This isn’t going to be a blog post on “Three Tips for College Anxiety.” Believe me, I know test anxiety and other symptoms are real, and if you are experiencing them, you need real strategies. That’s why in my counseling practice we start with specific tools for alleviating anxiety as soon as possible. But, what if some aspects of college anxiety are different?
Anxiety In College Can Be Rough
If you’re a college student, maybe you can relate. You finish a test or turn in a term paper. Whew! Relief. Then, whether it’s a few days later, or just a few minutes, that sense of pressured anxiety settles right back down on you. It’s more or less always there. It’s the next test, the next semester, and the biggie…Your Future.
You know there’s a lot you have to get figured out. The pressure takes many forms: choosing a major, alleviating your parents’ concerns, or wondering how your degree will pay off your student loans. Whatever form the pressure takes, it always seems to be there. If you’re the student, I don’t have to describe the feeling for you. If you’re the parent of a stressed out college student, you might be wondering how to help.
When I was an anxious freshman at Washington State, my own dad said, “You’ve got the next four years to figure it out.” He was trying to encourage me! But, a lot of my friends and I had picked up a similar message: I’ll graduate high school and go to college, where I’ll have to figure everything out. Then I can start my life.
College Is Real Life
It’s easy to see why we sometimes view college as an interim to pass through on our way to real life. It is literally structured as a series of requirements to complete (classes, assignments, tests). There are also bigger hurdles: picking a major, finishing degree requirements. You have to make some choices (to figure it out), but once you have, you can check off the to-do’s. Still, other things are less clear: how to create a career from a degree, where to work, all the stuff.
Hmmm. Sounds a little like the rest of life: specific tasks (opening your business every morning, doing your quarterly taxes) within an unknown future (will I get married, will I succeed in my career, can I support my aging parents?). The point is that college is real life. Maybe two to eight years of it! It’s not just something to complete before your real life starts. So, learning how to handle your college anxiety might just be the most important “graduation requirement” you fulfill, the most important thing to figure out.
Enjoy Life Before Graduation to Enjoy Life After Graduation
Students who develop healthy stress management in college are well prepared to enjoy life after the diploma, whatever it brings. That’s why I love helping anxious college students get a handle on anxiety, forgive themselves for imperfection, and enjoy life before they’ve got it all figured out. From there, a student can ask, “What do I want my life to be about? What will my compass be no matter what I major in?” From there, sustained motivation for work and passion for life can grow beyond anxiety. Hoping for a confident outlook on life doesn’t have to wait for graduation.
I counsel students from Washington State University and the University of Idaho in Moscow. Learn more.