If you’re feeling challenged by the pressures of life and it seems like others aren’t, you may be experiencing duck syndrome.

Everyone experiences life’s ups and downs, but sometimes people may filter what others see. Whether online or in real-life interactions, it may be hard to let others know if you’re having a tough time.

No one has it together all of the time, and social media can be deceiving. If you experience duck syndrome, professional support and healthy coping strategies can help you manage the symptoms.

Duck syndrome occurs when you try and create an illusion of a perfect life but are working hard under the surface to keep it all together.

The term originates from the idea of ducks paddling furiously under the water’s surface but appearing to glide effortlessly.

This syndrome, first coined at Stanford University, is not a mental health condition. Still, duck syndrome can have genuine mental health implications.

If you have duck syndrome, you may fear what others will think if they find out your life isn’t perfect. You might feel that no one can understand or relate to what you’re going through. But you’re not alone.

How do you know if you have duck syndrome? Because the term was first used at Stanford University, it’s standard among college and graduate students. But duck syndrome isn’t limited to college students.

Duck syndrome isn’t an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5). Signs and symptoms may vary, but there are some commonalities in those who experience duck syndrome.

Signs and symptoms of duck syndrome include:

  • comparison to others
  • feeling like others are better off
  • feeling as if you’re failing at keeping up with life’s demands
  • fear of scrutiny or criticism
  • feeling like others are manipulating a situation to test your performance

Duck syndrome may trigger underlying mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety or other mental health symptoms.

In addition, you may develop duck syndrome if you grew up in a family environment that placed a high emphasis on achievement or grew up with overprotective caregivers.

Managing duck syndrome may be challenging because it isn’t well-known. But there are some steps to help yourself cope.

Depression and anxiety can occur as a result of duck syndrome. Because of this, managing duck syndrome may be best dealt with by similar methods of treating depression and anxiety.


Going to a psychotherapist can help you get treatment and find a supportive person to guide you through duck syndrome.

Also, if you feel as if life’s demands are too much, therapy can help your overall well-being. Finding the right therapist is vital for getting what you want and need out of therapy.

If you’ve never been to therapy, you may be curious about what to expect, but a therapist can explain how treatment can help.


Medication for anxiety and depression may be a part of managing duck syndrome, and symptoms of duck syndrome may overlap these conditions.

Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication may help ease the symptoms associated with duck syndrome. If you’re interested in taking medication to help cope, consider speaking with a doctor.

A doctor may suggest medication and explain the benefits and side effects.


You don’t have to pretend like everything is fine when it’s not.

Other forms of support outside therapy can include:

  • asking a professor for extra help
  • obtaining tutoring at school
  • using the on-campus counseling center, if you have one

If you’re a college student, your resources may highly depend on your school. Knowing what resources your campus has could make a significant difference in how you take care of yourself.

Other self-care strategies that may help you cope with duck syndrome include:

If you’re a parent of a college student or an educator, you can help the student thrive.

Discuss mental health

Knowing the signs and symptoms of depression, anxiety, and related mental health disorders may be helpful.

If you know a college student who has difficulty coping, asking them about their mental health and encouraging them to seek professional assistance if needed may be a way to show you care.

Encourage connection

Loneliness is common among college students, and duck syndrome may increase this feeling. Reaching out to others can be difficult if you feel like others are without hardships or challenges in their lives.

Encouraging college students to connect to peers, groups, or other community supports may help them feel less lonely.

Encourage hobbies

If you’re a parent of a college student, you may also encourage them to engage in hobbies that they enjoy if they aren’t already. Try to listen with an open mind and offer compassion as they discuss activities that interest them.

This may be difficult due to the pressures they experience in college, but engaging in pleasurable activities can help them find a creative outlet for stress.

Encourage the use of academic resources

If you’re an educator of college or graduate students and see that a student is falling behind, you can check with them to see what’s going on in their life or offer them academic help.

You may also encourage other activities on campus, such as attending study groups, obtaining a tutor, or using a college writing center if your university offers one.

Duck syndrome is the illusion that you are doing great even if you aren’t. This most often stems from fear or perception of what others might think.

Despite feeling like you aren’t living up to expectations of yourself and others, college can be a stressful experience filled with pressures you may not have previously encountered.

Help is available if you feel stressed, lonely, depressed, or anxious. You don’t have to face the pressure by yourself.

There are many tools available for finding a therapist for professional support. In addition, if you’re thinking about suicide, you can reach out to the national suicide prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.