The cusp of time between summer vacation and the beginning of one’s years in university may feel daunting. Transitioning to higher education can involve a series of mundane, miniscule tasks that individuals may find themselves struggling with. From learning about expenses to scheduling academic courses, students may experience anticipatory anxiety with such challenges. According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA), anticipatory anxiety is defined as feeling negative emotions (worry, fear) when anticipating outcomes about the future. This type of anxiety is common among college students, who may doubt their compatibility with higher education or fear failure before even trying. However, students are not alone with such emotions and can find ways to improve their mental wellbeing. In fact, Christina Muraskas, a recent graduate from Fordham University, shares her journey navigating college as someone who's experienced anticipatory anxiety.
1. Can you tell us about your experience with anticipatory anxiety during your undergrad? How do you define anticipatory anxiety in the context of your college life?
I experienced some sense of anticipatory anxiety before starting college, as I was moving to a completely different state not knowing a single person. Throughout the rest of my undergrad, I can say with confidence I struggled with anticipatory anxiety before any big exam or presentation, as I would define myself as a perfectionist when it comes to school and always want to do well on everything. In the context of my college career, I would define anticipatory anxiety as a somewhat frequent presence, but not something to ignore. It was a beast that would immediately vanish as soon as I dove in headfirst to the task or event that was looming over my head.
2. How do you prepare for important events or deadlines in your academic journey? Can you describe any specific strategies you use to manage anticipatory anxiety during these periods?
I am an avid user of a journal or planner. I need to physically write things out to remember them best. If I see something due, some event/obligation I have, etc. physically written out every time I open my planner (which is many times a day), I am much more likely to get comfortable seeing it and knowing that it is coming up. This eases my anxiety. Other ways I manage my anticipatory anxiety are being gracious with myself and allowing myself to take breaks and take periods of time to myself to relax. I also enjoy working out, cooking, meditating, and listening to music to deal with all types of anxiety.
3. When you encounter a new academic challenge or a situation that triggers anxiety, how do you approach it? Can you walk us through your thought process and decision-making during such times?
My thought process usually goes like this:
Accepting that I might feel anxious about the challenge at hand and reminding myself that it is okay and that I have faced things like this before. Immediately writing down the date and time of the assignment or event. If it is a challenging academic task, I will also write down the parts I will break it down into and I will schedule a time/day to complete each of them. If it is an anxiety-inducing event or such, I take time out of my day every day until it occurs to give myself affirmations and hype myself up! I also remind myself that it is important to pat myself on the back once I get over the hump of anxiety and complete whatever I was faced with. Rewards are important so I always remember to treat myself too!
4. What role do social interactions and support from peers play in helping you cope with anticipatory anxiety? Can you share any specific instances where social interactions have been particularly helpful?
Being social takes my mind off of my anxiety, which I always think is a good thing. It’s temporary, and most of the time a needed, positive distraction. In my college career when I have faced anticipatory anxiety, it usually occurs in my single dorm room where I am stressing out about a looming task. All it takes to give me a needed relaxation break is to step out of my room and join my roommates in our common space to hang out for a bit, talk, and laugh- and I usually find I can return to the task with energy when it was originally giving me anxiety.
5. Are there any technological tools or applications that you utilize to manage anticipatory anxiety during your college life? How do these tools contribute to your overall well-being and academic success?
If my anticipatory anxiety is causing me trouble focusing or procrastination, I love to utilize an app called Study Buddy - it is a cute little digital bunny that “studies” with you at the same time. You can set a timer for how long you want to work uninterrupted and if you reach the end of the time without pausing for extended periods, you earn carrots to feed your Study Buddy and make him happy! It’s a cute and fun little app to make working on projects a lot calmer and more fun. This app always helps me focus and get work done because I want to earn those carrots!
6. How do you prioritize self-care and relaxation amidst the challenges of college life and anticipatory anxiety? Can you discuss any self-care routines or activities that have proven effective for you?
Self-care is my top priority over anything, no matter how pressing the task may be. If I’m not in a good space mentally or physically, how can I be expected to get anything done- especially something important that deserves my full effort and attention? I personally always devote at least 30 mins to an hour per day just for “me” time. I do my skincare routine, I eat a sweet treat, I do a workout, watch a TV show, read a book, etc. Anything I enjoy doing!
7. Do you feel comfortable seeking help or support from campus resources when facing anticipatory anxiety? If so, how have these resources positively impacted your college experience?
I did reach out to my campus resources a couple times when facing anticipatory anxiety. I utilized free therapy sessions to learn more techniques on dealing with anxiety and also to have a neutral 3rd party to talk to about my stress/to get advice on how to break down the things I was anxious about. Utilizing this resource reminded me that those resources are in fact there for me to turn to again if I need them when facing any sort of anticipatory anxiety. That is a safe, secure, and relaxing thought to always lean back on.
8. Can you recall any specific instances where your anticipatory anxiety affected your decision-making process in college? How do you analyze the outcomes of such situations and learn from them?
I can’t recall any specific instances- the anticipatory anxiety I deal with fuels and energizes me to make decisions faster. Anticipatory anxiety is - in a way - beneficial to me personally because it helps me with indecisiveness. It almost puts a sort of pressure on me to plan in a timelier manner because I know the decision is bound to be important.
9. Have you experienced any changes in your perception of anticipatory anxiety over the course of your undergrad? How has your understanding of this type of anxiety evolved, and how has it influenced your coping mechanisms?
I think my personal definition of the word has stayed the same since I learned what this “thing” actually was. That was the first and most important thing: defining the feelings I was dealing with. Once I knew it was in fact anticipatory anxiety that I was facing, it allowed me to better deal with it. I have learned now to anticipate this anticipatory anxiety, as funny as it sounds. I know exactly what to expect- the feelings, the mindset, etc. and I know what techniques to employ that work for me.
10. How do you balance the pressures of academic expectations and personal goals with managing anticipatory anxiety? Have there been any situations where these factors clashed, and how did you navigate through them?
Life is all about balance. Again, I enjoy using a planner to schedule out my entire life. I write down all obligations- school and personal. If things overlap, I have to make a decision and I am forced to pick which one is more pressing and important. Life is about making tough decisions sometimes too. I remind myself that there are only so many hours in the day. Some days, not everything I wanted to get done actually gets done, and it’s important to tell myself that. I pick up the next day where I left off, breathe, and move forward with my day.
11. In your view, what role does the overall campus environment and culture play in either exacerbating or alleviating anticipatory anxiety among college students? Can you suggest any potential improvements that could be made to better support students?
Campus environment and culture definitely helps with anticipatory anxiety in a way because it is a constant reminder that everyone is a student and that everyone is going through the same thing. You are not alone! Campus can be a community and it is a good feeling to surround yourself with people in the same situation as you. Campus culture can also serve as a necessary distraction from anticipatory anxiety- it’s important to be social and have fun too, not just let anxiety control your life. I would suggest that colleges implement focus groups that are an optional resource for students to use if they desire. These groups can meet an hour a week and serve as a completely open space, almost like an informal group therapy, for students to discuss their anxiety and school issues. It can serve as a live space to get feedback from like-minded peers on how to deal with these anxieties that come along with college life.
12. Have you participated in any mindfulness or stress-reduction programs on campus? If so, can you share your experiences and the impact of such programs on your ability to navigate anticipatory anxiety?
I have attended RA programs in my dorm building that have been focused on meditation and stress relief. They were a good break to step aside from the work causing anticipatory anxiety and meet with other students who needed stress relief at the same time as I did. These programs were great for RAs to teach us new tips and tricks on self-care, meditation, and stress reduction.
13. Reflecting on your college journey, what advice would you give to incoming students on managing anticipatory anxiety and maintaining overall well-being during their undergraduate studies?
To incoming college students, I would tell them first and foremost to expect all different types of anxiety, anticipatory anxiety included. I would tell them to constantly remind themselves that this is completely normal, and even if they may feel alone, they are absolutely not the only student going through this at the same time. I would tell them to remember that they as a person are stronger than their mind, causing this anxiety. Incoming students should make sure to talk about these things with their friends and peers- it’s very reassuring and always nice to have support. Lastly, use campus resources such as counseling and psych services, RA programs, student clubs and organizations, and the offices of student life/student affairs.
Whether through reading, using study apps like Study Buddy, or seeking support from professionals and peers on campus, individuals can find solace during times of anticipatory anxiety. Remember, as Christina points out, you are not alone. It is crucial to actively pursue solutions for overcoming such challenges and navigate one’s own moments of anticipatory anxiety.