I was recently diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and it seems like my anxiety has only gotten worse since coming back to school. It makes virtually every aspect of college life seem impossible. I have a hard time making friends and speaking up in class because I get so nervous that I’ll say something stupid. I even have to push myself to go to commons every day because I’m afraid of others judging me. I want to be involved on campus and not hide away in my room all the time, but it just seems so hard.
Dear Anxious Abigail,
Firstly, I want to let you know that you’re not alone in dealing with anxiety; it has been estimated that about one out of every five adolescents have some form of anxiety disorder. If you apply that statistic to Roanoke College, that means about 400 students on this campus, or more, are struggling with anxiety.
Although medications can be helpful and, in some cases, necessary, there are plenty of steps you can take on your own to minimize your anxiety. Some of the best things you can do to reduce anxiety are the very same things you can do to improve your health overall. Making sure to get at least 8-9 hours of sleep every night, maintaining a balanced diet, and exercising regularly are all great ways to keep your brain and body healthy. This will likely lower your risk of getting anxious in the first place, and also improve your ability to cope with anxious feelings when you do experience them.
Another thing we all need is some time alone to recharge. If you have a roommate, try hanging out in a classroom or on the second floor of the library for a little while. These are excellent places to get some homework done in a quiet place, or even just to help you decompress from the stress of classes and living communally.
Beyond that, you can take steps to prevent future anxiety by paying attention to your stressors/triggers. A great way to do this is to use a journal or smartphone app like Pacifica to keep track of your anxiety. By recording how you’re feeling and what it was that caused that feeling, you can identify patterns that increase or decrease your anxiety, which will help you to modify your behavior. Notice that you feel particularly jittery after drinking coffee? Decrease your caffeine intake. Find that meditating, doing yoga, or spending time outdoors helps stop an anxiety attack or make you feel less anxious overall? Make time in your schedule for those things, and consider them just as important as you do your class and study time.
Finally, remember that the Counseling Office is a great resource for students struggling with anxiety, or any other personal problem. Consider making an appointment with a counselor. It’s free, it’s confidential, and it gives you an opportunity to discuss the situation with someone you don’t know personally and who has been trained to help individuals with mental illness.
Sue Z. Maroon