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The Importance of Understanding Anxiety

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UNCG Counseling Center – Taylor Allen/ The Carolinian

Ailey O’Toole
  Staff Writer

As school is getting back into full swing, it is important to keep an eye on your stress and anxiety levels, especially for those of you who are freshmen and are experiencing so many changes. Some levels of stress are normal for any day-to-day routine, but if that stress starts to manifest itself as anxiety and begins interfering with your ability to go to class or complete your school work, it may be time to get help.

School is stressful. Keeping up with all of the assignments, trying to stay on top of the material, wanting to pass exams can be overwhelming. For those of us who are juniors or seniors and have been around the block a few times, new stressors are starting to pop up: finances, jobs, post-graduation plans. This time in our lives is a breeding ground for anxiety disorders.

Stress is the body’s reaction to challenges or problems and it is totally normal; it can even be good in some circumstances because it can push you to perform better. However, stress can lead to persistent, overwhelming and seemingly uncontrollable anxiety. If you’re experiencing an excessive, irrational dread of everyday situations, you may be suffering from anxiety rather than normal daily stress.

A 2015 study at Boston University showed that over the course of 4 years, the number of students that sought help for an anxiety crisis more than doubled from 290 in the 2010-2011 school year to 647 during the 2014-2015 school year.

The American College Health Association (ACHA) conducted a National College Health Assessment survey in 2014 that reported nearly one in six college students (14.3 percent) had been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder; the same study found that 21.8 percent of students felt that anxiety had affected their academic performance, defined as receiving a lower grade on an exam, receiving an incomplete, or dropping a course.

If that’s not proof enough that anxiety in college students is a problem to be aware of, then the fact that the same ACHA survey found that anxiety had surpassed depression as the leading mental health issue facing college students, should be reason enough.

As I mentioned, the best way to beat anxiety in college and not let it take over your life is to be aware of what your stress levels are; once you see normal worries about your day-to-day life become constant dread and you worry about things that can’t cause you any harm, that’s when it is time to ask for help.

Dori Hutchinson, the director of services at Boston University’s Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, put it this way: “When your mood state interferes with your ability to function at school, like when you’re finding you can’t get to class, and you don’t want to hang out with your friends or teammates, and you’re having difficulty concentrating because you’re feeling so distressed—that’s when we [BU’s Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation] want to reach out and help you.”

Other warning signs included prolonged feelings of sadness or despair, excessive panic, isolation or withdrawal from typical daily activities, thoughts of self-harm or suicide, giving away belongings, changes in personal hygiene, or excessive use of alcohol or other drugs, which are often used by students to self-medicate.

These feelings of anxiety can arise for a plethora of reasons, but one reason being cited more and more often is that students are entering college with excessive stress already preloaded from high school.

In a May 2015 New York Times article, Jan Hoffman explains “The causes [of anxiety] range widely, experts say, from mounting academic pressure at earlier ages to overprotective parents to compulsive engagement with social media.”

Something I’ve seen a lot of people experiencing anxiety over is what’s been deemed “FOMO” – the fear of missing out. This form of anxiety, one that I’ve experienced myself, originates with the gnawing constant of social media. When we see posts about everyone else’s fabulous experiences and glamorous lives, the inevitable comparisons wear away at our self-esteem.

It seems that around every corner of college campuses, there is another reason to feel anxious, from academics to social life to finances.  Thinking about the potential for anxiety can be anxiety-inducing itself. However, it’s important to stay grounded and found out how to succeed despite the anxiety, rather than letting the stressful feelings eat away at your life.

Luckily, our campus has a great Counseling Center that offers a lot of treatment options, including individual and group therapy, and psychiatric evaluations in case medicine may be needed.

Some of the group therapies UNCG offers include: an LGBTQQI support group, BodyWise, Understanding Self/Understanding Other, SISTA TALK,  KORU: An Introduction to Mindfulness and Meditation, DIRECTIONS: A Graduate Support Group, Support Group for People with Chronic Illness, and Performance Under Pressure.

More information can be found on the Counseling Center’s website at http://shs.uncg.edu/cc. You can also call and make an appointment at 336-334-5340. Don’t hesitate to ask for help.

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