Many young adults choose to take a gap year from college due to anxiety around assignments and socializing in a college environment. The idea behind taking a gap year is to give them time and space to develop tools to help them be more successful when they re-enter an academic setting, but many parents express concerns that a gap year may actually add to anxiety around returning and that their child will be less motivated to pursue academic plans. When a gap year is intentional and young adults set specific goals around relieving their anxiety, they are better able to manage the anxiety that comes with pursuing their academic and career goals.
How Does Anxiety Affect The Decision to Take a Gap Year?
Academic settings are associated with high levels of academic and social pressure to succeed and to gain approval from others. Many people who struggle with anxiety disorders are particularly vulnerable to the emotional demands of these expectations, as they are often overachievers and perfectionists. Other students may have more realistic perspectives about what is reasonable for them to accomplish in a given setting or timeframe. As a result, college students with anxiety disorders are more likely to experience burnout as they pursue unrealistic expectations and experience fear of reaching out for support.
Anxiety can get in the way of starting assignments, keeping track of deadlines, contributing to class discussions, and connecting with classmates. It can also affect one’s confidence that the classes they are taking will be beneficial to their long-term goals or that their goals are something they can picture themselves doing long-term. Young adults who feel insecure about their career path or their skills in a particular role may experience a lot of self-doubt about their potential for success, but also worry that choosing another path will further delay their goals.
If panic attacks, self-doubt, and social anxiety are getting in the way of a student’s learning experience, taking a gap year gives them the opportunity to prioritize their mental health and personal goals without the excuse of not having enough time or energy due to consistent school stress.
Does Taking a Gap Year Relieve Pressure to Pursue Academic and Career Goals?
Unstructured time is one of the biggest triggers for feelings of anxiety, so it may sound counterintuitive for young adults to choose to take time off of school and work responsibilities. Sometimes, young adults need time to rest in order to take a step back and reflect on their goals, their progress towards them, and what is left to achieve.
Many young adults may become restless during a gap year and are impatient to jump back into a learning environment. Because of this, they are more likely to re-enter stressful environments without taking time to prepare what this will look like. Another factor contributing to this is the fear of other people’s reactions to their decision to take a gap year and fear of falling behind their peer group.
When energy during a gap year is shifted towards skill-building rather than dwelling on missed opportunities, young adults are able to set specific, measurable goals that they want to achieve and feel a greater sense of accomplishment. Many studies suggest that students are more motivated and more confident in their career path when returning to school after taking time off to refine their goals. Anxiety during this transition may be inevitable, but it can be alleviated by working towards other personal goals.
Tools for Managing Gap Year Anxiety
It is common for young adults with anxiety disorders to catastrophize and focus on future events that are out of their control. Even if young adults feel confident that a gap year will help them address their anxiety, they may continue to struggle with beliefs that they are a “failure,” “incapable of succeeding,” or “a hopeless cause.” If you are struggling with gap year anxiety, here are some strategies that may help:
- Identify the negative beliefs you have about yourself. While these beliefs may be exaggerated and not necessarily true, validating that they exist can help expose core fears and specific things that you want to work towards. For example, if one of your beliefs is “I never finish anything I start,” one goal might be making a resolution to follow through with at least one plan–whether that is not canceling social plans, submitting an application, or finishing an art project or household project.
- List specific obstacles that have gotten in the way of achieving your goals. Often, young adults internalize that lack of progress towards their goals is entirely due to a lack of willpower or motivation. Usually, there are also a lot of other factors outside of their control that contributed to these challenges. This exercise is helpful in identifying obstacles that they may have to remove, not just goals they want to work towards, and helps them show more compassion towards themselves for doing the best they could with the resources they had.
- Reflect on role models and qualities you admire in them. While young adults may have a difficult time identifying people in their support network and may feel like their circle is based on proximity, rather than shared interests, they may be able to name several people that they look up to, even if they are not personally close. Young adults often get caught up in roles and titles when it comes to pursuing a career path but find it more difficult to identify specific skills related to these positions. Reflecting on these values they admire in others can help inform qualities to look for in relationships and career paths their existing skills are aligned with
- Set measurable goals. It can be difficult to feel a sense of achievement when goals are vaguely outlined. While young adults aren’t expected to know exactly what their long-term goals will look like, it is helpful to set smaller goals (based on information gathered above) that have specific deadlines so that they can measure their progress. For example, going into a gap year with the plan to reapply to schools by a certain date or planning to get a gym membership for one month and attending regularly before re-evaluating whether that goal is realistic.
- Don’t fall into the trap of comparisons. While young adults share a lot of common experiences, it is unfair to standardize what the young adult experience is supposed to look like. Everybody is on a different path. While most high school students finish within four years, only about half of college students graduate from a 4-year university in four years. While it is natural to compare oneself to one’s group of hometown friends, young adulthood is about exploring individuality and expanding one’s social circle in order to define personal “success”.
Foundations Asheville can help
Foundations Asheville is a program for young adults ages 18-24 who are struggling to launch into adulthood. This program is committed to helping young adults develop and sharpen the skills they need to be successful in the real world. There is a focus on teaching students how to enter the workforce, develop vocational trades, and functional living skills. Foundations Asheville gives young adults the opportunity to gain confidence, find their purpose, and learn useful skills that will help them navigate through the adult years.
Contact us at (877) 318 – 7273 for more information. We can help your family today!