The Beast: College and Anxiety
anxiety (n.) – a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically concerning an imminent event or situation with an uncertain outcome.
Up until about ten minutes ago, this post was going to be about pillow talk. Late night laughs, early morning chats, waking up to your roommate hanging her head down from the top bunk and whispering, “Hann? Hey Hann, are you up yet?” (Jules gets bored up there pretty fast.)
But I couldn’t focus as I sat down to write that post. My eyes kept wandering from the computer screen. My palms clammed up. I looked at the clock and realized almost ten minutes had gone by, and I’d done nothing but stare out the window and wring my hands.
I was feeling very anxious.
Rationally, there was nothing abnormal I needed to worry about. Julie and I had been laughing over breakfast with Andie only a few hours before. But my chest tightened, my heart began to race, and I could feel my thoughts start to turn dark. Anxiety attack. Just thinking the words made my stomach jolt. No Hann, you’re not having an anxiety attack. You’re okay. You’re okay.
I took three deep breaths and looked away from my computer screen, relaxing the muscles in my shoulders and recognizing that my workload had me feeling stressed. The breathing slowed my heartbeat. The knot in my chest loosened. Phew. I’m good. I’ll try to get to everything tonight. I’m good. When I returned to my laptop to keep brainstorming ideas for my post, I realized that pillow talk was going to have to wait.
Anxiety and the college experience. I think this one’s important.
If you’re not in college, it may surprise you to hear that anxiety can be a major part of your educational adventure. College is where you pursue your interests and meet your best friends and maybe your soulmate and go to great parties every weekend, right? What could there possibly be to worry about?
I’m not saying college isn’t awesome, because it is. The friends, the parties, the sporadic realizations that you’re actually excited about what you’re studying– it’s all here. But college can be really hard sometimes too. Living away from your parents for the first time presents challenges. Professors demand a different kind of work than they did in high school. Relationships can be tricky to navigate, and money becomes this mythical thing that you can only aspire to one day have. There’s more to worry about than you might expect, and everything feels heightened by the seemingly constant reminder that this is as good as it gets, kid, enjoy it while you can.
We are adults, but we are not quite adults. The uncertainty of the in-between can be an unexpected trigger for anxiety. (Not to mention college-age students are still kind of in the wacky hormone stage of human development, so sometimes we just get the irrational urge to cry or punch things. Always a good time.)
Jules and I usually like to share our happier adventures with you guys, because we are very lucky and have quite a lot of them. But today I’d like to share something a little more personal. A few months ago, I had a pretty serious bout of anxiety. I started having frequent panic attacks at school. I had trouble falling asleep. The simplest of decisions made me so nervous I wanted to cry, and when I did cry, I couldn’t even explain why I was so upset. A sadness set in that I just couldn’t shake. It was a strange, pervasive uneasiness that left me feeling nutty, helpless, and alone.
I tell you this not to depress the hell out of you, but to share with you what I’ve learned since then. Anxiety is scary, but it is normal, and it is everywhere. In evolutionary terms, it motivates us to do the things we need to do in order to not die. (Eat food. Drink water. Avoid killer snakes.) But sometimes it sticks around for longer than we need it to.
Anxiety comes in a lot of forms, and everyone experiences it differently. Some people feel anxious as the result of situational experience. Others are genetically predisposed to worry and depression. One of my biggest struggles in overcoming my anxious episodes was the fact that I couldn’t pinpoint why I was so unsettled. Sometimes there just isn’t a logical explanation for anxiety or depression, and that’s okay. Brain chemicals can be weird.
Above all else, I learned that anxiety is more common than I ever could have imagined. I began opening up to people I felt comfortable with– my family, my friends, even that weird roommate I share a blog with– and almost all of them answered with something along the lines of, yeah, I’ve felt like that before too. I was floored by the number of fellow college students especially who told me that they’d recently had feelings of anxiety/depression. It was like we’d all been secretly struggling to fight the same beast, too embarrassed or scared or proud to admit that we’d let the beast out of its cage in the first place.
If you’re dealing with symptoms of anxiety or depression, please know that you are not crazy, and you are not alone. It’s almost silly how hard we fight to keep it all inside sometimes. Admitting you’re not okay can be the hardest part, but I’ve learned that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength.
With support from the best group of family and friends a person could ever ask for, I was able to get the help I needed to befriend my anxiety. Befriend it– not conquer it. Anxiety is still a big part of my life. It always has been, and it probably always will be. But that’s okay. I have my people, my yoga mat, my journal. I can get through whatever the beast may bring.
So I’m going to leave you with 1) this song, which seems a tiny bit relevant in an angsty-soundtrack kind of way, and 2) the challenge to try to be honest with yourself and the people you love. I didn’t admit that I wasn’t okay for a long time, and it made things a lot worse. I know it can be scary, but if you’re feeling anxious, confide in a friend. If your roommate’s not being himself, ask him if he wants to talk. We don’t have to take this beast on alone.