To The Senior With Anxiety

To The Senior With Anxiety

If opening the Common Application makes you want to vomit, this is the place for you.
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You're the king of the school yet the helpless stranger of your mind. You stand out in the crowd with your shirt with the year “2018” plastered across the chest in gold spray paint and cheap puff paint, but you still feel smaller than the freshman who wore the wrong color on class colors day. Endless thoughts breath down your neck of the next steps you have to take in order to succeed. That SAT and AP prep book sits at your desk, staring at you with the eyes of utter disappointment. “Why didn't you use me for the past 8 months? I would have helped you!”

January rolls around and your best friend just got accepted to her top school AND somehow already has her prom dress bought. Seeing the people around you succeed gives you an unhealthy motivation to better surpass their accomplishments, but when you get home, the thought of leaving your bed makes you want to vomit. Welcome to the world of anxiety. We are more than glad to welcome you with open arms (and sweaty palms).

Hey. My name is Steph, and I am a college freshman studying psychology. The passage above is merely a snip it of how I would describe my senior year of high school: lonely, unwanted, stressed, small, depressed, and very, VERY, anxious. What made you guess? I am diagnosed with not one, but 4 different anxiety disorders. Yet here I am, a student who graduated in the top 30% of her class while battling the seemingly endless fight of debilitating anxiety. This is a letter about how I survived my senior year of high school with this condition and how you can too. So here it is, folks, an open letter to a high school senior with anxiety.


Hey friend,

I hope you're well today. You deserve to be happy.

Senior year is tough, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. You will face stress, adversity, options, and lots and lots of decisions in the next few months. Anxiety doesn't make these matters any better, but there are ways to not let this monster of your mind get the best of you during this process. It will not be easy or fun, but once you walk down that metal ramp come graduation night, all those puzzle pieces will fall into place, and you will feel complete and total euphoria. Here are the 5 most effective tools that helped me beat my anxiety around senior year.

1. Don't let other people influence your college decision.

College is all about YOU. This process is built to set you up for your life and place you on the right career path. It may be easy to pick a school just because your best friend is going there or because your parents are alumni, but if they are pressuring you to go or study something you're not comfortable with, ignore them. Self care is very important come college application time. By letting the thoughts and opinions nervously race around your brain eating each thought like a hungry Pac-man, you're not doing yourself any favors. Don't fear the words “no” or “I'm not comfortable with this idea” tear you down. Be pushy, bossy, and selfish! This is about YOU.

2. Utilize time management skills.

I remember my guidance counselor sitting me down in her office rambling off about all the different ways and times and types of way I could apply to college. The mental notepad in my brain could not write down this very important information fast enough, so as a coping mechanism, I cried. Yep folks, a 17 year old senior in high school who appeared to be good at everything and lead a perfect life had a full on panic attack in her school's guidance office. Mrs. Greenlaw looked at me with the most gentle eyes and comforting smile as I sat there in a puddle of tears and said “manage your time wisely, honey.” That stuck with me. That night, my high functioning anxiety kicked into full gear as I made chart after chart and read review after review about each school I considered applying to. I knew I wanted to apply early action (November 1-January 1 deadlines), so I prioritized a list of things to do to be on time for each school. My days has specific spots built in for college time, and I sure was a frequent flyer to the guidance office. By October 25, I had applied to 6 schools by simply managing my time.

3. Don't overthink your decisions.

Sure, it's important to research campus life and the cost of schools. Don't limit yourself to one or two schools; branch out! Maybe apply to a school you would never think about going to only to realize that you love it after you tour there (that's what happened to me). Also, it's okay to not know what you want to do and/or to change your major! I originally was a Marketing major, then switched to Education, and switched again to Psychology a month and a half before school started. To be honest, I'll probably switch it around some more once I get to school. This is completely normal. You're still young! It's okay to not know still. Plenty of people don't know what they want for a while; it's going to be okay.

4. Take care of yourself.

It's wicked easy to get wrapped up in the college application process and get over the top stressed about it. By taking care of your mind and body, you will feel happier, healthier, and more confident in your choices. Drink lots of water, try to get more than 6 hours of sleep a night, exercise (even if it's walking your dog around the block every other day), and do things that make you happy. My go to coping mechanism would be to get dinner with friends (by that I mean go to IHOP every other night). Try new things that make you happy and hey, if you need a day off, take it. I mean, you're a senior after all, no one is really going to mind.

5. Have fun!

THIS IS SO IMPORTANT! Join clubs you never thought you would join and take a night off from drafting college essays and go to that football game and drink hot chocolate with all your friends. Bleed the colors of your school and show pride in where you go. Be the school mascot, run for student council, join a play, play a sport you are not good at, do it ALL. This will be the last year with the people you have spent the last 12 years with. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there and have the time of your life. When it's all said and done, it's the people that matter the most.

Anxiety sucks. Somedays are worse than others, but with a little optimism, it's more than possible to push through. It stinks you were the one in the line to get chosen to not have enough neurotransmitters in your brain to function like the rest of the world. This is totally treatable and you will push through. You will graduate. You will go to college. You will be happy because you deserve to be happy.

And let me tell you, if I can survive, anyone can. I would do it all over again in the blink of an eye.

Be gentle, be humble, be kind.

Best,

Stephanie, an anxiety bound girl who is now happy with her life.

Cover Image Credit: Juan Ramos

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Everything You Will Miss If You Commit Suicide

The world needs you.
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You won’t see the sunrise or have your favorite breakfast in the morning.

Instead, your family will mourn the sunrise because it means another day without you.

You will never stay up late talking to your friends or have a bonfire on a summer night.

You won’t laugh until you cry again, or dance around and be silly.

You won’t go on another adventure. You won't drive around under the moonlight and stars.

They’ll miss you. They’ll cry.

You won’t fight with your siblings only to make up minutes later and laugh about it.

You won’t get to interrogate your sister's fiancé when the time comes.

You won’t be there to wipe away your mother’s tears when she finds out that you’re gone.

You won’t be able to hug the ones that love you while they’re waiting to wake up from the nightmare that had become their reality.

You won’t be at your grandparents funeral, speaking about the good things they did in their life.

Instead, they will be at yours.

You won’t find your purpose in life, the love of your life, get married or raise a family.

You won’t celebrate another Christmas, Easter or birthday.

You won’t turn another year older.

You will never see the places you’ve always dreamed of seeing.

You will not allow yourself the opportunity to get help.

This will be the last sunset you see.

You’ll never see the sky change from a bright blue to purples, pinks, oranges and yellows meshing together over the landscape again.

If the light has left your eyes and all you see is the darkness, know that it can get better. Let yourself get better.

This is what you will miss if you leave the world today.

This is who will care about you when you are gone.

You can change lives. But I hope it’s not at the expense of yours.

We care. People care.

Don’t let today be the end.

You don’t have to live forever sad. You can be happy. It’s not wrong to ask for help.

Thank you for staying. Thank you for fighting.

Suicide is a real problem that no one wants to talk about. I’m sure you’re no different. But we need to talk about it. There is no difference between being suicidal and committing suicide. If someone tells you they want to kill themselves, do not think they won’t do it. Do not just tell them, “Oh you’ll be fine.” Because when they aren’t, you will wonder what you could have done to help. Sit with them however long you need to and tell them it will get better. Talk to them about their problems and tell them there is help. Be the help. Get them assistance. Remind them of all the things they will miss in life.

For help, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Cover Image Credit: Brittani Norman

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What People Don't Tell You About Growing Up With Anxiety

Calm was a foreign concept to me.

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Anxiety is difficult to deal with no matter what age you are, but there are certain things that are different based on when you first experience it. People who first experience anxiety as adults have had time to form their personality and to experience many aspects of life. While this does not lessen the impact of that anxiety on them, they know who they are already and that is something that they can use to ground themselves. Developing anxiety as a child or teen runs much deeper into the personality of a person than developing it as an adult does.

There are habits that you develop as a side effect of the anxiety. Like holding an apple core for the entirety of an hour class because you don't want to draw attention to yourself by getting up to throw it out; or constantly needing reassurance from other people because you don't trust yourself anymore--not after your anxiety tricked you into thinking something was wrong all those times. I will ask someone five or more times if I look okay before leaving the house sometimes because my anxiety used to tell me that nothing looked good on me and I've gotten into the habit of asking. Confrontation is terrifying because it might end in a fight or with someone no longer liking me; this isn't because I am a self-centered person who needs everyone to love them, it's because I won't be able to sleep knowing that I was the catalyst in a fight. Nothing is simple; every action, conversation, and idea is thought through a million times over before it occurs; growing up with anxiety forced me to evaluate my every move.

You miss a lot of things if you grow up with anxiety and/or panic attacks. This is by no means anyone's fault, but is still something that I think about almost everyday. My anxiety was at it's peak sophomore and junior year of high school; a prime time in the life of a teenage girl. And it controlled a lot of my life even if it didn't seem like it to the outside world; I said no to plans a lot because I was afraid I would have a panic attack while I was out. I claimed I was busy, which I was, but not in the way I'm sure my friends imagined. I didn't really come into myself as a person until my senior year of high school and well, now, my freshman year of college. My mind had been so focused on the anxiety and just getting through it, that I did not have the chance to develop into a true person. I was there physically, but mentally it felt like I was completely out of control; when I thought of who I was, the first thing that came to mind was anxiety.

While things such as having difficulty telling the waiter that my order is wrong or not raising my hand in class are sometimes annoying to deal with, the hardest part of growing up with anxiety was when I finally started to feel better and less anxious. Calm was a foreign concept to me. Feeling "normal" or not anxious was alien to me; I had not experienced life without anxiety in a long time and it was a hard adjustment to make. Anxiety and panic attacks had left me on edge, so when I started taking medication that left me mostly free of them, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. My body did not know what to do now that it was not in panic mode; I slept a lot for the first few days of taking meds because I was adjusting and finally able to relax. It was the most calming and simultaneously unnerving time of my life.

Growing up with anxiety, you are almost always in survival mode. The goal is to survive each panic attack and anxious moment and then hold your breath until the next one. Your brain is constantly on high alert and looking for the next threat whether it be real or imagined. Learning to come out of survival mode and to just live instead has been one of the most difficult parts of dealing with my anxiety. You have to reteach yourself how to relax and that it's okay to have a moment where your brain is not occupied--it no longer needs to be distracted in order to remain un-anxious.

The thing about growing up anxious is that you never had time to figure out who you were before you were anxious. When people say they have "recovered" from a mental illness, it is often interpreted as meaning that they have returned back to the person they were before they had developed said mental illness. For people who had a mental illness as a child, recovery involves inventing yourself completely because there is nothing to go back to. Growing up with anxiety has left me with side effects that I am still working to get rid of, but it also has made me who I am.

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