I know that I wasn't the only one to walk onto campus as a freshman and say, "I have so much anxiety right now."
In that moment though, I did feel like I was the only one and completely alone. I'm here to tell you that you aren't. In fact, the most common mental health diagnosis among college students is crippling anxiety. However, have we ever stopped to discuss what anxiety really means?
For most people when I discuss an anxiety disorder, they nod their head, smile and say that everything will be OK. When I tell them, "I'm sorry, I have terrible anxiety, can we reschedule?" they just smile and tell me that there’s nothing to worry about and if I just get out of bed, I’ll see that everything is fine. Although little do they know that everything is not fine on the inside.
My heart is pounding so unbelievably fast that I'm afraid it's visibly beating out of my chest, but it isn't. My knees aren't physically wobbling uncontrollably. My head isn't spinning. My eyes aren't bloodshot and my face isn't pale as a ghost.
Yes, on the outside I am physically fine. I look like a normal, average college student. I am awake. I am alive. I am breathing and I am fine. So nothing is wrong, right?
Here is the thing about anxiety: from the outside, we look impeccably fine, but on the inside, we are mentally crashing down. Of course we look fine! Our legs aren't broken, we aren't cut or bruised because anxiety is not a physical disability.
Anxiety is an extremely complex disorder and is nothing to just simply smile and nod away at. If you were ever confused about anxiety or have struggled with how to express your own anxiety, then you've come to the right place! Here are a few things to keep in mind if you, a friend or a loved one is experiencing anxiety.
1. Anxiety is not constant. It comes in waves.
There are days when many of us can cope with our anxiety. I like to consider these days my "good days." These days we wake up, get out of bed and walk out the door with air in our lungs ready to conquer anything that comes at us. I can be productive, get lunch with my friends, go to the library and accomplish my work for the week. However, the next day is a different story. I know how confusing it may be to see how some days one can have terrible anxiety and the next day it is as if nothing ever happened.
That is because anxiety comes in waves.
I often describe anxiety as a strange beast. It will leave me alone for a couple days to have my fun and focus on my work, and just when I think, "Hmm, maybe it's finally left me alone. Maybe I finally don't have anxiety anymore," the beast yet again emerges the next morning sitting on my chest and making itself comfortable yet again.
2. Anxiety can be absolutely paralyzing.
Depending on the level of one's anxiety, it can come and go. I know from my anxiety experiences that it has left me extremely paralyzed at times. Most of the time when anxiety hits, I am frozen. Yes, I am not physically frozen as I can get up and go throughout my day, but my brain is somewhere else and I am extremely lost and confused.
The best way to think about it is that the strange beast has taken over your mind and only allows you to think of two things: the inability to think and to breathe.
The strange beast has taken over and the only way to overcome the anxiety is to remember that you control your anxiety and that it does not control you.
3. Anxiety can ruin relationships.
Sadly, yes, anxiety can ruin not only romantic relationships, but relationships of any kind. Especially as a freshman adjusting to a new life at college, making friends is a part of the experience. For someone who doesn't have anxiety, it is quite difficult for them to understand what it's like or what you are going through. It hurts many friendships along the way.
Both romantic and platonic relationships can be destroyed due to anxiety. Unfortunately, I have experienced both of these devastating losses. The real question is why? It's not our fault that we suffer from anxiety.
It is a disorder that if you lack the proper knowledge of how to care for it, it can explode into a million pieces. For some people, it can become too much for someone else to experience. Often times, it hurts the mental health of others as well by seeing someone that they love suffer for so long. Many times, people don't know what they can do or how they can help at all, so they abandon, which hurts like hell.
However, we can’t blame individuals who leave because if I could choose to stay as far away from anxiety as they can, I would without skipping a beat.
4. Anxiety can make trust, nearly impossible.
I know that it sounds awful to blame trust issues on anxiety, but in all honestly, it’s not placing blame; it’s placing responsibility. Anxiety almost never fails to make you think the worst of every situation. In our society with technology and social media, it is nearly impossible to not think the worst of every possible situation, especially for those with anxiety.
If someone doesn’t answer my texts, well then that’s it; they no longer like me. If someone doesn’t text me first, then they don’t think about me. Is someone busy? Forget it. They just have better things to do with their time than spending it with me. OK, maybe that was a bit of an over exaggeration. I sound absolutely ridiculous, right? Well, welcome to the life of anxiety.
We do not have cookies, sorry, but can I interest you in crippling loneliness at a table for one? No? Didn’t think so.
5. Anxiety is not a choice.
Anyone with anxiety can vouch and say that they did not want it at all for starters. I mean, would you choose to risk the relationships that you've made and hurt the people that you love intentionally? Therefore, when you tell us that we’re being dramatic and just looking for attention, take a second and think about what you’re saying to us. Nobody, I repeat nobody, wants anxiety.
I wish every day that I wasn't like this.
Trust me, I really do. Not a day goes by where I wish that strange monster isn't sitting on my chest to the point where I can't breathe. Not a day goes by that I think that if I didn't have the little voice in the back of my head, just how great life would actually be. Nonetheless, it's a part of who I am and who most people are, which leads me to my final point.
6. You WILL overcome anxiety.
Don't get me wrong, it takes a lot of time. I've had anxiety problems since I was 12-years-old and still to this day, I need to take control of my anxiety. Fighting anxiety can be a never-ending battle of ups and downs. You could overcome your anxiety and then a crazy life altering event like transitioning to college could trigger it all over again.
Anxiety is by far the hardest thing that people will go through during their lives. Learning how to overcome anxiety is the most difficult task that anyone has ever asked me to complete. However, on those days when I can mark a check in the win category, I feel like I can take on the world. I want every day to feel that way and I won’t stop until every day does.
So here's the thing; anxiety can be incredibly controlling at times. Although it's not a visible disorder, it doesn't make it any less important or legitimate than any other health diagnosis. We need people in our lives to support us and remind every one of us to keep pushing through.
Lastly, when we say, "I have anxiety," here's what we really are saying: be patient with us, support us, know that with everything we do we are focusing on how it all affects you. We are fighting for control with the strange monster every day of our lives. Yes, we know that we aren't the easiest to handle, but if you let us, we will never give up on you.
When I say, “I have anxiety,” I am both warning you what you are in for and thanking you for choosing me anyway.