Despite college being one of the most exciting, opportunistic, and gratifying experiences, the rates of college anxiety and depression are alarmingly high. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health problems on college campuses.
Even more compelling are the findings from a 2009 survey by the American College Health Association where 46% of college students surveyed claimed they felt “things were hopeless” at least once in the previous 12 months. Nearly a third of those students had become so depressed that they found it difficult to function.
Unfortunately many students who feel weighed-down by college anxiety and depression are lost on how to seek help. In turn, warning signs and symptoms are often ignored, denied, or muffled by other unhealthy means. To help shed light on the situation and provide actionable insight on how and where to find help, below we underscore five effective ways to conquer college anxiety and depression.
Talk to Someone
Sometimes just taking the time to talk about what's actually stressful or having someone listen to your problems can drastically reduce stress and anxiety. The listener doesn't have to be a college psychologist, either. It can be a roommate, resident advisor, friend, or family member. Bottling-up your emotions and keeping everything to yourself can often make matters worse. Taking the time to talk to someone is a simplified form of therapy that can be incredibly helpful.
Utilize Mental Health Resources On & Off Campus
Students who are facing college anxiety and depression can often get professional help right on campus. While there may be some exceptions for smaller schools and community colleges, most college and university campuses have mental health resources available. And for colleges that do not offer mental help resources on campus, there is usually help that can be found in the local area. The ADAA outlines a number of on-campus and off-campus resources that you can find here.
Alter Your Physiology
While many tips and tricks are tossed around to help overcome college anxiety and depression, few methods are as immediately effective as changing your physiology, or physical state of being. You’ve probably heard time and time again about the “mind-body” relationship, but have you experienced it first hand? It may come as a sense of empowerment after vigorous exercise, as a renewed perspective of clarity and resilience that your fears aren’t as significant as they seem.
According to ADAA’s Tips to Manage Anxiety and Stress, the body can be a powerful tool in helping take ownership of the mind. While these may seem obvious, a few ways one can achieve a higher physiological (and therefore, mental) state is to:
- Exercise Daily – exercise can help you feel good and maintain your health.
- Eat Well-balanced Meals – don’t skip meals, and always keep healthy, energy-boosting snacks on hand.
- Get Enough Sleep – when stressed, your body needs additional sleep and rest. It’s important to get 8 hours of sleep per night.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine – alcohol and caffeine can aggravate anxiety and trigger panic attacks. Instead, drink water.
Manifest Positive Thinking
According to the Student Stress & Anxiety Guide at LearnPyschology.org, research has shown that positive thinking may improve physical well-being, produce lower feelings of depression and produce lower levels of distress. However, very few of us are likely able to genuinely think positive on command. This is where mindfulness practices and relaxation techniques come into play. Such techniques may include things like slowly counting to ten while taking deep breaths, starting a gratitude journal, practicing meditation, or using visualization to help envision and manifest positive thinking.
Conquering Your Fears Head On
In an eye-opening article by Ellen Hendriksen, Ph.D. titled, “2 Ways to Stop Worrying and Overcome Anxiety,” she explores two common beliefs linked to anxiety. Those beliefs being "the worst-case scenario is sure to happen" and "I can't handle it."
Dr. Hendriksen explains the first belief as the dubious power of anxiety—the ability to amplify a situation that’s anything from ambiguous to slightly threatening into a full-on catastrophe. Her remedy: "challenge it."
"When a worst-case scenario starts to freak you out, ask yourself, 'How bad would that really be?' In other words, are you truly facing a disaster of epic proportions?"
The second belief that triggers anxiety is we think we are helpless. And it makes perfect sense—if we don’t feel prepared, we become anxious. Again, the solution here is to challenge any beliefs or fears that you might have about your inability to handle a particular situation.
In a related read titled, “50 Strategies to Beat Anxiety,” by Alice Boyes Ph.D., she provides an actionable strategy that helps address the latter two beliefs head on:
“Imagine how you’d cope if your “worst nightmare” happened, e.g., your partner left you, you got fired, or you developed a health problem. What practical steps would you take? What social support would you use? Mentally confronting your worst fear can be very useful for reducing anxiety.”
In most cases, our fears and beliefs are nowhere near as extreme as they may seem. Taking a moment to think through them honestly and logically can enable you cope with just about anything life throws at you.