Dealing with Anxiety in College: Getting Help Without Losing Ground in School

Yes, a degree of stress and anxiety is to be expected when you’re in college. But if your troubling symptoms are caused by a serious mental health disorder, they can severely affect your ability to stay on top of things and to succeed. Only with clinical, comprehensive treatment can you hope to get your personal and academic success back on track.

Whenever her roommate complained of stress, Abby could only stare, confused. Sara seemed to have it all together: She spent some time every evening reading or writing for class but still managed to take a break for some TV or to hang out with her boyfriend. Sara got really good grades and managed to be a campus tour guide a few afternoons out of every week. It’s not that Abby doubted Sara could be stressed, but their experiences were so completely different.

Abby could hardly sleep at night because she would be up thinking about everything she had to do. She had started making up excuses to miss class because she was worried that her teachers might want to talk to her about her performance. Instead, she would email them her assignments—sometimes in the middle of the night because she would be agonizing over the details. Downtime was basically out of the question. In fact, Abby was already caught on the idea that she might not get it all together to graduate, and she was only a sophomore.

As heavy as the pressure to succeed in college can be, for some students, stress and worry go beyond the average experience. For some, the normal pressure is exponentially intensified by anxiety related to a real mental health disorder. Dealing with anxiety in college is manageable, and academic success is entirely possible, but this depends on students getting professional help so they can cope with both their school requirements and the distressing symptoms of their serious disorder.

Your Anxiety Could Be a Symptom of a Serious Mental Health Issue


While there are reasons to feel pressure in college, a true mental health disorder may tip someone’s experience of anxiety out of proportion. And it can get in the way of one’s capacity to succeed even as they are overanxious about the need to succeed. It becomes a very slippery and dangerous slope.

There are a variety of anxiety disorders, as well as other specific disorders, that can disrupt a student’s life and progress in college:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) causes a person to be fearful or worried about many, perhaps all things and experiences. In college, anxiety might flare up around academics; social situations; the opinions and judgments of peers, teachers, and parents; and really any other circumstance of daily life.
  • Social anxiety disorder is particularly concentrated around the stress of social situations and especially the fear of being embarrassed, humiliated, or judged.
  • Panic disorders bring with them extreme episodes of anxiety or panic attacks. These episodes can include distressing physical symptoms, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and dizziness.
  • Psychotic features, such as hallucinations and delusions, are possible with severe anxiety and panic disorders.
  • Phobias involve the extreme fear of something specific—for example, someone might be irrationally afraid of germs or heights. The resulting avoidance and anxiety can significantly impede normal functioning. Agoraphobia relates to a fear of situations or places where one might feel trapped, targeted, or helpless, and someone will often avoid these situations at all costs.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) involves distressing thoughts and compulsive urges. Someone may feel compelled to engage in certain behaviors to try to ease their negative thoughts and symptoms of anxiety, but these stressful patterns persist.
  • Depressive disorders may come with symptoms of anxiety and worry, and it is common for an anxiety disorder and a depressive disorder to occur at the same time.
  • Bipolar disorder causes cycles of low moods and high or manic moods. These cycles can be incredibly unsettling, and anxious symptoms can be present at any time.
  • Trauma disorders post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)are the result of someone experiencing immense stress or trauma at some point in their life. The distress remains with them, and they may experience anxiety as a symptom of or another trauma-related condition.

All of these disorders are clinical. In other words, they require professional treatment in order for an individual to minimize their symptoms and manage stressors and triggers moving forward. These disorders can also get worse in situations of heightened stress and pressure, so college students who are experiencing anxiety symptoms should seek compassionate care now before their distress gets even worse.

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Get Help Dealing with Anxiety and Ensuring Your Success in College


If you have a serious mental health disorder that causes anxiety, you are already at risk of declining academic presence and performance. While this fact itself may serve to provoke anxiety, the important point is that professional treatment is necessary in order to develop coping strategies and improve your chances of success. Even severe anxiety is manageable with the right clinical treatment options and therapeutic guidance.

Powering through is not an option when you are suffering from a real psychological imbalance. Often, for someone with anxiety, as they are sitting down to study or complete an assignment, their worry about doing it right or on time might be so distracting that they can’t do it at all. And the nature of anxiety is that it tends to compound with time and consistent pressure—including the pressure that someone puts on themselves.

Your best chance of success—in terms of your overall health and your college performance—is to get help right away. An expert clinician can determine an accurate diagnosis and the best treatment options for you. The goal of treatment is to ease your symptoms, but it is also to help you develop effective strategies to better manage life and stress for the long haul. After all, college is just one step in a much bigger journey, and the pressures will not end here.

It’s important that you can value your success not only in terms of your grades and your academic reputation, but also in terms of your physical, emotional, and psychological health. Your health can absolutely affect your ability to succeed in other areas—if not in the short term, then certainly over the long term—and your health should be a priority in and of itself.

If left unchecked and untreated, your anxiety can seriously disrupt your performance in college, your overall relationship to the college experience, your confidence in yourself, your relationships, and much more. It’s actually true that the way to bolster your life and your college career is to prioritize treatment—even if that might mean taking a time out to put your recovery in motion. In this way, you develop the coping strategies you really need, and you prevent dangerous backsliding later on when the stress is likely to increase. Keep in mind that your anxiety does not define you, but your next steps in dealing with anxiety through college can help to define your future.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for mental health disorders as well as process addictions and phase of life issues. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles and San Diego-based programs and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to healing.