General anxiety disorder

General anxiety disorder is common and can have particularly difficult consequences for students.


We are all familiar with that pre-exam panic situation where we replace sleep with eleventh hour revision and have coffee running through our veins instead of blood.

Sometimes the slight mention of ‘ExCeL’ makes many King’s students cringe as they’re reminded of days on end filled with anxiety.

A study by the University of Michigan shows about 15.6% of undergraduate and 13% of graduate students display anxiety disorders. Short-term anxiety is more than common during exams or even at the beginning of your first year, due to the extreme change in environment accompanied by the sudden realisation that you are now an adult who’s supposed to take out their own trash. However, it’s also common for students to become habituated to it and develop a chronic anxiety state.

A very common anxiety disorder is Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). According to the Centre for Anxiety Disorders and Trauma at King’s, 4-7% of the population will suffer from GAD at least once in their lifetime.

GAD patients are in a state of constant anxiety and worry about various issues, however small they may be. GAD is due to a long-term, incessant ‘fight-or-flight’ response, in which the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems trigger a hormone-release cascade to prepare the body to counteract the cause of the stimuli. This includes: increased heartbeat, accelerated breathing which lowers CO2 levels and causes dizziness, muscle tension, constriction of gut that leads to stomach ache and nausea, dehydration due to frequent urination and sweating, and more.

The most relevant complications of GAD are how intensely it can affect student life. When faced with a new situation, GAD sufferers perceive an irrational fear of the unknown. They tend to avoid social events. Fatigue, insomnia and constant worrying hinder their ability to concentrate on studies or gain new experiences.

GAD may also lead to secondary mental disorders such as depression. Furthermore, the afore mentioned ‘fear of the unknown’ may prevent sufferers from seeking help, exacerbating their poor mental and physical condition.

There are several ways to avoid and treat anxiety, along with the usual ‘eat healthy, sleep well’. When drowned by your worries, tackle them one at a time.

Try to schedule ‘worry periods’ beforehand to meet important deadlines. Accept uncertainty – if you are worried by an issue, it is most likely to be unproductive as it is generated by yourself, not the environment. Assess the likelihood of your fear taking place and if you can’t substantiate your fear, it is unlikely to come true.

You should also talk to someone. Talk to your close family and friends about your worries. More often than not, sharing your issues alleviates an invisible load off you. If you feel you are developing chronic anxiety, book an appointment with King’s Counselling Service.

If all else fails, study during the year rather than cramming just be-fore exams. I can’t promise that you will approach the ExCeL Centre freshly awoken from last night’s beauty sleep. However, you will certainly have a lot less to be anxious about.