School of Education


Doctor of Philosophy


Timothy R. Nelson


alexithymia, anxiety, disorder, qualitative, stressors


Educational Leadership


ABSTRACT The purpose of this qualitative transcendental phenomenological study was to understand the essence of the shared lived experiences of undergraduate college students with anxiety disorders at two universities in the Southeastern United States. One institution is a mid-sized, public, nonsectarian university; the other is a small, private, faith-based liberal arts college. The theory guiding this study is Ellis’s cognitive theory, rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT), which posits that irrational core beliefs create intense negative emotions that cause suffering. The central research question is intended to elicit rich data regarding the shared lived experiences of the study participants. The four research sub-questions address participants’ perceptions regarding the impact of their disorders on their lifestyles and academic performance. A purposeful criterion sample was used to select the participants. Data collection strategies included a questionnaire, open-ended individual interviews, a single focus group interview, and participant journals. The steps of data analysis were phenomenological reduction: horizonalizing to give equal status to every statement, clustering the horizons into themes, and organizing the horizons and themes into a coherent textual description of what, and a structural description of how, to create a composite integration of meaning and the essence of the lived experience of the participants. Data results identified five major themes: (a) academic performance barriers, (b) stressor issues, (c) institutional education and accommodations preferences, (d) social fears, and (e) generational issues, followed by the composite textual description, what, and the composite structural description, how, and a description of the essence of the lived experiences of the undergraduate college students with anxiety disorders. Keywords: alexithymia, anxiety, disorder, qualitative, stressors