Stress. Anxiety. Procrastination. Self-doubt. Don’t fall into these traps in college

Health, Fitness & Food

Having to pursue college during a pandemic has left 95% of college students with negative mental health symptoms, according to a survey from, impacting their academic performance and early career success.

Since 2014, anxiety and depression have been college students’ leading mental health issues, according to research conducted by Boston University.

What many students don’t realize is that a lot of the pressure and stress is under their control. This means you should be selective – and realistic – in the jobs, internships, projects and extracurricular activities you take on outside of school. Students and beginning professionals need to establish good habits to manage their time and reaction to things. And, periodically, you need to check in and ask yourself: Am I doing too much? Is it having an impact on my life?

David Robinson, a first-year law student at the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University College of Law and a spring 2021 graduate of Howard University, experienced anxiety-induced procrastination much of his senior year having to trade his face-to-face connections with screen-to-screen ones.

David Robinson, a first year law student at Florida A&M University College of Law and a spring 2021 Howard University graduate.
Source: David Robinson

“The biggest theme… was just a lot of procrastination. Insane amounts of procrastination. Even just waking up to do Zoom was just a fight to get on the screen — sometimes camera-ready, sometimes not —just being present and bringing everyone together for school was just a big stressor,” Robinson said.

Procrastination is both a result and driver of anxiety and the more you do can cause greater procrastination. After having lost his summer internship due to the pandemic, Robinson resorted to pursuing real estate as a form of professional development. Thus, during his senior year, Robinson had to study for both the LSAT and the Florida state real estate license at the same time.

Members of Generation Z, who are currently in college and entering the workforce, tend to be appreciation-driven and love opportunities to showcase their abilities in the workplace, according to Empxtrack, a human resources software firm.

Roger Lin is a 22-year-old finance major at the University of Utah. As an intern with HF Foods Group during his sophomore year, he exhausted himself trying to impress his superiors.

“I was really interested in this project and I asked my owner if I could work on this merger. For two months, I was meeting with investment bankers and putting together financial statements for the eventual merger,” Lin explained. “The investment bankers flew into town and I showed them the nuts and bolts of our business since I’ve been working there for so long. This was a big workload when combined with schoolwork and the sales role that I was involved in at the time,” he continued.

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Though taking on several opportunities may be a resume-booster, it can have poor effects on mental health, according to Frederica Boso, a licensed mental health counselor in the state of Florida and a therapist for Brightside, a teletherapy company that focused on cognitive behavioral therapy.

“If you spread yourself out too thin, nothing is gonna get done the way you want it. It’s easier to work with a smaller amount of work or to break things down into castes of work that’s easier for you and more manageable,” Boso said.

She suggested taking things slowly and in small portions to manage feelings of anxiety. Addressing these issues early on is important because, left unaddressed, it can fester into issues for recent graduates’ professional development.

Maria Offutt, a graduate of the Ohio State University and current internal recruitment manager for Teach For America (TFA), was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder while working in her first post-graduate role as an elementary school teacher.

Maria Offutt, an internal recruitment manager for Teach For America and a 2019 graduate of the Ohio State University.
Source: Fernanda Ruiz

“I remember my parents coming up to see me about six months into teaching my first year … and they were like, ‘You look different …’ The reason I looked different was because I had lost 15 pounds since the last time I saw them because I was so overwhelmed with my anxiety … my anxiety was no longer social, it was like generalized anxiety disorder that was not going away any time soon,” Offutt reflected.

Offutt felt much pressure in her role, fearfully questioning: ‘Am I good enough? Am I what my kids deserve? Am I the kind of caring leader in the classroom that will really benefit these kids?’

One thing a lot of people do is get hung up on things that didn’t go their way. They view it as somehow they failed. If you have those perfectionist tendencies, take a second to just reframe it.

Rebecca Heiss, a stress physiologist and a public speaker, explained how cognitive reframing can alter our interaction with stress and anxiety. “Instead of accepting something as a failure, view it as a lesson,” she said.

If you are struggling with any of these things, here are a few tips from Heiss and Boso to help manage the things that cause stress and anxiety:

  1. Heiss says an easy way to look at it is to do your ABCs. ASK yourself — Is it a life or death situation? BREATHE. Get CURIOUS about what you do have control of and what you can do to regain control.
  2. Have a support system—counselors, friends, mentors— you can lean on.
  3. Don’t personalize your errors.
  4. Make hobbies out of activities you’re naturally inclined to.

Some of the early professionals and college students I spoke to use some of these tips to their advantage.

“The one thing that helps me the most is always interacting with others…it’s so helpful to have people you can talk to,” Lin said.

Robinson has adopted many outlets that don’t relate to the legal field to set the boundary between his academic life and personal life.

“I like cooking now… exercise… a little bit of yoga…I like journaling,” he said.

Current college students and entry-level professionals have spent most of their lives with someone else (parents, teachers, etc.) being in charge of their time. Now, time belongs to them, and it’s so much more than deciding when to study, when to go out and when to go to sleep — or stay up late. It’s about actively managing time and activities and recognizing when anything becomes overwhelming. Need to take a break? Slow down or ask for help. Otherwise, that stress can snowball out of control and wreak havoc on our lives and mental health. 

Over the holiday break, take a few minutes to assess your stress level and see if there are changes you need to make to keep the balance. Ask yourself: How is my stress level? Is it too much? What can I do to manage it better? And if you need help or support, ask for it. Just because you are on your own in college doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. Ask a friend, a family member or contact your university’s counseling center.

We all experience stress. But how you react to it makes all the difference.

CNBC’s “College Voices″ is a series written by CNBC interns from universities across the country about getting their college education, managing their own money and launching their careers during these extraordinary times. Darreonna Davis, a junior studying journalism at Howard University, is currently an intern for CNBC’s Specials Team. The series is edited by Cindy Perman.

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