When young adults go to university, they enter a different ‘world’. From food to the people they meet on different levels, even their home life changes for those who stay at the student residence. Likewise, children embarking on their primary or high school career, also have to contend with unfamiliar territory.

Even though this may be an exciting chapter for some, for others these changes may cause a great deal of anxiety, which could negatively affect them. So says Tegan Rix, an occupational therapist at Akeso Clinic Milnerton.


“A change in environment and support structures when trying to create a home away from home, are some of the main pressures for students. As this adjustment may prove to be already an impossible task for some, the academic demands from university can be overwhelming. Students often experience what is known as test and exam anxiety which inhibits their ability to perform, as well as they otherwise could have.

“Other stressors include financial concerns, social and relationship pressures and worries about the future. The fear of the unknown is daunting and students face extreme anxiety about the next best step in the right direction to ultimately create a life worth living,” she explains.


Anxiety is a general term that is used to cover several different types of disorders, all of them having the feelings of nervousness, worry, fear and apprehension in common. This is often accompanied by physical symptoms such as sweating palms and a tight chest,” Rix points out.


“While a healthy measure of anxiety is essential for human survival as it serves as an emotional protective system, this response can become disabling when it results in excessive physiological arousal as well as cognitive, emotional and behavioural disturbances in everyday life. This can have a ripple effect on a person’s social and occupational functioning,” she adds.

Anxiety vs stress

According to Rix the words stress and anxiety are often used interchangeably in conversation, but there is a difference. “When we feel stressed, we are able to locate exactly where it is coming from: meeting a deadline for an assignment, an upcoming race or sports match, constantly butting heads with a loved one. After the route of stress is resolved, you feel relieved.


“The source of anxiety, however, is much harder to pinpoint. This, in itself, is frustrating as it can be a constellation of problems from all areas of life which contribute to this emotion and before you know it, anxiety takes on a life of its own and we feel like we are a victim to this sometimes debilitating emotional manifestation. We may also continue to feel uneasy after a perceived threat has passed.”

10 Tips to control anxiety

1. Avoid some substances which may have mood-altering properties such as caffeine and alcohol, as much as possible.

2. Get active. Working out anxiety with a lot of sweat really works for some people. Do something that is fun! The more you do it, the more good hormones are released which can have a positive effect on sleep, digestion and mood.

3. Eat healthily – anxiety can throw our bodies way out of control and may cause us to crave the wrong type of foods. Try eating more food that has vitamin B’s, Omega 3 and whole- grain carbohydrates.

4. Control your breathing- learn to take slow, intentional belly breaths.


5. Find healthy ways to soothe you – learn to engage your senses in a way that makes you feel relaxed. It is important to do these things regularly and work preventatively.

6. Learn mindfulness; this helps us to stay in the present moment. By focusing on the present moment, you are not dwelling on the mistakes of the past, nor or you overwhelmed by thoughts of the future. There are amazing apps such as Headspace or Insight Timer that you can download on your phone to help reduce anxiety wherever you go.

7. Get enough sleep – make sure your 8 hours spent sleeping is of good quality by following sleep hygiene principles. Sleep deprivation is a huge anxiety culprit as it amplifies the brains anticipatory reactions, upping our overall level of anxiety.

8. Plan ahead. We can fight our anxious thoughts by learning to plan ahead. This can be done by scheduling a to-do list and developing habits that increase productivity; even if this means waking up a bit earlier.

9. Meditate and not medicate. Calm is an inside job – take time out of your day to practice meditation or taking a time out where you can disconnect. This means no phone, no emails, no TV, no people.

10. Practice acceptance – learn to accept anxiety and not to fight. We can’t control emotions, but we can control the way we react towards them.