What are the triggers of depression and anxiety in graduate school?


Author bio

Page last updated: 10/11/2022

What are the triggers of depression and anxiety in graduate school?

This blog answers questions about: What are some triggers of anxiety and depression in graduate school? What is Anxiety? What are the signs and symptoms of anxiety? What are some ways to manage anxiety? What are the therapy options for anxiety? What is depression? What are the symptoms of depression? What are the treatment options for depression?

What are some triggers of anxiety and depression in graduate school?

Some situations that trigger anxiety and depression in students in graduate school are:

  • Strained relationship
  • Sexual assault
  • Peer relationship difficulties
  • Sexual identity adjustment difficulties
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Family history of depression
  • Stressful life events
  • Comparison of academic, or social performance to one’s peers
  • Fears of disappointing parents because of grades or career path choice

Strained relationship

Students at graduate school can experience depression and anxiety due to their current strained relationships. Many times relationships can be a source of extreme dissatisfaction and conflict which impacts a students’ mental health.

Some relationship situations that might contribute to anxiety and depression can include infidelity, abuse, breakup, and long-distance relationships.

Strained relationships can cause significant anxiety and low mood in an individual which further affects a students’ relationship and in turn creates a vicious cycle.

Sexual assault

Sexual assault is considered another main source of depression and anxiety amongst graduate school students.

The number of students that report being sexually assaulted either by other senior students or even teachers has been increasing over time.

Sexual assault creates a sense of long-standing discomfort and decreased self-confidence and self-esteem leaving the student feeling lost.

Some students speak about their sexual assaults and seek help while others choose to keep their experiences to themselves and suffer greater intensity of anxiety and depression over time.

Peer relationship difficulties

One of the most prominent sources of stress and low mood in graduate school might be the type of relationship students share with their peers.

Peers play a very important and integral role in student life in terms of their growth and development. Though peers are positive entities many times they can be the source of major depression and anxiety in students.

Sexual identity adjustment difficulties

Depression and anxiety can commonly be seen among individuals who must fight battles for their sexual orientation and sexual identities.

Many young students can go through many challenging situations, negative attitudes, and cultural stigma due to their sexual identities and orientations.

Adding onto this, a hostile school environment can greatly affect students’ performance and their mental health. Students who face difficulties with identity adjustments usually show low performance and higher mental instability.

Many parents also react negatively upon learning their child’s sexual orientation or identity and even abandon them in worst cases.

What are the triggers of depression and anxiety in graduate school?

Drug or alcohol use

Mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression are common among students who abuse drugs and alcohol. The use of substances can heighten the feelings of sadness, loneliness, and hopelessness which are usually associated with depression and anxiety.

Family history of depression

Students who have depression and anxiety in the family are more likely to experience them than those who don’t. That is the parents or relatives of students with an older history of mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression are more likely of experiencing the same with very minor than those students who do not hold a family history of mental illnesses.

Stressful life events

Stressful life events can be experienced by any individual at any given point in their lives. Graduate school students might experience various numbers of stressful events both at school as well as home.

These might include strained relationships at home, loss of a loved one, chronic illness or strained relationships with peers and teachers at school, inability to cope with academics, lack of resources to meet the requirements of school projects and assignments, and physical or mental abuse.

Comparison of academic, or social performance to one’s peers

Another very common source of anxiety and depression in students in grad school is the comparison between them and their peers in terms of academic performances and social conduct.

These comparisons can either be a result of internal conflict or can be done by one’s teachers and parents. In the first case, many students might overthink about their performance based on that of their friends while in the second situation many teachers and parents outwardly compare one student to another based on their intellectual abilities and creative performances.

Fears of disappointing parents because of grades or career path choice

After coming to grad school the pressure upon the students concerning the best career paths and grades increase tremendously. The large number of career options that are available today gives space to conflicts between the students and the parents leading to stress and low mood.

Many times, when the parents do not agree with the choices of the students they might have to live with their parent’s disappointments for a long time similarly when the students decide to stick to their parent’s decisions they experience extreme stress resulting in depression and anxiety.

 What is Anxiety?

Problems and resulting stress are usually accompanied by some common emotions like confusion, feeling at the edge, a sense of helplessness, and recurrent negative thoughts which can collectively be seen as an individual experiencing what’s commonly called  Anxiety. 

Every human has their unique ways of dealing with these difficult situations and the following emotions, some try to adapt to the circumstances and find the best and most comfortable solution while others try to find an escape route for the same, in both cases the main aim is usually to get over the uncomfortable emotions of anxiety. 

What are the signs and symptoms of anxiety? 

Anxiety is characterized by a set of signs and symptoms such as:


  • Sweating
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sense of choking
  • Complaints of chest pain
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness or Lightheadedness
  • Fear of losing control over oneself and their environment
  • Fear of impending doom
  • Hot or cold flashes
  • Tingling or numbness
  • Increased heart rate

What are some ways to manage anxiety?

Identify and acknowledge the triggers

The most significant strategy that can be used to control one’s anxiety is by identifying and acknowledging those triggers.

Being able to recognize what makes an individual anxious makes them better equipped to take action.

Relaxation techniques


Even though anxiety can be bought under an individual’s control it cannot be predicted. In such situations, it is necessary that an individual actively carries out relaxation techniques.

These might include meditation, yoga, and deep breathing which helps to reduce the intensity of anxiety within a short period.



A key to reducing the frequency and intensity of anxiety attacks could be spending time with close family and friends.

The kind of emotional and practical support provided by these social and personal groups help the person feel connected and aid in distracting one’s mind from negative and recurring thoughts that lead to anxiety.

Apart from friends and families, individuals can also consider speaking to groups of people that are experiencing similar problems.

Set realistic goals

When an individual is feeling overwhelmed, setting goals and targets keeping in mind priorities can help resolve overwhelming feelings of fear or panic.

Setting goals provides structure and routine to an individual’s life reducing space for uncertainty which can be a major trigger for anxiety in many cases.

Take up new challenges

Apart from doing activities that an individual is usually fond of and has expertise in, trying new and challenging activities that put an individual outside their comfort zone in a healthy manner may help reduce the stress and anger temporarily.

Signing up for new activities also provides a path to meeting people with similar stories and concerns.

Lifestyle changes

An individual’s lifestyle plays a major role in their experience of anxiety. An unhealthy and busy lifestyle usually leads to unhealthy eating, lack of exercise, lack of adequate sleep.

A combination of a well-set diet, exercise, and sleep can help to regulate an individual’s mood and equip them with a favorable coping mechanism.

These coping mechanisms in turn help to get control over once anxiety concerns in a more adaptable manner.

lack of proper diet, sleep, and exercise can make an individual sluggish, dependent, moody and vulnerable to anxiety attacks.

Making journal entries

Last but not least having a journal to write down how a person is feeling and thinking when they are anxious helps them to reflect upon their thoughts and feelings.

Putting down one’s thoughts and feelings onto a paper helps to provide a sense of temporary relief.

In the case of journal entry, a person does not even have to fear being judged by another person regarding their thoughts and feelings.

What are the therapy options for anxiety?

Cognitive-behavioural therapy

Cognitive-behavioural therapy helps an individual to control their anxiety by using strategies like relaxation and breathing. It works on the principles of replacing negative thoughts with positive ones.

Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy is a kind of therapy in which an individual is exposed to a particular stimulus that they usually fear or are anxious about in a graded order.

As and when the individual gets comfortable with the situation or stimulus introduced or exposed to them with each session, individuals get more comfortable with a real-life situation that might have otherwise been a source for triggering anxiety.

Group therapy


It is based on the principle that when an individual interacts with other people who are suffering from the same fears they might not feel left alone or isolated. Group therapy usually involves a group of individuals who are experiencing similar symptoms and problems.


Anxiety can also be treated with the help of medication prescribed by a health care professional.

Though medication alone cannot help in reducing persistent anxiety it can help in restoring a sense of control and bring temporary relief. 

Online therapy  

In cases where reaching out physically to a professional is impossible or discomforting an individual can opt to seek help through the online medium. 

In this, the therapy sessions are carried out one-to-one over a video or audio call. Some individuals also prefer interacting with the therapist through text as well due to various reasons. One of the most common is the fear of being judged by the therapist or some personal hesitation. 

Online therapy can help individuals to regulate some aspects of their anxiety that aids individuals in carrying out a stress-free life over time

What is depression?

Depression is one of the most common serious mental health conditions that negatively impact how an individual feels and thinks.

Depression is associated with feelings of sadness, a loss of interest in daily activities, and drastic changes in the energy level and the daily routines of an individual.

Depression in itself can lead to other physical and emotional problems which can be detrimental to a person’s functioning.

The symptoms of depression can vary from individual to individual from mild to severe depending on various factors.

Studies indicate that depression affects about 15% of adults every year and one in every six people experience depression at some time in their life.

Although depression can occur at any age it is more common among teenagers and early adults. Research indicates that women are more vulnerable to depression than men.

What are the symptoms of depression?

The characteristic symptoms of depression are:

  • Feelings of sadness or depressed mood
  • Loss of interest in activities enjoyed in the past
  • Changes in appetite leading to weight gain or weight loss
  • Changes in sleep patterns with very little sleep or long hours of sleep
  • Decrease in the level of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Feeling guilty
  • Difficulty thinking and concentrating
  • In severe cases thoughts of death or suicide

Symptoms of depression must last up to two weeks and cause significant impairment in an individual’s daily functioning to meet the diagnosis of depression.


What are the treatment options for depression?

Depression though widespread is one of the most treatable mental illnesses. About 90% of the people with depression respond well to treatment.

Some possible treatment options for depression are


Antidepressants are very commonly prescribed by doctors to individuals with depression. These medications are not sedatives or tranquilizers. They generally do not have any stimulating effects on people who do not experience depression.

Antidepressants usually show their effects within a few weeks. However, in cases where patients do not see any improvement after several weeks, they can alter their doses based on the suggestions provided by their health care practitioners.


Psychotherapy is also called talk therapy. It is used as a single mode of treatment for mild depression or for moderate to severe depression along with antidepressants.

Psychotherapy might involve the individual alone or other related individuals for instance the family of the concerned person.

Depending on the severity of depression psychotherapy might take a few weeks or much longer for significant improvement

Cognitive-behavioral therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy where the therapist actively focuses on problem-solving. This is done by helping individuals replace their negative thoughts with more positive ones.

Electroconvulsive therapy 

Electroconvulsive therapy is a treatment mode that is commonly used for patients with severe and major depression who usually do not respond to other lines of treatment.

It involves brief electrical stimulation of the brain while the patient is under anesthesia.

Patients receive electroconvulsive therapy two or three times a week for a total of 6 to 12 sessions. 

Self-help and coping strategies

Apart from therapy and medicine individuals can also carry out some self-help coping strategies such as carrying out regular exercises, getting sufficient sleep, indulging in pleasurable activities, maintaining a healthy diet, and avoiding alcohol to reduce their symptoms of depression. 


Graduate students do suffer from depression and anxiety. Reports indicate that the Covid 19 pandemic has made this situation even more serious.

The causes and triggers of anxiety and depression in graduate school can be many. Students must actively acknowledge and seek therapy for their mental health concerns before it gets out of control.