10 Tips for Surviving College With an Anxiety Disorder


Being 18 is naturally an anxious time of your life. You graduate high school and have “adult” responsibilities. If you are like me, you moved away from home and into a dorm room. 

Everyone keeps telling me these are to be the best years of my life — independence from my parents, being legally allowed to drink, and meeting the friends (and partner) I will have for a lifetime. But if you are like me and have an array of anxiety disorders, the transition into college is more difficult than anyone can ever imagine.

Living with anxiety results in a routine built around avoiding triggers. The smallest change can induce an anxiety attack. When you have an anxiety disorder, you memorize your triggers, where they appear, and how to avoid them. Going to college means most of you know about your triggers is now irrelevant. You may develop new triggers in new places with no warning.

After successfully completing my first month of college, I have put together 10 tips on surviving college with an anxiety disorder.

1. Keep your dorm room clean.

I know this is a little obvious, but it’s important. Try your best not to overpack. The less cluttered your room is, the more relaxed you may feel. I tend to pack everything because of the fear of not having something when I need it. A method that worked for me is packing everything my anxiety told me I would need. Then after moving into my dorm I was able to send different odds and ends back home that I knew I wouldn’t need.

2. Know your roommate ahead of time

Many colleges now allow you to choose your own roommate. For my college I took a survey, and they suggested roommates I was compatible with. I talked to several girls before deciding to meet one I thought I would get along with. Knowing your roommate ahead of time gives you one less thing to be anxious about when moving in.

3. Don’t be afraid to use the campus’ resources.

Most colleges, if not all, have academic, religious, physical, and mental health resources that are free to their students. Within the first week of school, go to the counseling center and talk with someone about your anxiety disorder. Even if you not in an active state of anxiety, it is important to inform them of the possibility of relapse occurring. Talk to them. They are there to help.

4. Talk with your therapist and psychiatrist before you leave.

This is one of the most important tips I can give you. Discuss with your therapist a way to communicate while you are away at college, like phone sessions or emailing. Your therapist will give you ideas on how to cope with new situations and talk to the counselors on campus about your condition. If you are taking medication to control your anxiety, be sure to come up with a plan to get that medication while away at school. It is important to determine if there is a pharmacy on or near campus and how many refills you will need before you can have an appointment with your psychiatrist again. Don’t end up at college stuck without your medication.

5. Don’t be afraid to open up to others.

This has been by far the hardest one for me. In high school, no one but my best friend knew about my anxiety disorder. I decided that starting in college, I wanted to be more open about my anxiety. I started by telling my roommate, and after a few weeks the time felt right to tell some friends I’d made.

If you’re comfortable, inform them about your condition. Many people don’t understand what an anxiety condition is or how to deal with it. Be an advocate for yourself to end the stigma on mental health

6. Get to know the campus before classes start.

I had been to my school several times between the campus tours, Accepted Students Day, and orientation. I moved in four days before class started, and after the Welcome Week activities, I got to really know the ins and outs of my school. As I said before, college means having to learn all the new triggers to your anxiety. I walked the route I would take every day of the week to class, found where the nearest bathrooms were and “safe places” where I could calm myself down in the event of an attack.

7. Take morning classes.

I know this is the last thing many people want to do, but do it. If you wake up hours before a class starts, it gives you time to overthink everything that could go wrong on the way to or in class. Wake up, and go right to class. When class is over, do the work you were assigned as soon as possible. Living with anxiety, I know what it is like to have anxiety-induced procrastination that turns into it being a week past the due date and not being able to even think about it although you know it needs to be done. Try to avoid this by taking morning classes and getting all assignments done before evening activities begin.

8. Sleep.

Anxiety is tiring. Your brain is in a constant state of fight-or-flight. Get a good night’s rest. Take a nap. Do what you need to do to keep yourself healthy. Be sure to let your roommate know that you often need more sleep then the average person. It is OK.

9. Get involved.

I have never had social anxiety, but I am sure this is most difficult for those who do. I encourage you to try to expand your comfort zone. Anxiety loves the comfort zone, but no one loves anxiety. Find some friends to go with you to clubs and activities. Let them know the situation. Remember that it is OK if you need a mental break. Instead of leaving an activity if you are becoming anxious, try stepping out of the room and coming back once your thoughts have calmed down, no matter how long it may take. You will find that the time becomes shorter each time until you are able to attend the entire activity anxiety-free.

10. Don’t let anxiety control you.

I know this is a cliché. Anxiety is an uncontrollable force that comes with no warning. Don’t let it win. Anxiety is not your life, just a very difficult part of your life. Learn how you cope, know your campus’ resources, and know it is possible to be a successful college student while living with an anxiety disorder.

Image via Thinkstock.

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