Wellness Tips for Managing Student Anxiety & Depression
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that approximately 4.4 million children ages 3-17 have been diagnosed with anxiety and 1.9 million children in that same age range have depression. Writing for The Conversation, David Rosenberg notes “research shows that nearly 1 in 5 university students are affected with anxiety or depression.”
The mental health struggles facing students today are real and pervasive, but many may not fully understand or take these afflictions seriously. Unlike physical health ailments such as a cold or the flu, mental health disorders may not have symptoms that are immediately recognizable or appreciated by others. Individuals may also experience symptoms of anxiety or depression without knowing they may be afflicted by those conditions.
It is important that students and educators fully understand the scope of anxiety and depression, and what treatment options and resources are available to help those who may be affected. While these health issues may impact specific individuals differently, there are still common tips to help students address their concerns.
Student Wellness Tips for Managing Anxiety
An individual can suffer from various types of anxiety disorders, each of which may impact that person in a unique or particular way. For example, a person may have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which Healthline defines as “anxiety following a traumatic event.” Another person may suffer from social anxiety disorder, which that same article calls “extreme fear of being judged by others in social situations.”
PTSD or social anxiety disorder may not manifest themselves in the same way or to the same degree in all people. But there are various wellness tips that can help individuals manage their specific anxiety condition or disorder.
Medications are a common treatment method to help individuals who may be facing anxiety or its symptoms. In an article published on the Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s website, Peter Roy-Bryne, MD details several classes of medications that can be used to treat anxiety conditions.
A selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) is “a type of antidepressant that works by blocking the reabsorption (reuptake) of serotonin into neurons,” according to the Mayo Clinic. Serotonin itself is a neurotransmitter that affects mood and behavior. A serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) is another type of antidepressant and is similar to an SSRI. The exception is that it also blocks the reabsorption of norepinephrine, another transmitter, in addition to serotonin.
Benzodiazepine, according to Roy-Bryne, is a class of medication that “promotes relaxation and reducing muscular tension and other physical symptoms of anxiety.”
A student who may be suffering from anxiety symptoms or an anxiety disorder may consult with a health care professional to determine which type of medication may help their symptoms and condition.
Understanding Anxiety Triggers
According to an article published in Healthline, “it’s clear that some events, emotions or experiences may cause symptoms of anxiety to begin or may make them worse. These elements are called triggers.” A wellness tip for students is to understand their own specific anxiety triggers.
College students may encounter many types of triggers that can spark or make their anxiety worse. Some students’ anxiety may be triggered by a major exam coming up or an important paper coming due. Anxiety may be worsened by new social encounters on campus. Other students may find themselves facing anxiety triggers prior to delivering a class presentation or speech.
Triggers don’t necessarily have to be associated with the collegiate landscape. Healthline notes how individuals with certain disorders may have their anxiety triggered by caffeine use, while others can experience anxiety triggers after changes in their diet.
For students who have associations with anxiety, it is important that they understand what their own specific triggers may be as well as how to manage them. Healthline suggests that to help identify anxiety triggers, individuals start a journal in which they keep notes and records of instances of anxiety and triggers. Additionally, consulting with a therapist and being able to monitor and evaluate one’s own thoughts can be beneficial, Healthline notes.
Even students who have been prescribed medication or are seeking mental health counseling can still face negative symptoms as a result of their anxiety conditions. Coping and wellness strategies have been shown to help, however.
An article from Psycom lists various coping strategies that can help children with anxiety. These strategies include encouraging children to write about their anxious feelings, which can help them sort out their negative thoughts and emotions. Another strategy Psycom lists is “talking back” to anxious feelings. For example, a child may state “you’re not in control of me” when experiencing a negative mood or emotion.
There are also a variety of coping strategies that can assist college students in particular who may be facing anxiety. Tips provided from Harvard Health Publishing include approaching the anxiety head on (such as finding ways to communicate with difficult professors instead of avoiding them) as well as practicing self-care, such as establishing a strong and consistent routine to follow throughout the day. Many college campuses also offer mental health resources such as counseling and peer-to-peer groups that can provide additional coping tips and mechanisms.
Healthy Diet and Exercise
Although mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression may be more difficult to understand than physical ailments, a person’s physical health is still directly intertwined with their mental health. Types of foods that are ingested can impact how a person thinks and feels, as can physical activities and exercise a person participates in.
This is why keeping a healthy diet and a strong exercise routine can be helpful wellness strategies for many students who are facing anxiety. The Mayo Clinic notes that “there aren’t any diet changes that can cure anxiety, but watching what you eat may help.” The Mayo Clinic also lists tips about specific healthy eating patterns. These include eating a breakfast that includes some protein, eating complex carbohydrates and balanced meals, and drinking plenty of water while avoiding caffeine and alcohol.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America also provides fitness tips that can help individuals manage stress and anxiety. These include going on regular jogs, walks, bike rides or runs throughout the week, and engaging in forms of exercise that are fun and enjoyable.
Meditation and Relaxation
Meditation and relaxation techniques can also help students who are facing anxiety and anxiety symptoms. The Mayo Clinic describes how meditation has been shown to benefit emotional well-being and help people manage mental health issues and conflicts. Specific types of meditation that can be beneficial according to the Mayo Clinic are guided meditation (incorporating mental images of a location the individual finds soothing or relaxing), mantra meditation (silently repeating a word or phrase to avoid negative thoughts) and mindfulness meditation, where individuals practice “having an increased awareness and acceptance of living in the present moment.”
According to the book Relaxation Techniques, specific relaxation techniques that can help individuals with anxiety include “box breathing,” where individuals use sequential, rhythmic deep breaths in anticipation of or response to a stressful situation. Guided imagery is a technique where “visualization of tranquil settings assists patients with managing stress via distraction from intrusive thoughts.” Yet another technique, progressive muscle relaxation, “involves tensing and releasing muscles, progressing throughout the body, with a focus on the release of the muscle as the relaxation phase.”
Student Wellness Tips for Managing Depression
Similar to anxiety, depression is a common and frequently misunderstood mental health issue that affects children and students across the United States. For those who have been diagnosed with depression or are facing depression symptoms, these wellness tips and resources can be beneficial.
Medication and Treatment
Medication is often prescribed to individuals who have depression. The National Alliance on Mental Illness provides an extensive list of different medication types and classes that can help individuals who are experiencing depression symptoms. These include SSRIs and SNRIs as described earlier, Norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitors or NDRIs, as well as mirtazapine, second-generation antipsychotics and other medications.
Each of these medications can impact a person’s mental activity differently and may be more or less effective depending on the depression symptoms and condition. Consultation with a medical professional is necessary to determine what medication may help an individual with their respective symptoms.
Student Organizations and Hotlines
Students who are living on college campuses are often away from home for the first time. Those who are facing depression may not have immediate access to the same types of mental health resources that were available at home. Student organizations that focus on mental health and wellness can help these students in addressing their health concerns.
College campuses frequently provide mental health offices and resources, such as counseling sessions. For example, Rider University offers free and confidential counseling services to its students, as well as an online wellness magazine and larger health services spread out over two campuses.
Schools and organizations can also offer hotlines for students who are facing mental health concerns or issues. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers a confidential, around-the-clock hotline to individuals who are facing substance abuse or mental health disorders at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). The national suicide prevention lifeline is also 24/7 and is available to individuals who may be facing serious emotional and mental health concerns. Their number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Healthline provides various wellness tips for coping with depression using stress management techniques. These include adhering to a healthy sleep, dietary and exercise schedule, and partaking in breathing exercises and activities that one enjoys. Psycom also suggests that individuals adopt a different viewpoint or outlook, visualize positive memories, stay socially active and provide themselves things to look forward to.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness also provides tips for parents on how they can help children with depression. These include providing emotional support, encouraging a healthy lifestyle (such as regular exercise, sleep and a good diet), and encouraging them to create meaningful relationships through clubs, activities and gatherings.
Speaking to a Mental Health Professional
There are many instances in which adjusting diet or daily activities can help address depression symptoms over a period of time. However, each child or student’s experiences with anxiety and depression may be different. This is why consulting with a mental health professional can be advantageous. Individual consultation can help determine the severity of the depression, what medications may help, as well as what coping strategies and mechanisms may be successful.
Mental health professionals can include psychiatrists who can provide treatment and prescriptions for medications, as well as counselors and social workers who can help address emotional conflicts. The National Alliance on Mental Illness provides helpful tips for locating mental health professionals. These tips include seeing a physician for a physical exam, consulting with peer support groups in advance of an appointment, gathering referrals from health insurance providers, and asking questions regarding a professional’s ability and experience such as how long they have been practicing, what their education is and what their rates may be.
There is no right or wrong way to address anxiety or depression. How a person experiences these symptoms and conditions can vary. But for children and students — as well as their parents, friends and loved ones — it is important that the full scope of treatments and resources be considered.