I always thought something was wrong with me throughout high school. I had difficulty concentrating, didn’t sleep well and fidgeted constantly. Along with that, I never understood why I cried for absolutely no reason. I went to therapy, but more so to address family issues than the issues affecting me most. The sessions didn’t matter anyways; I wasn’t open to the idea of accepting help from other people. I prefer to work through my problems on my own.
Upon my arrival at college, I thought moving 1,300 miles away from home (and finally out of the cold climate) would solve all my problems. If only it had been that easy; my anxiety did not stop. In fact, my symptoms only became worse from the added stresses of college. Meeting new people, lack of sleep, pressures from my family and group projects all contributed to my anxiety.
During the summer of 2016, my hopes soared high. I landed an animal care internship at a local zoo, worked 40 hours a week at my other job and attempted to see my friends as much as possible. I enjoyed everything I was doing on an individual level, but in the end I spread myself way too thin.
After a nine to five shift at the zoo, I would come home and scramble to get ready for my other job, a closing shift at a fast food restaurant. After work, around 1 a.m., I would try to hang out with friends or Skype my boyfriend. I tried to make an effort to do everything. That was my downfall. On days like these, I would have panic attacks. The incontrollable breathing, crying and scratching myself forced me to realize I had a problem that I really needed to address.
I’m the kind of person that would rather try any other remedies before moving on to medication. But in the back of my head I knew it might be my next step. Fearful of exactly that, I tried different coping mechanisms. From crocheting to drawing and even holding ice cubes, these activities only temporary distracted me and didn’t work well. I’ve found relief in playing with animals and sailing, but sadly those coping methods aren’t always available when I need them. Sometimes I feel the only option available is to suffer through the pain.
The worst thing about anxiety? Not having support when you need it most. When you’re far away from home, nothing sucks more than having your mom tell you, “Think about other things. You’re at college and I’m sure you have classes to focus on.” While she has good intentions, she’s unaware of the effects her words have on me.
Caring friends try to help, but more often than not their advice actually exacerbates my anxiety. “Relax, it’s all in your head” or “I know how you feel” qualifies as the most common response from people. If only they knew about the nausea, difficulty breathing or insomnia, they wouldn’t tell me it was “just in my head.” If only they knew how hard I scratch myself in an attempt to get my mind to focus on something else, they wouldn’t tell me that “other people have real problems.” If they really understood, they would know that saying those things does more harm than good.
Over 40 percent of college students suffer from some form of anxiety—I know I am not alone. I understand the struggles of anxiety, so I often finding myself helping others in the same position as me. This process has made it difficult for me to find ways to overcome my own anxiety. But I can still offer this piece of advice to those also struggling: You are not alone, but this problem won’t go away on its own. Take time out of every day to try a new relaxation technique that you think may work for you. Whether it’s meditation, writing or going to see a psychiatrist, you’ll eventually find something that works for you.
While I’ve had to accept the fact that anxiety is something I’ll live with for the rest of my life, I choose how to to deal with it. Each day I continue to experiment with new coping techniques such as yoga or reading, hoping to one day find one that works well for me. Even though my anxiety will never leave me, that does not mean I have to let it control my life. I am not my anxiety.