emily Morter

You cannot root out your anxiety if you don’t know what causes it. Realizing what triggers your feelings of worry, fear, or nervousness often helps in relieving some of your emotional pain—which is no small achievement.

The statistics you have seen prove that adolescents suffer from anxiety and depression today more than ever before—and there are multiple reasons for that. Everyone’s experience with anxiety is different, which is why you should seek help if you feel you need it. 

There are some common causes of student anxiety you may relate to:

  1. School tests and assignments
  2. College exams and assignments
  3. Extracurricular activities
  4. The need to fit in
  5. The expectation to be positive all the time
  6. The pressure to succeed

Students With Anxiety in the High School Classroom

Graduating high school isn’t as challenging as being a successful college student. While that may be true, you cannot underestimate the pressure of your school assignments and how it affects your anxiety levels.

Anxiety in high school students has plenty of justifiable reasons—not that your anxiety needs to be justified. Having to meet assignment deadlines and study for the finals are common factors in increasing the students’ stress levels. Worrying over school tasks can align with other fears, like stage fright, social anxiety, and test anxiety.

Anxious College Students

If you had anxiety attacks in high school, you could carry your anxiety with you when you go to college. You can also begin to experience increased stress for the first time when you are a 9th-grader. Both cases are common today.

What makes anxiety in college students unique and almost inevitable is the pressure that is put on them even before they start their university education. Worrying over tuition fees, enrollment tests, and college application essays causes stress over college even before the first lectures start.

Once you are a 9th-grader, you have to deal with an increased workload and a different lifestyle from the one you are used to. If you live on campus, adjusting to the new environment can also cause feelings of unease, nervousness, and anxiety.   

Juggling Student Life With Other Responsibilities

It isn’t uncommon to fill out your free time with extracurricular activities—both in college and high school. You may want to get an internship and gain experience in the field you chose to study. 

Adding responsibilities to your schedule isn’t easy. You should act on your desire to gain real-life work experience and grasp the opportunities that present themselves to you. At the same time, you need to assess whether you are biting off more than you can chew. If you are cracking under the pressure of having to balance between your school and extracurricular activities, maybe it’s time you took a break.   

Being Liked in the Age of Social Media

Social anxiety in teenagers is linked to the desire to fit in. It’s natural for adolescents to want to be accepted by their peers, but the pressure to be liked is twofold when you live in the age of social media.

You worry about how you present yourself to your peers in person, and you worry about how you present yourself on your social media accounts. It is a task many cannot rise to. Assessing your worth by the number of likes and followers isn’t the only reason why social media can cause anxiety.

It seems that depression and smartphones are inextricably connected. If you spend more time gazing at your phone’s screen, you are more likely to experience anxiety and depression. At the same time, if you suffer from feeling lonely and inadequate, you tend to seek solace in your phone. It’s a vicious cycle that you can break only if you acknowledge it and make conscious steps toward changing your habits.

Social media is also detrimental to your mental health because it allows anyone to say anything. As a high school student, you are susceptible to letting other people’s opinions about you affect your self-esteem. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, yet it can be hazardous if you don’t learn how to pay no attention to the comments on your social media posts.

Good Vibes Only?

Student anxiety is a rising issue. At the same time, the culture of positive thinking is booming. How do these two contradictory trends align?

At first glance, the rise in popularity of positive psychology books, motivational webinars, and positive aspirations may seem harmless. Upon closer examination, the trend has created what some call oppressive positivity. You can see why if you’ve ever found yourself in a situation where your world was falling apart, but you felt the pressure to be an optimist regardless.

Feeling the need to be positive all the time is detrimental for two reasons. It can:

  1. Suppress your anxiety to the point where you bury your feelings instead of dealing with them
  2. Make you feel worse about yourself for being down in the dumps instead of accepting it, which is the first step to getting better

Fake It ‘Till You Make It

Credit: Jon Tyson

The culture of achievement in which we live today results in the need to do better all the time. You work on yourself so much that you are at risk of not noticing the effects the constant effort has on your well-being. This can be another negative aspect of positivity culture since it endorses constant action and optimism.

At the same time, the pressure to succeed causes anxiety. You can feel negatively about yourself if you miss your daily workout session or an internship opportunity you thought would be the next step in your plan. You should applaud your desire to accomplish your goals, but you allow it to take priority over your mental health.  

How To Deal With Your Anxiety?

The helplessness you feel towards yourself or the situation you are facing is a common symptom of anxiety. While it may seem impossible to see a way out in that scenario, you are never helpless.

You can overcome your anxiety one step at a time by:

  1. Acknowledging it
  2. Forgiving yourself for feeling anxious 
  3. Finding the cause of your anxiety
  4. Reaching out to someone
  5. Seeking help

Acknowledge Your Feelings

Credit: Tonik

Most of the time, it’s difficult to pinpoint the cause of your anxiety. You can attribute it to being worried about a school assignment, whereas it’s a recurring issue that needs to be paid more attention to.

If you find yourself feeling stressed, nervous, or depressed regularly, you need to acknowledge it. Maybe you are only going through a tough period, but maybe you suffer from one of the anxiety disorders. Whichever the case, don’t ignore how you feel and know that facing your struggles can only help you. 

Allow Yourself To Be Anxious

The worst you can do when feeling anxious is to beat yourself up about it. It’s understandable if you are not happy about how you feel, but you cannot blame yourself for it. Especially if you suffer from an anxiety disorder, you can only make your condition worse by feeling guilty about it.   

You will not beat anxiety overnight, but allowing yourself to be anxious is a huge step toward healing.

Locate the Roots of Your Anxiety

When you can trace the cause, you can treat the symptom. Tracking your mood can help you determine what makes you anxious the most. It’s why mood trackers are popular bullet journal entries.

If you are aware of your emotions, don’t suppress them and journal about them. You will find out what triggers you to feel worry, fear, or nervousness. That way, you will be prepared for your next anxiety attack and overcome it more easily. 

Talk to Someone You Trust

Opening up about your anxiety issues will help you deal with them successfully. The chances are your best friend is going through the same emotions on a regular basis. Relating each other’s problems will help you both deal with the feelings of loneliness and inadequacy.

You don’t have to talk to another anxious person to overcome your issues. You only need to sit down with someone who is willing to listen to you and allow whatever has been bottling up inside you to get out.

Seek Professional Help

If you find self-reflection or talking to a friend isn’t helping you in the long run, you should see an expert. Seeking help from mental health professionals has long stopped being a social stigma, and you shouldn’t allow yourself to neglect to visit a doctor if you feel that it’s due.

You should seek professional help if your anxiety:

  • Lasts for longer than a month or two 
  • Sticks around long after what you had been worried about passed
  • Disrupts your sleep habits
  • Makes you physically exhausted
  • Results in lost interest in the activities you used to like
  • Changes your eating habits
  • Manifests through regular thoughts of death and suicide

Share Your Experience With Student Anxiety

Since you are not alone in the battle against anxiety, maybe you would like to share your experience with it and help others.

Student anxiety is a huge problem in our society. It impacts not only your school performance and personal growth but also your mental and physical health. It’s why you need to talk about the issue and help raise awareness about it.

Write to us about your experience, and we’ll share your story with our readers. Help us address student anxiety and combat the issue together.