Four Ways to Help Overwhelmed College Students

One of the most common words I hear from my college students these days is “anxiety.” Generally, they tell me this while checking their phone every 6 seconds so they can respond to or check for notifications from a thousand apps competing for their attention. I watch this happen and wonder if they can see the correlation.

In his book “Marching Off the Map,” Tim Elmore shares this statistic: “The average high schooler experiences the same anxiety level as a 1950s psychiatric patient.” When I shared this statistic with some of my students recently and asked if it resonated with them, they were unsurprised. They are all dealing with anxiety on some level or another. Many of them are even on anxiety medication because it is so severe.

As someone who works with and also loves college students, it’s hard to watch them suffer. They are overwhelmed and dropping the ball on their responsibilities, both in school and outside of it. 

Obviously, we can’t turn back time to the days before smart phones and multi-tasking on 5 screens (and personally I wouldn’t want to go back to those days, either). We have to figure out how to fight on behalf of their margin time. Not so we can fill it with our own agendas, but so we can instill in them the value of having margin in their lives. They don’t like hearing it, but life doesn’t get easier after college. Knowing how to manage time wisely goes a long way toward maintaining sanity and the earlier they learn it, the better.

So how do we do this? The answer, at least for me so far, is a work in progress. Here’s what I have come up with, and I would love to know what others are doing.

1. We must convince our students that living in a constant state of overwhelmed anxiety is not normal. They think it is because it’s the norm for everyone around them. But they can’t sustain it for long before they come crashing down either mentally, physically or emotionally (or all 3).

2. We must model for them a life that includes margin. We want them to learn to be present, but are we present with them? Do we put away our phones during meetings with students? Do we have weeknights or weekends available to hang out with them? Do they see us living life at a normal pace? Different seasons of life notwithstanding, they can tell when we’re not practicing what we preach.

3. We must help them filter the information they are exposed to 24/7. Can we convince them to turn off phone notifications (or at least, not receive notifications from every single app)? Can we encourage them to spend some quiet time alone each day? Never before in history have we had access to so much information at once, and I’m convinced the sheer amount of it contributes largely to how overwhelmed we feel.

4. We must teach them how to take their anxiety to the throne of Jesus Christ. If they can learn to filter their lives through the lens of the Gospel, they will handle it with much less stress.

Psalm 94:19 says, “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy” (NIV). I know the God I serve can take anxiety and replace it with joy, and it’s my goal to convince the students around me to let Him do that in their lives. May we press on in our fight for the souls around us. Jesus is worth it.

Corley Shumaker serves as Assistant Campus Minister at the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at Arkansas State University. She loves Red Wolves football, nail polish, and flowers. You can find her on Twitter at @corleycline.