If you’re completely stressed, you may have already reached out to the behavioral health center on campus and signed up for therapy sessions. Good move! But in addition to talking to a counselor, there are concrete steps you can take that will help dial down your anxiety levels at any time of the day or night. And you can start right away. Ben Locke, PhD, is a college mental health expert and the founder/executive director of the Center for College Mental Health (CCMH) at the Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pennsylvania. CCMH is an international practice research network of more than 380 counseling centers. Here are his tips.

#1. Step Away from Technology

It’s indisputable that the 24-7 culture we live in feeds our anxiety. How many times have you happily settled into bed with a book when a new photo of your friends appears on your phone and engages you in some form of revel. Suddenly you’re worrying about why you’re not there with them, why no one texted you, and why you’re alone in your room with this book (that you actually want to read). Stop! “We’re always on a phone, we’re always on a screen, we’re always scrolling through information,” says Dr. Locke.

Remember when you used to be able to read a newspaper, get your news, and close the pages? Those days are over. This constant feed of stimulating electronic images and facts overwhelms us and contributes to anxiety, he says.

Unplugging doesn’t have to be permanent, but you do have to be committed to giving yourself a break. “Make a really concerted effort to be intentional about how much you [use technology],” says Dr. Locke. “‘Intentionality’ is the word that I like to apply here: Making conscious decisions about how you spend your time.” Otherwise, he says, it’s all too easy to move sideways into habits such as constantly checking your phone and even bringing it to bed with you. A better idea: Put some distance between you and your phone. At night, activate the “do not disturb” option or leave the phone outside the bedroom and set an old-fashioned alarm clock. Resign yourself to check email 2 or 3 times a day (morning, noon and after dinner) not whenever you hear the familiar “ping”. The constant stream of sounds derails your focus and interrupts your concentration and other activities.

If you’re down with putting down the phone but are surrounded by friends who can’t seem to let go of theirs, Dr. Locke suggests making a game of it when you’re out with the gang. “You can create a competition out of stacking the phones in the middle [of the table], and the first person who reaches for her phone pays for coffee or the meal,” he says. Don’t believe a community of supportive friends can go a long way toward beating tech addiction? Think again. According to Dr. Locke, your squad may very well want to step back from too much technology. “It is the most common struggle in college, and the funny thing is that everybody thinks they’re the only one struggling with it.”

#2. Be Aware of Social Media Traps

Once you’ve gotten a handle on your tech habit, you’ll probably still choose to be on social media from time to time, at least. But ask yourself what you’re really getting out of a medium where everybody is taking care to curate and post images of their best selves—images that may not have much to do with reality. “[Be] aware that social media is specifically engineered to trigger addictive activity in the brain,” says Dr. Locke. If you feel badly about your appearance and your social life after scrolling through the Instagram feed of a lifestyle influencer, maybe it’s time to put the brakes on social media use. If you’re someone who uses social media to show off and inspire envy, ask yourself why spending so much time on this is important to you. Above all, make an effort to connect with people in real life—not over a social media feed.

#3. Be Realistic About Your Time and Ability

No doubt, it often takes a lot of hard work just to get into college. And that achievement mindset begins earlier than ever. “People are fighting to get their sons and daughters tracked into the right classes,” says Dr. Locke, referring not just to the parents of high school students but to elementary ones and even younger. This determination to always be the best and in the top levels of everything can be exhausting and contribute to burnout. Even if you felt you had to take every single AP class in high school, there’s no rule that you must sign up for the most advanced courses on your college campus while simultaneously playing on the ultimate frisbee team and running for student senate. “You don’t have to do it all at once,” says Dr. Locke. “You can plan [your path] out over many years.”

#4. Practice Selfcare

We know you’ve heard this advice before, but it bears repeating. Paying attention to the needs of your body and mind will pay off in big ways. “You should probably stretch every day; you should probably sleep [enough] every day,” says Dr. Locke. “Exercise regularly, contribute to causes, be grateful, [and] spend time with people.” That’s not to say that every single day needs to be comprised of a multitude of physical and mental well-being activities, he adds: “Any of those that work for you are important.” The main thing? Disengaging from automatic behaviors that are counterproductive and making an effort to be mindful of how you spend every single one of your 168 hours a week.



Last Updated: Sep 8, 2020