The Rise of Anxiety in College Students A look into stress management

In Health and Wellness by Victoria Bostwick

“I used to be the believer that if you think happy thoughts, things will be okay,” Britt Whyms, a student on HACC Lancaster Campus, has been dealing with her anxiety for her whole life. One day she asked herself, “Why am I so tired all the time?”. Later she realized it was her anxiety that was draining the life out of her. She started avoiding situations that would involve a large amount of people, stopped taking care of herself, and did not leave the house. In her community mental health was not a real thing. Her behavior was interpreted as laziness and being “too sensitive”, not anxiety or depression.

Stress is an ongoing reality for most Americans. Between school, family, and attempting to maintain a social life, anxiety can take over. Lately, it would seem people are becoming more mindful of their mental health, particularly anxiety. Yoga studios seem to be popping up on every block in Lancaster. Apps like “Headspace” that are daily 10 minute guided meditations are climbing the charts. Even major publications like Time Magazine are dedicating entire issues to “Mindfulness.” Does this suggest a rise in anxiety among people or is this just a hot button topic?

Dr. Jennifer Hailey

Dr. Jennifer Hailey, a licensed psychologist at WellSpan Philhaven, has noticed in the past year (2016) there has been an uneasiness among clients politically. Policy decisions, healthcare, and status among the community have all been contributing factors to a rise in American’s anxiety which in turn leads to a decrease in overall wellbeing. However, politics aside, young adults seem to experience more “adjustment related anxiety”, such as dealing with major life changes and decisions. Events like moving away from home, deciding on what college to go to, and maintaining good grades are some of the things that can increase anxiety. She also mentions that college students lose support systems. They are faced with making new friends, interacting with new instructors, and living somewhere new. She also stresses that “self-care” is cast aside.

Social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram are a must for many, especially networking young adults. Dr. Hailey makes mention that in the past 10 years there has been a high correlation between anxiety and social media. Although there can be positive aspects such as providing support for like-minded people, it can also be very daunting. This may be a contributing factor as to why Millennials are facing more pressure and an increase in stress resulting from their brains constantly running with no down-time to recover.

Recognizing anxiety is just as important as treatment. Dr. Hailey suggests, “To some, anxiety feels pretty normal and so it might take them a while to realize that I don’t have to feel this way all the time.” Some key behavior traits may be procrastination or self-sabotaging. For instance, if a student is supposed to be studying for a test, they may go out drinking instead. Dr. Hailey adds by saying, “Anxiety can make us more ruminative rather than reflective.”

Dr. Hailey informed that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been very effective for clients dealing with anxiety. A person’s thoughts and actions are intertwined. She states, “We have to target actions and thoughts in order to see a positive change in feelings such as anxiety,” she adds by saying “There are cognitive errors that lead people to experience anxiety” such as black and white thinking or negative core beliefs shaped by friends and family members. She helps her clients to develop their “internal locus of control”, meaning that they are able to see that they are active participants in their own life. Whereas, someone with an “external locus of control” sees themselves as being at life’s mercy.

Medication can be helpful for those struggling with anxiety, though some avoid it due to the negative stigma of it being “unnecessary.” Whyms admits that a few years ago she thought of it as being “for the weak-minded.” Lancaster County is more conservative, so there is probably more of a stigma here than there would be on the West Coast.

Hailey also encourages mindfulness and relaxation techniques such as yoga, tai chi, and “sleep hygiene” which is finding a sleep schedule and sticking to it. She states that “The big three- exercise, sleep, and nutrition- are going to help with any mental health concern”.

“Self-compassion” is also a must when dealing with anxiety. This means, “learning to treat ourselves with kindness and forgiveness during times of stress or failures or challenges”. Although it may not be natural initially, it is a skill that can be built.

Society seems to be taking notice of the importance of mental health. Companies are implementing integrative care programs. Hailey says that “medical providers and mental health providers are working side by side to address patient’s needs.”

Sometimes just beginning a conversation is the most important part of addressing such a nation-wide issue. Hailey mentioned that when celebrities come forward about a mental health issue that they have been dealing with, it actually encourages some of her clients. It helps them to know that they are not alone. She adds, “We could always do a better job in society educating people.”

Although many people are dealing with their anxiety, Hailey states, “some are getting help, but not enough.” By recognizing the signs, this will allow those who are struggling to get help and free themselves from the heavy burden of anxiety. If you or a friend are dealing with anxiety or any other mental disorder, HACC has people you can talk to. Counselors are located in the Student Services Suite in Main 221.

Whyms still deals with her anxiety day to day. However, she has found that it helps to surround herself with people who push her. As she continues to understand her anxiety, she speaks about it more. She stresses that it is not about being happy all the time, but becoming more comfortable with who we are.