Anxious College Student

How to Help Your College Student with Anxiety

Let’s talk a bit about what anxiety is, how it comes up for college students and how you as parents can help.

What is anxiety?  Anxiety is a feeling state of dread or worry, a sense of uneasiness—sometimes about something specific and sometimes we can’t quite identify it. Here at Bridge Box we try to emphasize that some anxiety is normal for everyone. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have an anxiety disorder or there’s something wrong with you.

Signs of anxiety can include irritability, trouble sleeping or eating, restlessness, feeling tense or other fast sensations in the body. We try to give college students ideas of how to support their anxiety. In a lot of ways, anxiety is best supported by maintaining overall healthy self-care—getting enough sleep, food, balance between work and play, time with friends and whatever other personal self-care a person has for themselves. But sometimes when we are feeling really anxious it can be helpful to try something else like taking a cool shower, going for a walk or jog, or taking deep breaths.
We have information on panic attacks (which is a whole other kind of anxiety that can be very scary for someone experiencing it). For a panic attack, it can helpful to learn how to calm your body with your breath, hold an ice cube, wrap yourself in a tight blanket or place something really heavy on your lap. Go to and you can check out the blogs, video’s and guided meditations we have for your college student to explore.

What kinds of Anxiety are common for college students?
The most common kids of anxiety I see in college students are:
·     Perfectionism and fears around keeping up with academics and deadlines
·     Fears around meeting people and making friends
·     There’s a lot of FOMO (fear of missing out) in college. There are all these clubs, organization and social opportunities and it appears people fall into 2 camps. They either want to do it all and get super overwhelmed and scared that if they say no to something, they will truly miss out. Or, they seem to get paralyzed with fear and struggle with trying anything new.
·     Homesickness can be a form of anxiety also and can sometimes contribute to isolation for some kids.

How to best support your college student’s anxiety?
Of course, we hope that your college student doesn’t ever have to experience isolating anxiety or a panic attack, but if they do, they may turn to you. Let’s talk about how you can best support them.

Hearing your child is anxious or having a hard time in college can be difficult and I always encourage parents to have as much of their own support as they can.

Try these tips to help make things easier:

1.    Make sure your child knows their resources (numbers for counseling office, writing centers and math labs) ahead of time.
2.    Just listening and being available over the phone can be a huge support.
3.    Try to wait for your child to ask what you think or what they should do before making a suggestion. This will make it more likely that they take your suggestion and don’t get defensive.
4.    Know you do not have to fix everything for your child. As hard as it is, this is their time to figure it out developmentally and sometimes this means it will have to be hard for a while.
5.    If they are talking about their feelings or maybe even saying why they feel that way, the best you can do is validate. Let them know it’s normal to feel this way. Even if it seems like they are the only one, they never are. Many people are feeling uneasy.
6.    Sometimes your child insists they are fine, but you know they are anxious because you know them. You are listening to your child as they are moving 1000 miles a minute, talking rapidly or seeming irritable; these things can make it hard to talk over the phone. You can try this:

  • Gently point out what you notice. For example, “You seem to be talking really fast, or you seem really irritable”; followed by a question, “Is there anything you want to talk about? Are you feeling anxious/excited about something?” *

*Anxiety and excitement can be flip sides of the same coin. Sometimes using the different words like excited, amped up, a bit uneasy, can help a student feel more comfortable admitting their feelings or even getting in touch with them.I hope this has been helpful information on anxiety and how to support it.  If you have any specific questions or comments, please email me at  Later this month, we are finally going to be talking about how to talk to your college student about sex (per special request and thank you for your patience; I wanted to start this month with the theme of the month).

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Carey J. Cook, LPC

Carey J. Cook, LPC

Carey J Cook is a Licensed Professional therapist in Asheville, NC. She has a private practice and is the co-founder of Bridge Box which was inspired by her work with college students. In different capacities, Carey has provided education and therapy to college students and families for over a decade. Carey seeks to understand and support college students during this phase of life and provide tangible tools to students via Bridge Box.