Experiencing anxiety is a common occurrence – a normal reaction of the body to stress that occurs when individuals respond to a perceived, anticipated, or imagined threat or danger. For some students, this may involve feeling anxious before an important event like an exam, first date, or job interview. Anxiety may evoke several emotional responses, such as excessive fear or worry. It may also cause students to have a general sense of apprehension, nervousness, or jumpiness. Physical effects may also be present such as palpitations, difficulty swallowing, excessive sweating, and lightheadedness or dizziness.
The experience of transitioning and adjusting to school and meeting the demands of a rigorous academic schedule can be anxiety-provoking. Sometimes normal responses to anxiety or stress can be magnified in such a way that it becomes difficult to handle them and students feel incapacitated to respond. For example, it may become increasingly difficult for students experiencing this anxiety to perform normal daily activities like leaving the house or interacting with others. At times, these experiences are serious enough to be labeled as an anxiety disorder by professionals. There are several different types of anxiety disorders, including social phobias, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
According to the National College Health Assessment (NCHA), a small but considerable number of students experience anxiety. In 2005, 13.4 percent of students reported experiencing an anxiety disorder, up from 7 percent in 2000. Whether these findings illustrate a true increase in the rate of anxiety disorders is unknown.
There also seems to be a disparity between students who report having an anxiety disorder and those who are professionally diagnosed with one, a trend that is especially striking among women. According to the 2004 survey, 9 percent of males reported having anxiety problems but only 5 percent had been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. In women, 14 percent had anxiety problems but only 9 percent were diagnosed. Although this may illustrate a significant gap in mental health treatment services, it may also underscore researchers’ findings that the severity and impact of anxiety vary dramatically from person to person and that those experiencing anxiety may not always reach what professionals would consider to be the clinical threshold needed for a diagnosis.