Revealing The Devastating Reasons for Anxiety in College Students 

We’re covering the top five reasons for anxiety in college students. It’s really an important discussion. I can’t emphasize this more because anxiety is by far the top issue for college students regardless of disability status, regardless of if you’re neurotypical or not. 

Anxiety is the number one issue. It always has been, it probably always will be. Knowing what may cause anxiety to happen may help you plan better and prepare for when it occurs. Anxiety is not a matter of if, but when. These reasons for anxiety in college students are presented in no specific order.

If you’d like to listen to this content, here’s my podcast all about it.

One: Poor College Planning 

What’s the number one cause of anxiety? So, and this is in no order, so I’m not saying number one being the best. It’s just in really kind of no order. The first cause of anxiety for college students is poor college transition planning. This goes with the stress that’s associated with college transition. 

The first semester is a big semester. There’s a lot of transition going on. There’s a lot of newness. A lot of unknown, and if you’re not planning for that transition well, anxiety can be elevated. This isn’t just practical transition stuff, like do I have enough snacks? Did I take soap? Do I have enough clothes? Do I have my own mini fridge?  

All those things are important, but the planning, especially for students with hidden disabilities, takes on a whole other level of importance. If you’re looking for accommodations, you must plan for that as well as all the practical concerns.  

It’s important to choose a school that’s going to give you the best plan for accommodations. That’s something to factor in. You also factor in, if you have a mental health issue, or ADHD, and you’re taking medications for it, you must plan for that.  

Consider College Services

Do the university services meet your needs even if you’re in the same state? Does your provider enable you to do telehealth? Is telehealth a choice if you have not considered it before? But if you’re not planning for those things up front, it’s going to make it much more difficult for you.   

You might be thinking, ‘I’m just going to go ahead and wing it when I get to campus,’ or ‘I’ll go to the student health center and see what they offer.’ That is not good planning. If your institution doesn’t provide what you need, you may need to choose a school that does.  

Planning for your wellness is not exciting, but it is practical and preventative. It means that if you choose to plan well, that’s one less stressor to worry about. The school’s services may or may not supply what you need. You need to know before you go.  

If you’re not thinking about how you’re going to transition, and what to do to make that transition better, then that’s something that can go wrong. It can add to stress levels and anxiety. Avoid that. A little prevention and preparation can reduce stress and anxiety. 

Two: Poor Time Management and Poor Task Management

Poor time management and poor task management are major contributors to poor academics, especially the first semester. Time management and Task management are separate issues. If you’re not managing your time well, then there’s a lot of overwhelm.  

There’s a lot of differences in structure from high school. College schedules have huge time gaps in the day. How are you managing those gaps? Are you maximizing your ability to have the day that you want?  Are you meeting the responsibilities that you have voluntarily taken on? 

Within the daily schedule, how are you managing what you need to do for homework and your class assignments? This is task management. Putting both together, time management is the skill where you set aside specific times in your daily schedule to get things done. Task management is planning for doing the work during the time you just set aside.  

If you’re not doing those two things well, the overwhelm that happens causes anxiety levels just to shoot through the roof causing panic attacks to happen often. Overwhelm can have a profound impact on academics.  

Grades get lower, you’re turning things in late, it’s hard to concentrate, you procrastinate more. It’s not a good situation if you’re not managing time and tasks well.  Time management is one of reasons for anxiety in college students that directly leads to a lack of academic success. Most college graduates surveyed cited time management as the one skill that would’ve helped their grades the most.

If you need more help with time management, check out my course specific for college students.

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Three: Mental Health Issues.  

You must think about mental health issues as being something that can surface at any time. It’s also the most influential reasons for anxiety in college students. Anxiety ranks first and depression second (but at half the rate). Students are also going into college with previously diagnosed mental health conditions in larger numbers than ever before. Once a stressor hits, existing symptoms worsen. If no previous diagnosis exists, stressors can easily lead to a diagnoseable issue.

If not addressed or treated properly, normal stressors can lead to more serious issues. For example, you’re dating somebody form high school, but you break up during the first semester. That’s a demanding thing to experience. Your favorite pet or elderly family member passes away. That’s a grief issue and equally hard. If you have an underlying mental health condition, it’s easy to see how any stressor can make it worse.

Wellness Planning and Support

It makes a person question how do you manage stressors when they come up? How you stay well and cope with stressors makes a significant difference. You may find yourself feeling homesick, a normal reaction. Yet, homesickness can lead to depression if you don’t cope well. It can make dealing with college transition harder and more difficult to concentrate and plan.  

It’s hard to do tasks, get homework done, and get started and follow through. If issues get worse, it increases the amount of anxiety which affects all other areas of college life too. Now, it’s not only anxiety. You have all the academic pressure, social pressure, missing home, adjusting to an unfamiliar environment, and no support. 

If you don’t know how to manage those things when they come up and you don’t know what support is available to you, that’s a big gap. Regardless of the cause, it’s important to figure out how you are going to take care of it. 

If you are not familiar with campus support, getting help takes longer which can make the issue worse. Over a brief period, not having the right support can have compounding negative effects. Seek help from your campus health services, counseling services, and even spiritual center staff.

Four: Family Stressors.  

This is something where we see an awful lot of commuter students that have family obligations outside of academics. Yet, family stressors can happen to any student. Students might be a part-time caregiver to an older family member or helping with younger siblings.  

 It may be a financial stressor such as when a parent loses a job, for example. Family issues cause worry and anxiety. As mentioned before, students have all the other transition issues and academics, which, you know, can be an awful lot. So, the family stressors can cause the anxiety levels to go up. 

I must stress here that these are normal things that happen. Normal things that occur throughout a college semester or even a college academic year. They can spring up suddenly, like a parent having a health diagnosis or an ER visit.   

Students are placed in a position to figure out how they are going to cope and still do well in school. Having the right lifestyle and support makes anxiety lessen. It does not make it go away. Support and lifestyle changes just make it easier.  

As parents you may be tempted to keep information from them or reassure your student that things are all good. Instead, I recommend this. Tell them what’s going on and keep them informed. That doesn’t mean telling them everything, nor placing your emotional burden on them. It does mean keeping them informed and encouraging them to use their own support to care for themselves, much like you are doing.  

Five: Financial Stress 

a man staring at a calculator, Reasons for Anxiety in College Students
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Financial stress is always something in the background for most students. Where it becomes stressor that leads to anxiety is not planning for it. For example, having the bills pile up at the bursar’s office, or not submitting your FASFA on time. Repeated emails asking to pay your tuition. A hold on your student account for unpaid library fees, and you’re struggling to find the money to do that. 

Financial aid may not be something that you’re used to navigating. Budgeting and basic money management may be new or lack experience. Students may not be able to know what campus supports are available for financial issues. If finances are not dealt with, like many other issues, stress piles up.  Check with your student services office if they have a program for basic financial skills.

Financial stress can build up affecting all areas of life at college, especially academics. Students may be thinking the worst and asking, ‘am I going to be back for the next semester?’ That worry and concern can be debilitating, and some students give up entirely. Don’t let your student do that. Encourage them to finish strong regardless of the financial outcome.  

Financial Stress and Hunger

Also, basic financial needs can lead to other kinds of areas that can cause anxiety and stress, which is lack of food. Food banks are the number one growing service on college campuses. In fact, I there’s about 500-600 foodbanks on college campuses across the nation, and it keeps growing.   If you’re not eating well, you don’t know where to eat and you’re not sure how to eat and you don’t have food, that’s a big deal. It’s going to affect absolutely everything. If a student does not feed themselves well, they cannot study well. The brain needs food to process all the information. If the brain has less, academics are less.  


Reasons for anxiety in college students can have a variety of causes. These are the top five from my experience. All can be deal with, so the effects do not hinder academic success. Know the support that you have for college that is available for each one of these issues. Knowing ahead of time can make things a lot easier once one of these issues happens. Look at the support your school has to prepare your student before they go. If they never need it, good, but you’ll be glad you did the work if you do.  

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. Nothing should be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice consult a lawyer. Although I am a therapist, I’m not your therapist. Any accommodations mentioned may or may not fit for your specific disability needs. All the information contained is for educational and informational purposes only

To help you plan for college better and know what supports are available at your school, I have a College Services Planner. It’s free. Click the link below.