Dealing with Anxiety at College

Reports from across North America indicate rising levels of anxiety among post-secondary students. If you struggle with anxiety, it’s important to know you’re not alone – and that support is available right here on campus.

If you’re new to Red River College, you may worry about a number of things – getting lost in a strange place, not knowing anyone in your classes, or being unsure of what is expected of you, for instance. You may also experience anxiety related to your finances or academic status, no matter how far along you are in your studies.

Some students struggling with anxiety benefit from stress-relief strategies, but if your anxiety levels are higher than normal – and particularly if you suffer from an anxiety disorder – you may need to seek outside help. Staff at RRC’s Counselling Services can help determine where on the spectrum you fall.

When Worry Becomes an Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety becomes problematic when your worrying interferes with your day-to-day life, and when you can’t stop worrying – no matter how hard you try. The source of your worries may vary – school, relationships, work, or health are common causes – but the worrying itself becomes so all-encompassing it takes over your entire life.

When this type of worrying persists for six months or more, a person may be diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Those suffering from GAD find it hard to relax or concentrate, may startle easily, and tend to have trouble sleeping. Other symptoms include fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, sweating, nausea, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, and frequent trips to the bathroom.

Ultimately, only a medical professional can diagnose GAD and recommend treatment options, but RRC’s Counselling Services can help you learn how to manage your anxiety more efficiently.

Panic Attacks

Have you ever experienced sudden surges of fear, terror or dread that seem to strike for no apparent reason?

When this happens do you feel one or more of the following physical symptoms?

  • Increased heart rate
  • Tightness and pressure in your chest
  • Shortness of breath or erratic breathing
  • Light headedness or dizziness
  • Prickly sensations or numbness in parts of your body
  • Shakiness
  • Increased sweating
  • Nausea
  • Hot flashes or chills

At the same time, do you ever think…

  • You’re sick, dying or going crazy?
  • You might throw up?
  • You’re having a heart attack?
  • Things seem especially unreal?
  • You must escape the situation you’re in?
  • You might lose control and embarrass yourself?

If you answered ’yes’ to the first question – and can check off some or most of the symptoms listed – you may have suffered a panic attack.

A panic attack is an intense physical and mental chain reaction that typically begins when a thought or bodily sensation strikes you as threatening, and within seconds, leads to escalating physical reactions and feelings of terror. Symptoms can last for mere seconds, or take up to a half-hour to subside, and the after-effects can alter the way you think and behave over time.

Some people have panic attacks because they’re more physically susceptible to panic, while others have experienced past trauma or abuse, or have a habit of bottling up their emotions. Since panic attacks tend to be scary, people are often fearful of a re-occurrence, leading them to avoid people or situations that provoke anxiety.

There are, however, various techniques and strategies that can reduce the negative impacts of a panic attack.

Five Steps to Help Manage Panic

Relax
  • Learn and practice relaxation strategies
  • Rather than taking shallow breaths, focus on long deep ones
  • Imagine you’re in a peaceful place
  • Tense, then relax all of your muscles
Change Habits
  • Add exercise to your daily routine
  • Reduce your intake of stimulants (caffeine, nicotine and sugar)
  • Express your feelings to others
Positive Thinking
  • Focus on calming, positive thoughts (or find a way to distract yourself from negative thoughts and feelings)
  • Remember a panic attack will not cause you to faint, stop breathing, or have a heart attack
Keep the Faith!
  • Have faith that you can learn how to handle panic attacks!
  • With practice and support, you will conquer the panic problems in your life!
Get Help
  • Visit your doctor to assess physical symptoms
  • Connect with an RRC counsellor – we’re here to listen and provide a safe place in which you figure out what to do next. Scroll down to learn how to book an appointment.

Coping with Anxiety

Figuring out how to manage your anxiety may involve some trial and error.  Don’t give up – you can gain control with help and determination, and by implementing the following strategies:

Contain your worry time. Limit your worrying to a specific time and place – if possible, the same time and place each day. Try to avoid speculative (or “what if”) thinking; instead, focus on what’s actually happening and what you can do about it.

Learn ways to relax. How do you usually relax?  Some people use muscle relaxation, yoga or deep breathing strategies, while others enjoy more strenuous activity (working out, playing team sports, or running).

Exercise regularly. People with anxiety often need to exercise more. Exercise can increase your sense of well-being and decrease your feelings of anxiety.

Get adequate amounts of sleep. While sleeping, your mind and body can recover from the physical and cognitive pressures of the day.

Avoid alcohol and drug use as a coping mechanism. You may be tempted to rely on alcohol or drugs in order to relax, since they can provide a temporary relief from stress. But over time, alcohol and drug use will only make your anxiety even worse.

Avoid caffeine. Caffeine stimulates your nervous system, and may increase your anxiety. It’s found in coffee, tea, soft drinks and chocolate, as well as over-the-counter diet pills, and cough and cold medicines that contain a decongestant.

Talk about your anxiety. Let someone you trust know how you’re feeling. (RRC Counselling Services is a great place to start!) By talking about your problems, you’ll gain a better understanding of your anxiety and how it can be managed. A trained counsellor can help determine if you need to see a doctor, who may suggest medication to reduce your anxiety while learning new ways to cope.