Anxiety in Academia: Sink or Swim?


College is an era of a person’s life filled with great uncertainty, ever changing and evolving. It is a time to broaden your horizons, to gain new experiences, make new friends, and build the future you one day hope to see. Even students who did not previously suffer from anxiety are likely to develop it during college. With that in mind, it is not surprising that it is common among college campuses, with a reported 41% of college students suffering from anxiety (College, 2013).

It is precisely for those reasons, however, college is so difficult for those already suffering from anxiety. Students suffer from symptoms of anxiety in their everyday life, which is in addition to the daily stresses of life. This excessive worrying can eventually come to dominate their life. Anxiety comes in many forms, whether it be Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), or various phobias, among others (Anxiety disorders, 2018). All these conditions find themselves amplified in a college setting, where there is no set path to take to reach a goal and a thousand decisions could go right or wrong. 

The consequences of the decisions being made during college, whether it be deciding your major or choosing a career path, does not make the situation any better. In a society where recent graduates find it hard to find a suitable job, higher education is becoming a requirement rather than a suggestion, and a great deal of student debt is looming behind their backs. Although colleges and universities insist that students should find a major that appeals to them and go through the process at their own pace, the simple truth of the matter is that every decision made in this scenario has a cost associated with it in both time and money.

The knowledge of the potentially bleak future ahead of them is partially at fault for all the stress undergone by college students, so much so that psychologists and mental health counseling is becoming an essential tool found on college campuses. Looking online, many articles are published aimed at college students, filled with tips on how to manage stress, such as prioritizing tasks and reducing burnout, along with ways to improve the system (Mazak, 2019; Woolston, 2018). Students themselves spread viral posts on social media, full of their own advice and experiences, meant to help others learn from their mistakes.

So what does that mean for someone already struggling with anxiety? In a scenario where so much depends on your daily choices, where stress and uncertainty are norms, every day can become a struggle, with one person likening anxiety to “a hefty [backpack] slung across our backs that we carry with us throughout” college, a constant weight that pulses you down and aches over time (Jackson, 2019). Papers due the next day, group projects to be completed, scholarship applications needing to be sent in, emails requiring responses. Everyday things can become very hard to do, small or not, and can add up to feel like a burden, one that causes endless worry and stress. 

There are the bigger stressors too, the moments that do in fact impact your life, made so much more difficult if you have anxiety. Job interviews are the biggest example of this, the outcomes of one moment determining so much. Under usual circumstances, there would be no reason to worry, but anxiety causes a person to inflate the importance of a situation. In this scenario, however, the importance might not be exaggerated. A job or an internship interview is an important opportunity to make both personal connections and forward your potential career, both depending on how you present yourself at the moment. The questions asked and the replies given will shape the image the interviewer has of you. Jobs and graduate applications are another point of concern, something that must be carefully reviewed to display your best self. This review can turn into a long, drawn-out process if one is chasing after perfection, as someone with anxiety might, doing more harm than good in the long term.

One might argue that everyone goes through these situations, and they would be correct. But for those suffering from anxiety, everyday tasks become a source of great concern, regardless whether it is justifiable or not. With that in mind, major steps become even bigger stressors, one that might interfere with the very success they are trying to achieve. Considering that papers, projects, internships and jobs are a fixture in college life, it seems impossible to find a solution that would satisfy both parties. 

After all, anxiety is a staple in both academia and regular life, and is here to stay. These phenomenons are very hard to change even if the education system changes dramatically. Nonetheless, acknowledging the presence of these challenges as they pertain to those with anxiety is a good step forward. By taking these steps, we acknowledge that these challenges exist and they affect a specific group of people. Even if nothing can be done at the moment, that acknowledgement solidifies the presence of a struggle and makes it easier for those affected to seek help, assuring them that the problem they are suffering from is real, and that they are not simply lazy or unfit for academia.

 

References

Anxiety disorders. (2018, May 04). Retrieved February 22, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic. org/diseases-conditions/anxiety/symptoms-causes/syc-20350961

College students’ mental health is a growing concern, survey finds. (2013, June). Retrieved February 27, 2021, from https://www.apa.org/monitor/2013/06/college-students

Jackson, D. F. (2019, September 8). Academic anxiety, our old FRIEND: Inside higher ed. Retrieved February 22, 2021, from https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/gradhacker/academic-anxiety-our-old-friend

Mazak, C. (2019, June 24). How to handle stress, anxiety, and overwhelm in academia. Retrieved February 22, 2021, from https://www.cathymazak.com/how-to-handle- stress-anxiety-and-overwhelm-in-academia/

Woolston, C. (2018, May 02). Feeling overwhelmed by academia? You are not alone. Retrieved February 22, 2021, from https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-04998-1

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