In 2015, the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, overseen by Pennsylvania State University, conducted a study focused on the mental health of college students. The results were overwhelming; within the 140 universities who participated in the study, over 100,000 students sought mental health treatment.
These students largest concern? Their anxiety—over relationships, emotions and stress, with the main contributor being academically-related matters such as rigorous assignments, demanding professors and overwhelming expectations.
The National Institute of Mental Health defines an anxiety disorder as a feeling of stress that “does not go away and can get worse over time.” This degree of anxiety surpasses the temporary stress that results from receiving a bad grade on a test or fighting with a roommate, causing a persistent feeling of worry or stress that does not fade with time and often interferes with daily activities.
Causes of anxiety in college students are abundant due to the extreme life changes that occur during this season, but Dr. Jean Twenge, associate professor of psychology at San Diego State University, believes there’s another culprit: social media.
“At a time when we have the potential for more connectivity than ever, we tend to be less connected,” says Chair of the Behavioral Sciences department and professor of abnormal psychology, Randall Feller.
The instant access and gratification that comes from social media has become a magnet for anxious users, because it eases feelings of missing out or lack of control. Unfortunately, using social media as an outlet cannot calm persistent anxiety and often contributes to a person’s overall stress levels, which makes Twenge’s suggestion simple, but definitely not easy: put down the phone.
In an age where everyone’s lives are at our fingertips, Twenge’s advice isn’t easily acted out, but it may also be the easiest way to lower anxiety levels in college students.
Feller echoes this sentiment, and offers a few tips to college students dealing with persistent anxiety. “The number one thing you can do is exercise and have a strong support network; the third and fourth things are having a subset of faith-based people and a healthy diet.”