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