In college, mental illness remains a taboo subject. As an upcoming freshman, I spent the entire summer searching for any type of advice available that would help me prepare for the most challenging part of life. I was very disappointed to see that there was not much coverage on the subject of anxiety in college. It's time for us to break that stigma. The more we talk about it, the more empathetic we will all become.
1. You are not alone.
I'm sure you've heard this before, but you will not always feel like you're a little fish in a big pond. Anxiety for freshman is a common but unspoken problem. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that 41.6% of college students stated anxiety as the top presenting concern among college students. The American Psychological Association has found that 61% of college students have sought counseling who report anxiety.
For me, I felt like no one understood the overwhelming stress I was dealing with even months before starting college. I automatically thought about the worst case scenario for every possible situation, and I was afraid of being the typical freshman who was still figuring things out. That was when I began to talk to friendly, accepting people. I never thought I would find anyone who would understand, but there is a group of people for everyone. You can't go the whole year avoiding people. So be a friendly face and positive influence, and then you'll find people you connect with. Everyone needs a support system!
2. Get involved!
My first day of college was something I had feared since the beginning of my senior year. I wanted to be the best at everything: the best daughter, sister, singer, leader, friend, and student all at once. When the year ended, I knew what career path I was on, but I felt empty. I was searching for something to be a part of. For me, my high school chorus was my comfort, and I desperately needed something that would bring back that balance. I joined UWG's Sigma Tau Delta English Honor Society club to find other English majors to relate and look up to, and sure enough, I met people who welcomed me with open arms. I joined Odyssey at UWG as a creative outlet for me, something I wanted to do outside of academics. That's very important.
Try to get involved in some way at your college, whether that's volunteering for a day or doing something as simple as attending an event on campus. This will not only get you well-acquainted with the college atmosphere, but it will also become incredibly rewarding in the end.
3. Balance is key.
Leave some time for yourself. Self-care is so incredibly important, especially if you struggle with stress often. Plan out what you want to accomplish academically, then choose at least 15 minutes doing something you enjoy. Read. Write. Listen to music. Take a relaxing bath. Walk around the campus. By setting aside time for yourself, it can give some space for breathing room in the midst of the chaos.
4. Anxiety is a cycle.
Rachel Hicks from grownandflown.com said it best: "With any change comes uncertainty, and uncertainty quickly breeds anxiety." While anxiety can never disappear forever, there are ways to cope with it, ways to deflect those intrusive, toxic thoughts from ruining your day. The Headspace app provides easy meditation and breathing exercises, and taking just five minutes out of your day to de-stress will do wonders for your mental stability.
5. There is more than one way to deal with anxiety.
There are two main coping strategies when it comes to releasing built-up anxiety: calming energy and burning off energy. Calming energy involves things that calm racing thoughts while providing comfort, such as taking a bath, praying, or taking five deep breaths. Burning off energy involves channeling that anxious energy into some kind of physical or mental action, like taking a walk, making a hot cup of tea, or creating a project for yourself. I found that since I often get overwhelmed, doing simple tasks like writing down my plans for the day or looking through my notes is extremely relaxing. Also, a way that I burn off that anxious energy is singing in the car because it can be fun and cathartic at the same time.
6. Don't be afraid to say no.
This is something I still struggle with. Being assertive doesn't always mean being stubborn or demanding. For instance, if you don't want to hang out with a friend and just need alone time, tell them honestly but respectfully. It is better to find that balance than to constantly stress about making sure everyone likes you. You don't have to put all of your energy into satisfying people's needs. Do what is most comfortable for you.