Student Finances

The rise in anxiety in college and university students

by Shellique Thursday June 10th 2021

The rise in anxiety in college and university students-anxiety-in-sturdents

Understandably, there had been a significant increase in university students asking for help with anxiety.

University closures, enforced social distancing, COVID's health and financial uncertainties, and inability to socialise have cut off many students from their primary way of psychological support.

According to the Barna Group's research, students' rise in anxiety-related issues has become one of the biggest challenges for universities when offering students services. In some cases, universities have double their staff to meet this need.

One effect of this is that students feel lonely and isolated. Other causes of anxiety among students are stress factor like the ability to complete their studies and job loses.

Students say that the online classes are not enough to complete their academic requirements, and many students still cannot access online classes.

In some cases, COVID restrictions have meant students have been instructed to leave university dormitories and return home, causing the cancellation of research projects and internships.

Many students who needed work to afford living expenses while studying have lost their jobs due to COVID.

These stresses leave students at a higher risk of developing anxiety and depression, and even suicidal behaviours.

Bangladesh study of students

Researchers in Bangladesh, including Md. Akhtarul Islam and Sutapa Dey Barna, said, "A Canadian study focused on the effects of quarantine after the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic found an association between longer duration of quarantine with a high prevalence of anxiety and depression among people. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is creating a psycho-emotional chaotic situation as countries have been reporting a sharp rise of mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, stress, sleep disorder as well as fear, among its citizens."

The Bangladesh researchers said about their findings, "The findings of the web-based cross-sectional survey indicate that more than two-thirds of the students were experiencing mild to severe depression (82.4%) and anxiety (87.7%).

"Like depression, anxiety was also prevalent mostly among students with no physical exercise (61.95%), troubled with the thought of lagging behind others academically (76.60%)."

In addition to genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events, consider the following: high expectations and pressure to succeed for students these days.

The study suggests that sudden joblessness and financial insecurity are putting university students in an unpleasant situation, affecting their socioeconomic and mental wellbeing.

Students feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities and social media's pressure to conform to specific values and present a particular image.

Types of anxiety in college & Uni students

  • Recurring fears and worries about routine parts of everyday life
  • Changes in behaviour, such as irritability
  • Avoiding activities, school, or social interactions
  • Dropping grades or school avoidance, trouble with focusing and learning
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Substance use or other risky behaviours
  • Chronic physical complaints, such as fatigue, headaches, stomach aches, chronic pain, digestive problems, and later heart disease

How the brain copes: Executive control network (ECN)

The regions composing the executive control network (ECN) are found mainly within the frontal lobes, including the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and parietal lobes, located at the top of the brain. These regions increase in activity when people perform certain cognitive control tasks that require, for example, suppressing an automatic response, paying or shifting attention, and planning.

"The executive functioning in our brain plays a key role in protecting symptoms of depression and anxiety during stressful, uncertain times," said Rajpreet Chahal, a postdoctoral fellow in the Stanford Department of Psychology and lead author of the recent study, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging.

How to reduce student anxiety

  1. Breathe! When a person becomes anxious, our fight or flight response kicks in. Breathing controls this and relaxes the body and the mind.
  2. Reach out and talk to someone if you are feeling worried and anxious.
  3. Look after yourself, eat properly, get plenty of sleep and some exercise. A 20-30 minute walk can provide many stress-reducing benefits.
  4. Challenge your thoughts. Before accepting negative thoughts, ask yourself whether what you're thinking is a 'fact' or an 'opinion'.
  5. Don't avoid situations you're anxious about. If you don't deal with your anxiety, it may get worse. Gradually facing your fears, will reduce your unease.
  6. Plan ahead. Don't get caught out with last-minute deadlines. Student workload can be daunting, make a schedule and plan your time wisely. Routine can help take the stress out.
  7. Seek professional help. Anxiety and worry are natural and sometimes beneficial emotions, but when these feelings are prolonged, it causes other symptoms like anxiety attacks or prevent you from functioning in a normall daily routine. This is a sign you should see a counsellor or doctor.

How can counselling help?

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) helps the ECN, some SSRIs (antidepressants) are effective, and these can prevent COVID-related stress and the stress of daily life. Studies show that a combination of CBT and medication for 12 weeks result in good results in 80% of people with anxiety disorders.

"CBT focuses on changing how [you] think about [your] fear, increasing exposure to feared situations, and relaxation strategies such as deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and positive self‐talk (repeating positive or reassuring statements to yourself). Exposure therapy, a type of CBT, focuses on increasing exposure to feared objects or activities," says Claire McCarthy, MD, FAAP.

Help at your University

All universities will have student counselling services with mental health and wellbeing resources for students, so make an appointment to talk to someone about how you're feeling.

Support from family and government

Parents should encourage students by creating a friendly and positive family environment by not placing pressure on their future academic and working career.

Governments can help by providing a clear Education and Workplace pandemic response with academic and financial programs and other recovery support to students, teachers, universities, and businesses. <