Since the coronavirus pandemic first started sweeping the nation at the beginning of 2020, people of all ages have been dealing with varying levels of stress, worry, and even fear associated with the disease. Today, many are experiencing anxiety associated with trying to navigate an uncertain future, the loss of financial stability, avoiding risk of infection for themselves or loved ones, and more. For students, these worries often occur alongside other typical student concerns such as academic advancement, financial aid, friendships and relationships, and non-COVID-19-related personal health issues.

Anxiety can present itself in many ways. You may feel nervous or feel panicked. It may be difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. Some people find it difficult to sit still or may have trouble concentrating. Even physical symptoms like increased heart rate, rapid breathing without exercise, and sweating or trembling may be signs that you are experiencing anxiety on some level. If ignored or left untreated, anxiety can become more intense and make it difficult to complete everyday tasks. Fortunately, anxiety is typically very manageable—either through self-care tactics, medications, or a combination of both.

Everyone Responds Differently to Anxiety

  • People at high risk for complications or those with underlying medical conditions may feel more worry or stress related to maintaining their health.
  • Those with existing anxiety disorders or other mental health conditions may experience increased or elevated symptoms.
  • Anyone who feels isolated due to being part of a racial, ethnic, or other minority group may have heightened symptoms of anxiety.
  • People with challenges accessing essential services like health care, housing, and food stability can have additional trouble managing anxiety.
  • Students with limited or no family support may find it difficult to deal with anxiety on their own.
  • Students who are facing significant changes in instructional models, scholarships, and other campus life issues may feel added pressure from anxiety.

Healthy Ways to Cope with Anxiety and Stress Can Help

  • Take care of yourself by eating well-balanced, nutritious meals; exercising regularly; and getting plenty of sleep.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol, using drugs, smoking, or vaping as ways to manage stress.
  • Make time to pursue relaxing activities like meditation, yoga, walking, reading, or other things you enjoy.
  • Talk to friends, family, health care providers, and others you trust. Let them know what you are feeling or what you are struggling with. You do not have to face anxiety alone.
  • Connect with social groups or faith-based organizations online, through social media, digital meetups, and other events—even when social distancing is in place.
  • Educate yourself on the truth about COVID-19, its symptoms, risk factors, and more. Rumors and hearsay often make worries worse through exaggerated and/or incorrect information. This article helps explain risks from a student perspective. You can also review the resources available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • Set limits for yourself for how often you check for updates, watch the news, or research coronavirus, pandemic conditions, and COVID-19. Being constantly connected can heighten feelings of being overwhelmed. Try setting a scheduled time of day and a time limit like 30 minutes to 1 hour to help avoid obsessive behaviors.
  • Focus on what you can control, not on what you can’t—such as washing hands frequently with soap and water, using hand sanitizer, wearing masks in public places, avoiding crowded gatherings, and maintaining social distance whenever possible.

If Self-Care Isn’t Enough, Seek Out Professional Help

  • Your health care provider can recommend lifestyle modifications or medications that can help alleviate various symptoms of anxiety.
  • Speaking with a counselor, psychologist, or other mental health professional can help you build skills to manage both short-term and long-term anxiety.
  • Your college or university may have help lines and other resources available you can call if you find anxiety is becoming too much to manage alone.
  • If you are thinking of harming yourself or have thoughts of suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or you can chat online at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/.
  • If you are prescribed medication for anxiety, be sure to follow all directions on dosages and timing. Try not to skip doses even if you are feeling better—unless your medication is to be taken only “as needed.”
  • You need not wait until your symptoms are extreme or unmanageable to seek out help. Often, being proactive about seeking help can make anxiety easier to manage.

The current pandemic may be temporary, but stressful situations will always be a part of our everyday lives. Whether it’s learning to manage anxiety in response to COVID-19 or becoming more resilient to other stressful challenges—your mental health is important. Taking ownership of your feelings, including anxiety, is a positive way to prepare yourself for uncertainty and make adjustments and choices to maintain well-being.

Learn more about managing your mental health as a college student.