Students struggle with many kinds of anxiety: feeling “stressed out,” panic attacks, shyness, public speaking anxiety, test anxiety, excessive worrying, and obsessions and compulsions. There are many treatments available that can be specifically tailored to you depending on the type of anxiety, the length of time you’ve been experiencing the anxiety, and your previous history of treatment.
This is the most common kind of anxiety. Students describe feeling nauseous, on the verge of tears, and without their normal self-confidence. They feel indecisive, irritable, “on edge,” and “ready to snap.” They’re often having trouble concentrating and sleeping. Headaches and other physical problems are typical.
About 10% of students will experience a panic attack at some point, usually starting in college. For some, these attacks become chronic.
A panic attack (or “anxiety” or “adrenaline” attack) is an episode of intense fear and dread, along with physical symptoms, such as rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, chest discomfort, nausea, sweating, flushing, shaking, and lightheadedness, among many others. These symptoms can fade away after a few minutes or may persist for up to 30 minutes.
Social anxiety is characterized by intense anxiety and self-consciousness in social situations, enough to make a person regularly avoid or really strain to endure such situations. Panic attacks in, or in anticipation of, such situations may occur. Physical symptoms like blushing, trembling, nausea, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, and sweating are common. In some cases, the person is afraid of one or a few types of situations, like making conversation, speaking in class (see below), or eating in public, but usually the anxiety is more general. The common fear, though, is that one will somehow embarrass oneself or be negatively evaluated by others.
Public Speaking Anxiety
Fear of public speaking often appears in early adolescence, but is not a major problem until college, when more public speaking is required in many courses. Students may "blank-out," freeze, feel like they’re "talking gibberish,” or fear that they are visibly trembling, sweating, etc. If left unaddressed, students sometimes drop classes or change majors to avoid public speaking.
Some amount of anxiety around testing is, of course, expected. Without it, you might not study or concentrate adequately. When excessive, however, such anxiety can interfere with test-taking. As with any kind of anxiety, test anxiety involves distressing levels of physical symptoms, such as rapid heartbeat, sweating, trembling, nausea and lightheadedness. It also involves cognitive interference, like "blanking out," difficulty understanding questions, and trouble organizing one's thoughts. It can also lead to panic attacks and the feeling that one must leave the room.
Obsessions and Compulsions
Obsessions are highly persistent thoughts, impulses or images that one realizes, at least initially, are senseless or exaggerated. They are unpleasant and intrusive, causing guilt, fear or other negative feelings. Some typical obsessions are exaggerated fears of contamination with germs, doubts whether you’ve done something correctly (“did I really lock the door?”), or thoughts of harming someone you don’t really want to harm, and might even love. Compulsions are rituals or repetitive behaviors performed in response to an obsession to ease or neutralize it. Typical compulsions include counting (like, counting one’s steps for fear that not counting will cause something bad to happen), checking (like repeatedly checking to be sure the door is locked), and excessive hand-washing to ease fears of contamination. When these rituals interfere significantly with one's functioning, they are called "obsessive-compulsive disorder" (OCD).