Nov 23, 2015


Helping College Students with Anxiety

Tim Casteel shares valuable resources for helping college students with anxiety.

You’ve probably observed it but maybe haven’t put it into words – a greater tendency in this generation of college students toward anxiety and lack of resiliency. It seems that students today are more fragile and less able to handle life.

A 2014 survey by the American College Health Association reported that 54% of college students have “felt overwhelming anxiety” in the past year. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently featured an article entitled An Epidemic of Anguish, in which Robin Wilson observes, “[Students] haven’t developed skills in how to soothe themselves, because their parents have solved all their problems and removed the obstacles. They don’t seem to have as much grit as previous generations.”

Here are two more articles that describe this growing problem:
Declining Student Resilience: A Serious Problem for Colleges (Psychology Today)
The Coddling of the American Mind (The Atlantic)

In the Psychology Today article, Dr. Peter Gray comments, “Emergency calls to Counseling had more than doubled over the past five years. Students are increasingly seeking help for, and apparently having emotional crises over, problems of everyday life.”

Those articles, written from a secular perspective, diagnose the problems facing today’s college students and offer a few helpful suggestions. Most college ministers are not professional counselors. On our team, we make sure that all of our staff know good, Biblical counselors to whom we can refer students. We can’t provide them with professional help when need. But we CAN help many students grow in resilience through God’s Word.

I wanted to share a couple resources that have been helpful for our staff to use in discipleship with students dealing with anxiety.

The first is a great, longish article to read on anxiety by David Powlison – an exposition of Psalm 131.

Sam Barnes, one of the Cru staff on our team, came up with this helpful guide to go through the Powlison article in a one hour discipleship appointment with students:

  1. Read almost the whole first page – stop after “…before taking the plunge.” Ask, “Do you personally relate to any of the attitudes described here? What does that look like in your life?”
  2. Read just the paragraph beginning “First, think…” and skip the next paragraph (just about David’s life) then pick back up at “A millennium later…” and read through “divided into three parts,” before the bold verse 1. Restate the three main points the author is making (he says first, second, and third) and ask what stands out. In all of my conversations we camped out on the second point.
  3. Read verse 1 and keep reading until the top of the next page up to “…exactly where the rattling noises come from.” Skip the rest of that page about pride and pick back up on that long paragraph on the next page before verse 2. Ask, “How have you seen this pattern in your own life – either when you have been going after the wrong things and how that has turned out, or a time when you went after the right thing and found God in it?”
  4. Read verse 2 and the rest of that column, then skip the right column and the left column on the following page. Pick back up at the top of the right column and read to the end of that section. Ask, “What do you think this concept of a weaned soul means?”
  5. Read verse 3 and the rest of that page, then all of the following page up to the “personalizing” part.
  6. Encourage them to read the “personalizing” part on their own and wrestle with some of those questions. You can follow up with that in a future meeting.

Sam found another great resource on anxiety – a “lab” video series from John Piper called Read the Bible to Your Anxiety. She put together worksheets and discussion questions for a two-week community group study or for a discipleship appointment.

To quote Sam: “The videos are short, around 10 min each. I love this because Piper talks straight from the passage about the topic of anxiety and worry, but he also provides tools that should equip students on how to read the Word no matter what passage it is. ”
Week One: Parts 1 & 2

Leader Guide for Parts 1 & 2 

Student Worksheet for Part 1

Student Worksheet for Part 2

Week Two: Part 3

Leader Guide for Part 3

Student Worksheet for Part 3


about the author

Tim Casteel

Tim works in college ministry at a university in Arkansas.