How to Deal With Anxiety About Returning to Campus
Reviewed by Rayelle Davis, M.S.Ed., NCC, LCPC
- Returning to campus this fall might create anxiety for students unsure of what to expect.
- Ahead of your return to campus, look into your school's virtual mental health resources.
- Set yourself up for success by establishing plans for activities and support networks.
College students are no strangers to anxiety, but the last year has likely been more stressful than most. Causing rapid changes to the college experience, the COVID-19 pandemic amplified already existing sources of stress — such as grades, finances, and homesickness — and greatly impacted student mental health and wellness.
A recent BestColleges survey found that 45% of students whose campuses closed due to the pandemic experienced increased anxiety. In another national survey conducted last fall, almost one-third (31%) of college students had been previously diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
While campus reopening announcements may offer some good news for most students, even a welcome change can cause some anxiety.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety can take many forms. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says that anxiety disorders consistently share "persistent, excessive fear or worry in situations that are not threatening."
Symptoms related to anxiety can be emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and/or physical, and may prevent you from performing day-to-day activities. Some examples of anxiety symptoms are as follows:
- Feelings of dread
Cognitive and Behavioral
- Memory problems
- Trouble making decisions
- Difficulty concentrating
- Isolating yourself from other people
- Shortness of breath
- Headaches/body aches
- High blood pressure
NAMI provides a helpful reminder that "we all experience anxiety" — you may even feel several of these symptoms right now. But if you find yourself overwhelmed by what you are experiencing, reach out for support as you make the transition back to campus. You don't have to deal with those uneasy feelings alone.
3 Tips for Easing Anxiety About Returning to Campus
1. Connect With Campus Resources
Connecting with your school's mental and physical health services can be a helpful way to support your own success in the new school year. You don't even have to wait until you're back on campus to get started. Many schools have added or expanded mental health services for students during the pandemic.
- Telehealth Appointments: See whether your school has partnered with any telehealth providers to give students access to physicians and mental health professionals. Through these virtual video appointments, you can get assistance no matter where you're located.
- Counseling Centers: Look into your school's expanded mental health services. Some colleges, like Cal Poly Pomona, host virtual events and workshops on mental health topics to connect students with conversations and assistance.
- Crisis Hotlines: Check with your school's counseling center or student life office to find out whether your campus offers a crisis hotline. Many universities now provide 24/7 access to counselors. There are also national hotlines you can take advantage of, such as Crisis Text Line (simply text HOME to 741741).
2. Connect With Friends
Who's in your support network? Social support is often key to easing and taking control of your anxiety.
Almost two-thirds (65%) of college students point to friends as important sources of support. As you face more college changes, you may find that some of your friends are experiencing anxiety, too. Connect with your school friends now to support one another as you all prepare to return to campus.
- Make Specific Plans: Coordinate a time to meet in person the first week of on-campus classes. Whether it's just to chat, have lunch, or help one another move, create an event and put it on your calendar.
- Chat Groups: Set up a group text with roommates, classmates, and others in your social network to coordinate the move back and support one another through the process. Ask for the help you need, and be ready to assist your friends when they ask.
- Clubs and Organizations: Identify at least one way in which you'll rejoin campus life through social events, leadership opportunities, sports, or other school activities. Connect with coordinators now to find out what's on the schedule and how to participate.
3. Take Care of Yourself
Living with the symptoms of anxiety long term can lead to more complicated mental and physical health conditions. You can take proactive steps today to maintain your health, like getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and eating healthy.
You can also perform activities that improve your mood and overall feelings of wellness. BestColleges' recent survey found that 98% of college students reported engaging in self-care habits during the pandemic, whether that's through hobbies, physical activity, or getting outdoors whenever possible.
Remember that change isn't easy. Even though many COVID-19 restrictions have lifted, mentally you may not feel totally "back to normal" just yet. And that's all right. Regardless of the challenges you've faced since the start of the pandemic, it's important to understand that everyone experiences anxiety differently and to varying degrees. Never feel ashamed about any anxiety you feel.
Ultimately, you should focus on what you can control — especially maintaining your mental and physical health — so you can set a positive course for your future. Consider making use of helpful tools such as mindfulness and meditation.
Rayelle Davis, M.S.Ed., NCC, LCPC
Rayelle Davis is a board-certified counselor and a licensed clinical professional counselor. As a nontraditional student, she earned her associate degree in psychology at Allegany College of Maryland before earning her bachelor's in psychology at the University of Maryland Global Campus and her master's in counseling education with a concentration in marriage, couples, and family therapy at Duquesne University. Davis has taught several undergraduate psychology courses and is currently a doctoral student and teaching assistant at Duquesne University.
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