Student Anxiety: “How can I help?”

If you haven’t read the story from the Chronicle of Higher Education, “I don’t know how to ask for help” about the anxiety and stress that students face in college, you should. The article gives a short summary of the issue of student anxiety and the study that was done by Active Minds, but the bulk of the article is personal stories from individual students about their experiences with anxiety, what causes it, how they handle it and what they wish their friends, professors and campuses knew about anxiety.

I think this article has important points for all of us, because we can either relate to these students’ experiences or we cannot.

I think this article has an some important points for all of us, because we  can either relate to these students’ experiences, or we cannot.  There are many good takeaways form this article, but here are two of the main ones for me.

The reasons that students are experiencing anxiety are complicated, and not always their fault.

The students interviewed in this article mentioned many different kinds of stresses that brought on their anxiety, from heavy course loads and high expectations to financial concerns about paying rent and even personal or family problems.  Maybe we assume that if students have anxiety about their academic performance it’s because they are not studying enough but The Healthy Minds Study (2014-2015) found that students who studied less than one hour a week and students who studies more than eight hours a week experienced anxiety at almost the same rate (27% and 29%). Other academic causes of anxiety included being overwhelmed by large numbers of people and anxiety about being called on or required to participate in class by talking in front of the whole group.

As teachers, we should be aware and care about students’ anxiety because it can keep them from learning and we might be contributing to it.

Statistics reports in the article show that anxiety is negativity impacting the academic performance of at up to a quarter of our students and that 75% of students who utilize campus resources like council for stress saw an improvement in their academic performance.

I was particularly struck by the stories of students about why they missed class or turned in assignments late and how bad they felt about having to do that. I am guilty of assuming that students don’t show up for class because they just decided to take a long weekend or that late or poorly completed work is an indicator of poor time management or lack of discipline. Even though I would consider myself someone who can sympathize with student’s anxiety and am willing to help them, I probably appear like one of those professors who don’t seem to care about student’s mental health just because I make these judgements.

When students were asked how their professors could or have helped them deal with their anxiety their solutions were simple: sincerely asking how a student is doing and being supportive, extensions on an assignment, listening to instrumental music during an exam or class participation that does not require speaking in class. All of these things that I could easily do in my classes and interactions with students.


I encourage you to read the article or watch the seven minute video made along with the article for yourself.  Which statistics or stories resonated with you?








3 thoughts on “Student Anxiety: “How can I help?””

  1. Thank you for this post. A friend of mine also sent me this article and I do agree that anxiety can come from multiple places. It would be somewhat naive to believe that academics are the sole or predominant source of stress in student’s lives. Often as educators in the classroom, our focus on the syllabus, research, and tenure that we forget to look at our students from a holistic lens. That is why I appreciate you asking us to be more aware of our students needs and how anxiety plays a role in their pursuit of knowledge and learning.

  2. Thanks for reading and sharing your perspective on this too. It has been surprising to me, after reading this article, how frequently I encounter students (undergrads, grad students, vet students) who share this type of experience and from people who I don’t expect anxiety to be an issue.

  3. I really appreciate you sharing this information with us. Culturally, I grew up in an era where terms like “depression” and “stress” were still new. In fact, in Spanish, there is no word for stress so we use the Anglicized word “estress.” I also come from an era that believed going to college was your transition to adulthood, and the student is responsible for managing his/her life, getting the work done on time, and speaking to the professor if there is an issue. It was not expected that a professor should reach out to you to see if you need help.

    I believe that my student’s success should be my success as a professor. So being more aware of the challenges students face today is important to me because my experience and upbringing is very different.

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