Anxiety has now surpassed depression as the most common mental health diagnosis among college students, though depression, too, is on the rise. More than 1/2 of students visiting campus clinics cite anxiety as a health concern, according to a recent nationwide study of more than 100,000 students by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State.  Nearly 1 in 6 college students has been diagnosed with or treated for anxiety within the last 12 months, and 62% of undergrads report overwhelming anxiety (up from 50% in 2011), according to the annual national survey by the American College Health Association.

Anxiety is not just a challenge for young people. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting over 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 19% of the population every year. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.

So if you feel anxiety, sometimes at an intense level, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Anxiety affects each person differently.  For some it paralyzes.  For some it compels into a manic state of performance. For some it steals initiative and purpose for life.   For some it causes avoidance of all work.

There are complex causes/factors that can be identified—world events, current society, the environment in which we live, safety, the news, genetics, brain chemistry, personality, life events, concerns about money, love, school, family, work, relationships, presentations, friends, social media, and more. I think the smart phone is a major culprit.  But some factors are more difficult to be identified. Sometimes I’m anxious for no apparent reason.  Sometimes I wake up anxious.  Sometimes it comes on like a wave or a flood at the most unexpected times.

Social media is one of the anxiety generators in our life.  It forces unhealthy comparison. Am I posting too much?  Am I posting too little?  Why does that person (or all those people) have such a great life or such a great relationship with their boyfriend/girlfriend/family?  Why are they so funny?  Why do they get so many likes? Why do they look like that and I look like this? On and on and on…

I’ve had times, especially during college and my twenties, that I remember being so anxious that I couldn’t eat, sleep, or function.  It was paralyzing.  Then I remember times that my anxiety had the opposite effect.  It propelled me into a manic state of action.  Trying to get more done, do things better, work harder.

I have been speaking in front of groups for a long time now.  My first time being in front of a large group, I was doing the entertainment for a weekend camp called Lake Champion, for 500 high school students.  We were game show hosts—Pep Pepperson and Buck Buckelson, or something like that.  When our entrance music started, I didn’t even go out on stage.  I couldn’t. I was paralyzed.  I was dry heaving backstage.  My partner was not happy with me.  I hung him out to dry as he had to do the skit by himself!  But later that day, I made it out on stage and stammered and stumbled through my lines.

For a couple years, when I gave talks, I had a facial tick. During pauses I would make a really weird face. I never knew it until I saw a video of me speaking. For most of my adult life, I have struggled with insomnia.  This past year I experienced some heart irregularities. My heart would skip a beat and I would get be out of breath for a couple seconds.  So I have had my bouts with anxiety.  It’s not over but it’s manageable.

Anxiety:  Beware!

Me:  Can you be more specific?!?!

Anxiety:

What’s normal and when to seek help:

Every student feels stressed out or “down” at one time or another, especially during midterms and finals. When do those feelings become reason for more concern? Basically when day-to-day functioning is affected and before it is impaired. When feelings of sadness, loneliness, or low self-worth become the norm, reaching out is really important.

Check out these thoughts from Boston University: “When your mood state interferes with your ability to function at school, like when you’re finding you can’t get to class, and you don’t want to hang out with your friends or teammates, and you’re having difficulty concentrating because you’re feeling so distressed—that’s when you need to reach out and get some help.

Other warning signs are prolonged feelings of sadness or despair, excessive anxiety or panic, isolation or withdrawal from typical daily activities, thoughts of self-harm or suicide, giving away possessions, changes in personal hygiene, and excessive use of alcohol or other drugs, which are often used by students experiencing social anxiety to self-medicate. Often it is more important to manage your emotional reaction to stress than to try to change the stressful situation, which may not be fully under your control.

THIS IS IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER: Most people with effort and sometimes treatment have success in dealing with anxiety.

So what do we do?  Next week: Overcoming strategies.  Some from research.  Some from experience.  Some from trusted professional counselors.

Pete Hardesty

Author Pete Hardesty

Pete Hardesty grew up in Baltimore, MD and graduated from the University of Virginia. Pete then joined the staff of Young Life in 1997 till present. He lives outside of Washington D.C. where he leads the college division of Young Life for the eastern part of the U.S. He loves college students, beach volleyball, and his 2 nieces very much. Likes: His nieces, Ravens football, college people (even though they make him feel old), movies, cigars, Thai food, the Middle East. Dislikes: Country music, tomatoes, shrimp, rice crispy treats, and wet socks. Pete believes because we only get one shot at this life we need to figure out what matters and give ourselves to it. Let’s make it count. If you have a problem with this, he challenges you to meet him behind the dumpster after school to fight.

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