Advice for parents about the career options for their children

Is Your Teen Suffering From Pre-University Anxiety?


Results day is fast approaching: the moment of truth. Many students feel a great amount of pressure to meet the expectations of their parents, their teachers and themselves: the desire to get good exam results can be overwhelming. But once those results are achieved and the university place accepted (whether at their first choice university or at a different school selected through clearing) another reality comes to the fore: the reality that they will be leaving home and entering a new phase of their lives. For many prospective students, this pre-university period can  lead to extreme anxiety-like reactions.

What Does Anxiety Look Like?

Anxiety isn't necessarily a bad thing: it is the body's natural reaction to perceived danger, and forms part of your inbuilt defence system. However  anxiety can develop into a condition that elicits concern if it dominates your life: symptoms such as insomnia, loss of appetite or desire to overeat, knotty feelings in your stomach, low levels of energy and experiencing mood swings are all signs of anxiety. These symptoms tend to develop gradually and sufferers may even begin to have trouble breathing, or experience panic attacks too. Whilst anxiety can be a difficult and restrictive condition to deal with at any stage of your life, these symptoms can be especially difficult to cope with when you are trying to study, settling into a new town or city, and form new bonds and friendships.

Whether they are outwardly showing signs of concern or putting up a front of unconcerned bravado, it is likely that most prospective university students will be experiencing some pre university anxiety at this point.

Let's face it, going to university  leaves plenty to be stressed about. Moving house is considered to be one of the most stressful things anyone can do. Combined with the fact that the  average student will graduate with around £30,000 of debt, and the pressures of study and potentially finding part-time work in order to fund tuition fees and living costs, and you have a recipe for stress. People deal with these kinds of stresses differently: whilst some students may exert their stresses in the gym, others will choose to have a few too many in the local pub with their friends one night, and some teens will react to the pre-university stress by developing anxiety.

How to Support an Anxious Teen

As parents, we can support our children by being aware of the symptoms of anxiety, and by helping them to differentiate between normal nerves and more severe anxiety that may well need medical support to overcome. There is no shame in suffering from anxiety, or any other mental health problem, and it is important to remember that the earlier you seek support for the condition, the easier it will be to treat and overcome so that they can get back on track with their university career, and enjoy every moment of it.  Anxiety is a common condition, and one that is likely to ebb and flow: it may well even be that once your teen arrives at university and experiences it, their stress and anxieties simply disappear. If not, there are huge amounts of support available for teens that are suffering from anxiety. Your GP or the counsellor at your university will be able to help. Even talking about your feelings with your friends, family and teachers can be hugely beneficial.  Seeking this support enables your teen to regain control of their life, which in and of itself can help to reduce anxiety.

As the parent of  a teen about to start university, it can be hard to know when to offer support and when to take a step back. However good self-care (such as eating a healthy balanced diet and drinking plenty of water) can actually help to control anxiety, as can regular exercise and getting plenty of sleep, so taking the time to encourage these behaviours in your teen (however unlikely they are to follow them through during fresher's week) may well be good for their health. Their university years have the potential to be the best years of their life, so you have much to gain by giving your teen a good start and helping them to reduce their anxiety levels before their course begins. 

Written by Anne Farmer