Burnout and Anxiety in College
There have been a lot of discussions around the “work from home” (WFH) phenomenon that is reality for many. This also encompasses online school which was making its wave in society for a few years. However, the pandemic did change the atmosphere of such previous “luxuries” that have now caused some burnout and fatigue. Part of the conversation that is often left out is about individual thoughts and feelings in detail.
Sometimes not wanting to log on to your student portal or join the meeting is a sign of anxiety.
Yes, anxiety. The word that many people use to describe feelings of overwhelmness, fear, excitement but also the physical attributes that occur. Therefore, I think it is important for college students to understand anxiety as it relates to this pandemic and the changes that derived.
Anxiety in College Students Can Look Like
- Fast heartrate, sweating palms, stomach upset
- Unmotivated to do any schoolwork
- Problems sleeping
- Wanting to isolate
- Drinking or smoking as a way to cope with stress and anxiety
- Panic attacks
- Obsessive thoughts about school works
- Constant feelings of overwhelm
- Excessive worry
- Obsessing about weight and body image
- Being on social media as a way to numb out feelings of stress
Anxiety can look different for each individual, and impacts individuals across all races, genders and upbringings.
“You don’t have to control your thoughts. You just have to stop letting them control you” – Dan Millman
What is Anxiety?
As mentioned, the concept of mental health and wellness have done well including anxiety in conversations as more and more individuals are experiencing symptoms. A popular working definition of anxiety is by The American Psychological Association (APA), describing anxiety as “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes”. I think it is also important to note that anxiety has a variety of symptoms, impacts diverse populations, and looks different in each case.
There are physical symptoms such as feeling tense or tight in your extremities, quick or heavy breathing, sweating, nervousness, difficulty concentrating, etc. More research in this field highlighted various medical conditions that may be caused by underlying anxiety. For instance, intestinal issues, headaches, and stomach aches to name a few. This is not to say that any physical sensation or symptoms you encounter means you have anxiety; however, it is important to recognize how mental health can affect more than just your mind.
Speaking of the mind, the psychological impacts of anxiety are more well-known. These include feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, scared, irritable or ruminating (continually thinking about the same thoughts or situation). I have noticed that anxiety feelings or emotions are more difficult to express in words. How do you tell someone you feel excited, nervous, sad, or fearful all at the same time?
Anxiety in Today’s World
I have talked a bit about society’s impact on the definition and conversation of anxiety. I also think about the identification or stigmatization of what it means to be “anxious’. Society often categorizes individuals as “introvert or extrovert” and describes the typical daily tasks, behaviors, and situations that such individuals experience. Anxiety can play a role in these perceived character traits as well.
Society also has designed a typical “college experience” that is displayed on television, discussed with elders, and often highlighted in the media. So if society has impacted how we see ourselves and how we anticipate our college years to play out, can we work to make anxiety less prominent?
I think that college in itself is stressful.
This is the first time that many are leaving their parents’ home, their childhood neighborhood, their high school friends, and venturing into the unknown. College is a time where you get to know yourself, your passions, your interests, and the type of person you want to be. Therefore, the stress and anxiety that college creates can definitely impact those of us who are anxious.
College is also changing with society, incorporating a world of screens. Many classes prior to the pandemic were incorporating hybrid models, teaching both virtually and in-person. Students are reading literature, completing assignments and exams, and keeping in touch with their friends and family online. The use of technology and social media has been studied numerous times about the impact of such influences on mental health. Therefore, I will not spend time telling you that social media increases the need to be “perfect” or causes comparison that is unrealistic. We know that. We also know that social media can create a safe place for individuals who find means of expression and connection helpful to their struggles. Many mental health organizations have social media pages and many famous artists are using their platforms to bring awareness to anxiety, depression, and other issues. Especially as we approach a full year in this pandemic, the use of social media, screen time, and our conversations around anxiety have improved.
My Favorite Social Media Accounts About Anxiety
- Good Humans Only: https://instagram.com/goodhumansonly?igshid=1fr6xcj4zey1v
- Anxiety Well Being: https://instagram.com/anxiety_wellbeing?igshid=1saxohe4r3t30
- Black Mental Health Matters: instagram: https://instagram.com/blackmentalhealthmatters_?igshid=zba329rkmfqn
- THE SELF CARE KIT: @theself_carekit
The New College Experience
Each university may function differently but their goal is to keep their students and staff as safe as they can. The college experience however is drastically different and all should recognize that. Some students do not have any physical interaction with other students as they attend class online and cannot leave their dorm. Others may have interaction but still feel a sense of loss from the norm. I would ask each college student to identify any physical, emotional, or mental symptoms that could be anxiety. Checking your phone throughout the day out of boredom, zoom fatigue, and lack of hope that things will change may have started off as normal responses to a pandemic, but may now display anxiety or another mental health concern.
Therefore, if you feel that the typical stressors of higher education, adolescent changes, and the impact of the pandemic have been burdensome, you can reach out for help. Mental health professionals are doing their best to incorporate telehealth where they can. You also have access to your university health center and counseling center for additional support.
Written by Maya Jefferson, LMSW.
Maya is a therapist who is passionate about helping college students overcome anxiety and depression to better their college experience. She has a special interested in disordered eating, body image and working with women of color who are seeking mental health treatment. She approaches therapy with a down-to-earth feel that is both compassionate and actionable. In her free time you can find her playing guitar, singing and reading.
If you’re interested in setting up an appointment with Maya, Contact her today.
Disclaimer: This is in no way a replacement for a therapeutic relationship or mental health services. This is for educational purposes only and should be in used only in conjunction in working with a licensed mental health professional. Reading this blog or responding to it does not constitute a provider-patient relationship If you are looking for a local mental health professional feel free to use the contact tab to request an appointment or search Psychology Today for local therapists in your area. If this is a mental health emergency and you need immediate assistance please call 911 or your county’s crisis line to speak to a mental health professional.