Is it just normal college stress or do I have an anxiety disorder?

College and graduate school are inherently stressful times in life. Often students are managing 4 or 5 separate courses, engaged in extracurricular activities, and have an active social life. Learning to structure one’s day and organize studying is an often-daunting process, especially for the student who is trying to reach peak performance and make the dean’s list with an eventual hope of graduate school.

Stress is a normal byproduct of college. For ambitious students striving to “make the grade,” obsessive fixation on organization, long hours of studying, and a desire to achieve perfection on assignments, tests, and projects is par for the course. In an effort to stay on top of things worrying is natural. During exam periods, almost every good student is tired, over-caffeinated, moody, and worried about the possibility of less than stellar performance. In some instances, though, normal worry can become pathological and lead to disastrous consequences. When does a student know if they should worry about their worry?

Normal signs of stress

Listed here are normal indications of stress that should not be overly concerning:

  • Worrying the night before a test and taking a bit longer to get to sleep
  • Feeling irritable after a night of cramming for a couple of exams
  • Feeling fatigued after a round of tests
  • Getting butterflies in your stomach before you begin a test
  • Worrying before a grade is posted and frequently checking the class website
  • Feeling agitated and “burnt out” on studying and feeling you “need” to exercise to expend pent up energy
  • Difficulty focusing after long study periods and feeling that information is no longer being retained

Signs of an anxiety disorder

Listed here are symptoms characteristic of anxiety disorders:

  • Excessive worry at night that prevents sleep altogether
  • Extreme daytime fatigue and sleepiness
  • Intense worrying about failing tests and courses, even when you have done well
  • A sense of dread that something bad is going to happen, though you are not sure what
  • Worries that interfere with your ability to focus
  • Concentration problems even in the morning when you should normally be rested
  • Irritability and moodiness that is out of proportion and lasts for days or weeks
  • Feelings of muscle tension, upset stomach, and restlessness/jitteriness
  • Intense fear that comes upon you suddenly and leaves you feeling like you cannot breathe, are choking, or like you are “going crazy” or “losing your mind”
  • An uptick in your alcohol consumption because “it’s the only thing that seems to relax me.”

Seek help if you believe you have an anxiety disorder

Anxiety disorders are commonplace on college campuses. Examples of anxiety disorders are Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, and Social Anxiety Disorder. Anxiety disorders, when untreated, can wreak havoc in a student’s life and lead to poor grades, the misuse of alcohol, and eventual depression. Fortunately, anxiety disorders are some of the most treatable psychological disorders and respond well to cognitive-behavioral therapy and certain non-addictive medications like Lexapro. If you or someone you know is suffering from pathological anxiety, then please schedule a visit at your college or university’s counseling center. If recurrent anxiety is affecting your grades, has led to a bad semester, or affects performance on high stakes exams, then a psychoeducational assessment battery may be warranted. At CheckIt, we offer assessments that can subtype your anxiety and determine the effect anxiety has on grade performance. Common solutions provided by our evaluations are psychiatric treatment plans, academic accommodations, expungement of poor grades, and enhanced academic performance.