As the spring semester begins, most seniors are faced with the reality that their college years are coming to an end. That realization, and uncertainty for the future, often creates large amounts of anxiety for them.
Anxiety is defined as a feeling of fear, unease and worry. Most people would describe it as an upset stomach, or “butterflies” in the stomach. Other symptoms include sweating, tingling hands or feet and an inability to be still or calm. For seniors, this anxiety can become overwhelming if a student doesn’t develop a way to deal with it.
The Main Sources of Anxiety
While some people have trouble figuring out the cause of their anxiety, college seniors can usually attribute it to stress. There are a lot of decisions that come with graduation. The new alumni have to choose between grad school or entering the main workforce.
Shanice Vance, a senior exercise science major, agrees.
“A lot of my anxieties are getting accepted to grad school. That’s my big fear…Or if I don’t get accepted into any grad schools I applied to, it’s ‘will I get a job?’” Vance said.
The cost of grad school can also be a deterrent.
“That’s the biggest thing for me right now. I’m from a small town, so for me to pay for school, that’s kind of big.”
For others, anxiety stems from moving away from friends and family.
“I actually got a job before the semester started in Alaska, so I have that to look forward to,” said Rebecca Hicks, a senior culinary arts major. “There is a little bit of anxiety about the actual job, because it’s a new place. It’s super far from home. I’ll be on my own. I just want to make sure I do my best work.”
Dr. Thomas Velek, professor of history and head of the Ina E. Gordy Honors College, also believes anxiety comes from student’s expectations.
“I think anxiety stems from two things. One is kind of fear of the unknown. There’s a lot of anxiety in the job market. Over the last four years, a lot of the anxiety was the general negative news in the economy, the general negativity in the job market, all those stories of college graduates moving home and having to live with their parents,” he said. “The second thing, I think, is a lot of students have kind of built up in their mind where they want to be and where they should be when they graduate from college.
“…a lot of college graduates start in very humble positions and there’s sometimes a sense of ‘I really should be doing better than this.’ I think that causes a lot of stress, but students need to understand that college is a gateway to entry level positions.”
Another source of anxiety, one which any student can relate to, is procrastination. Assignments and due dates can have a tendency to pile up the longer students wait to do them. As the amount of work grows, stress grows with it, making the task seem harder than it originally would have.
It can be easy to think about the first couple of years in college as the fun years, and most students’ work ethics tend to slack off. According to Velek, life eventually gives students a reality check that can catch them off guard.
“I think most people have their epiphany somewhere in their sophomore year or junior year and say ‘listen, I’ve got to really nail this down.’”
Sadhana Thapa, a senior women’s studies major, had her own battle with procrastination.
“At some point, I had that sort of feeling, about being distressed, especially as students we all have this habit of procrastination. So, I used to be one of those until I entered senior year, and I started managing my time,” she noted.
How to Deal with Anxiety
Though it may seem like anxiety is lurking around every corner, there are numerous ways to handle it effectively.
A big part of anxiety’s hold on a person stems from the state of his or her mindset. If people dwell upon the problems they face, stress can build up. Eventually it becomes a cycle that feeds upon itself.
Students have to find ways to keep from dwelling on stressful thoughts. One of the best ways to do that is to stay active. For Hicks, exercising and being focused on classes has helped a lot.
“It did kind of fade away as school started, but I’ve also been going to the gym in the mornings. It helps me clear my mind before I go to class,” she said.
Thapa also uses the gym to her advantage.
“Being able to go exercise, meditation, yoga helps a lot. Yoga is a big part of my life, which helps to give that peace to my mind when I am stressed out, so whenever you have time besides studying, you use those facilities that are on campus.”
Another way to fight it is to have a strong network of friends. The U.S. Surgeon General’s key to mental and emotional well-being focuses on strengthening relationships within the community and between family and friends.
For Vance, her network of friends and family were instrumental throughout college.
“Prioritize. Have a good set of friends,” she said. “If it wasn’t for a good, firm foundation with my friends, I wouldn’t get through with it honestly.”
Vance also noted that her relationship with her church has helped a lot.
The Surgeon General also states that participation in community or public programs helps strengthen those relationships. Most seniors agree that participation in campus events and programs has forged new friendships and strengthened existing relationships on campus.
Another way to eliminate anxiety is by developing a way of calming yourself, even if it is a simple breathing exercise. Getting worked up over an issue tends to reinforce the stress.
Final Step into the World
One of the best ways to overcome anxiety is to have a plan for the future. The catch is allowing that plan to change.
“How boring would it be to, at eighteen, know exactly what you’re going to do and never have a surprise in your life?” Velek commented.
Students need an idea of their ideal future, while also staying aware of the options available to them.
Life never follows a plan exactly, but keeping a guideline and taking opportunities that become available is a great way to manage the journey.
“It’s life, everybody has their problems. I don’t try to focus on them. It’s like, hey, just finish,” Vance said.
A lot of anxiety is also based on a limited perspective. Seniors preparing to graduate tend to stress about what is ahead, while Velek observes it should be a time of hope.
“There’s something very exciting about being at that point in your life where everything is possible. The road ahead is wide open. There’s no limits,” he reflected.
“You’ve got a good education, you’re prepared, all of a sudden your life map is just wide open and out there. It should be a really exciting time in a person’s life to have that whole vista in front of them. I think the unknown is kind of fun.”