Many of us feel some type of anxiety during certain situations. The anxious feelings may be caused by a combination of life events such as exams, a traumatic event, personal loss, and ∕ or biological factors such as health problems. For students, there can be many triggers for anxiety. Class presentations, exams, group work, new surroundings away from home, social interactions, emotional relationship break-ups, financial problems; all may impact on an individual to create anxious feelings. If these feelings persist or are intense enough to interfere with activities, a person may have an anxiety disorder. This condition can affect activities of life such as relationships with family, friends, and many academic tasks.
For some people, the anxiety is triggered by brain chemistry and can run in families. In others, certain medical conditions such as anemia and thyroid problems can also cause anxiety. Conditions are further affected by some medications, alcohol, drugs and caffeine.
Anxiety disorders are the most common of all mental health problems and are found in about 1 in 10 people. Anxiety disorders can be classed as panic disorder, phobia, social phobia, specific phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. They can come on suddenly as a result of an event in the past or be triggered by a current event. Some form of anxiety is reported by many students. Though they may not have an anxiety disorder, the situations they may find themselves in can cause intense symptoms that can interfere with postsecondary studies, placements and life in general.
Anxiety disorders can be treated. The main approaches are drug therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy or a combination of both. Many people find that meditation and breathing exercises help to control the feelings associated with anxiety. Eating properly, avoiding caffeine, and exercising regularly such as taking a walk all help in addition to the therapies. Often support groups also help manage the impact.
For students experiencing anxiety but not a disorder, a supportive environment can help keep them in balance. Supportive staff, availability of counselling or advising supports and a college environment that provides services and a balance of assistance is helpful. Often students can get past their feelings of anxiety with the right environment.
For more information about anxiety disorders:
- Consult the Ontario Canadian Mental Health Association site to learn about the types of anxiety disorders and lifestyle choices to help.
- The CMHA also has a site with information about panic disorders and phobias.
- The Anxiety Disorders of Canada has a site specifically to help students feeling anxiety.
- Check an overview of anxiety disorders from The Answered Patient
- Hear a description of anxiety from a student Summer Beretsky who has anxiety and panic attacks.
- Read The Human Face of Mental Health and Mental Illness in Canada by the Public Health Agency of Canada
- A detailed booklet about Anxiety Disorders is available from the National Institute on Mental Health