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10 Tips for Surviving College With an Anxiety Disorder

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Being 18 is naturally an anxious time of your life. You graduate high school and have “adult” responsibilities. If you are like me, you moved away from home and into a dorm room. 

Everyone keeps telling me these are to be the best years of my life — independence from my parents, being legally allowed to drink, and meeting the friends (and partner) I will have for a lifetime. But if you are like me and have an array of anxiety disorders, the transition into college is more difficult than anyone can ever imagine.

Living with anxiety results in a routine built around avoiding triggers. The smallest change can induce an anxiety attack. When you have an anxiety disorder, you memorize your triggers, where they appear, and how to avoid them. Going to college means most of you know about your triggers is now irrelevant. You may develop new triggers in new places with no warning.

After successfully completing my first month of college, I have put together 10 tips on surviving college with an anxiety disorder.

1. Keep your dorm room clean.

I know this is a little obvious, but it’s important. Try your best not to overpack. The less cluttered your room is, the more relaxed you may feel. I tend to pack everything because of the fear of not having something when I need it. A method that worked for me is packing everything my anxiety told me I would need. Then after moving into my dorm I was able to send different odds and ends back home that I knew I wouldn’t need.

2. Know your roommate ahead of time

Many colleges now allow you to choose your own roommate. For my college I took a survey, and they suggested roommates I was compatible with. I talked to several girls before deciding to meet one I thought I would get along with. Knowing your roommate ahead of time gives you one less thing to be anxious about when moving in.

3. Don’t be afraid to use the campus’ resources.

Most colleges, if not all, have academic, religious, physical, and mental health resources that are free to their students. Within the first week of school, go to the counseling center and talk with someone about your anxiety disorder. Even if you not in an active state of anxiety, it is important to inform them of the possibility of relapse occurring. Talk to them. They are there to help.

4. Talk with your therapist and psychiatrist before you leave.

This is one of the most important tips I can give you. Discuss with your therapist a way to communicate while you are away at college, like phone sessions or emailing. Your therapist will give you ideas on how to cope with new situations and talk to the counselors on campus about your condition. If you are taking medication to control your anxiety, be sure to come up with a plan to get that medication while away at school. It is important to determine if there is a pharmacy on or near campus and how many refills you will need before you can have an appointment with your psychiatrist again. Don’t end up at college stuck without your medication.

5. Don’t be afraid to open up to others.

This has been by far the hardest one for me. In high school, no one but my best friend knew about my anxiety disorder. I decided that starting in college, I wanted to be more open about my anxiety. I started by telling my roommate, and after a few weeks the time felt right to tell some friends I’d made.

If you’re comfortable, inform them about your condition. Many people don’t understand what an anxiety condition is or how to deal with it. Be an advocate for yourself to end the stigma on mental health

6. Get to know the campus before classes start.

I had been to my school several times between the campus tours, Accepted Students Day, and orientation. I moved in four days before class started, and after the Welcome Week activities, I got to really know the ins and outs of my school. As I said before, college means having to learn all the new triggers to your anxiety. I walked the route I would take every day of the week to class, found where the nearest bathrooms were and “safe places” where I could calm myself down in the event of an attack.

7. Take morning classes.

I know this is the last thing many people want to do, but do it. If you wake up hours before a class starts, it gives you time to overthink everything that could go wrong on the way to or in class. Wake up, and go right to class. When class is over, do the work you were assigned as soon as possible. Living with anxiety, I know what it is like to have anxiety-induced procrastination that turns into it being a week past the due date and not being able to even think about it although you know it needs to be done. Try to avoid this by taking morning classes and getting all assignments done before evening activities begin.

8. Sleep.

Anxiety is tiring. Your brain is in a constant state of fight-or-flight. Get a good night’s rest. Take a nap. Do what you need to do to keep yourself healthy. Be sure to let your roommate know that you often need more sleep then the average person. It is OK.

9. Get involved.

I have never had social anxiety, but I am sure this is most difficult for those who do. I encourage you to try to expand your comfort zone. Anxiety loves the comfort zone, but no one loves anxiety. Find some friends to go with you to clubs and activities. Let them know the situation. Remember that it is OK if you need a mental break. Instead of leaving an activity if you are becoming anxious, try stepping out of the room and coming back once your thoughts have calmed down, no matter how long it may take. You will find that the time becomes shorter each time until you are able to attend the entire activity anxiety-free.

10. Don’t let anxiety control you.

I know this is a cliché. Anxiety is an uncontrollable force that comes with no warning. Don’t let it win. Anxiety is not your life, just a very difficult part of your life. Learn how you cope, know your campus’ resources, and know it is possible to be a successful college student while living with an anxiety disorder.

Image via Thinkstock.

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Watching the 2016 Election With Anxiety and Depression

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I click on the evening news as I normally do each day after work, and I am not shocked to see both Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s faces on TV. At this stage in the election, it’s an hourly occurrence. One campaign has said this, and the other has said that. The articles and news clips and coverage feel as though they may last forever. As a person who struggles with both anxiety and depression, this entire election has been daunting emotionally.

When my anxiety is in the driver’s seat, I’m highly terrified at the prospect of what could happen. Certainly, each candidate comes with his or her individual faults, as each of us human beings does, but the person who wins the election will fill the most powerful position in the world. This means each decision they make will not only affect the now, but also has the potential to shape the future. This means each fault must be dissected, evaluated and compared. What is interesting for me is this isn’t the part of the election that inflames my anxiety. I’ve always been confident in the person I plan to cast my vote for come November. My anxiety rears its ugly head when I think of all the people who have not taken time to be informed about the issues in America: issues that affect me and my life, and you and yours. I would invite anyone, for example, to view both candidates’ websites and compare them singularly on their mental health care plans. I believe that comparison speaks volumes alone.

On the other hand, when depression is in the driver’s seat, the apathy I feel for this election is almost physically deafening. The polarization of this country, the tension we all feel on a daily basis, the vitriol that is spewed on an hourly basis is enough to keep most anyone low emotionally. For the life of me, I cannot understand why or how the divide between us all became so vast and so ugly. When I see the coverage of the election and its true heinousness, I just want to cover myself with a blanket and resurface four years from now. My mind just stops. It stops caring. It almost feels like the divide is too much for any man or woman to conquer, and I just give up.

In these moments, I’m almost grateful for my anxiety, because it never lets my depression sink me low enough to truly stop caring forever. I can change the channel and try to pretend there isn’t a huge election that has the potential to be life-changing, but my anxiety is always stewing, ready to remind me how important it is. Whomever you feel is the best option to lead the United States of America as commander in chief is your prerogative. I will only endorse someone who cares about the things I care about. I will only endorse someone who puts forth the effort to come up with and share their ideas for mental health care reform and the de-stigmatization of mental health illnesses. One candidate specifically mentions all of these issues on their website; the other makes no mention of them whatsoever. I will only endorse a candidate who has spent a lifetime dedicated to issues that directly concern me, including mental health care and women’s rights. The other candidate is glaringly silent when it comes to the acknowledgment of mental health illnesses and disabilities, and is laughable in the contradictory nature of their views on women.

I’m not here to advocate one versus the other, nor would I expect this contribution to sway any votes. But if you or someone you know is suffering from mental illness, disabilities, chronic and terminal illness, gender, sexuality, race, or religious discrimination, I implore you to investigate both websites and determine who speaks for you and your plight.

Though my depression is determined to muffle my enthusiasm for this election, my anxiety has played a critical role in my focus on the issues. Of course, I’d love to live a day without the tug of war between the mental hurdles that are anxiety and depression, but as it relates to this election, my experience in dealing with these issues has allowed me to care just enough, while not getting overwhelmed, and for that I am grateful. Vote.

Image via Thinkstock.

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How to Make Plans With a Friend Who Has Anxiety

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Chances are you know someone with anxiety. It could be your friend, family member, coworker, roommate or partner. Having anxiety certainly doesn’t mean you can’t be a good friend, but there are some things that friends and loved ones of anxious people need to understand. If you don’t have anxiety – or even if you do –this guide will help you build stronger relationships with the anxious people in your life. So, without further ado, here is your handy guide to making plans with a friend who as anxiety.

Step One: Actually Make Plans

Maybe your friend with anxiety is an introverted soul who prefers a quiet night in to a wild night out, or maybe it’s been a while since they reached out to you. Either way, you should still invite them to do something with you. Even though your idea of rollicking good time might be too overwhelming for us, people with anxiety still crave friendship and human interaction. If your friend with anxiety hasn’t reached out to you in a while, it probably has nothing to do with how much they like you; it’s just that anxiety can sometimes make you doubt whether even your best friends really want to talk to you.

Step Two: Come Up With Concrete Plans

Hearing “Let’s meet up around 6-ish and, I dunno, do something” is a nightmare for someone with anxiety. A lot of us feel very uncomfortable with uncertainty and absolutely loathe surprises. A better way to propose a plan to a friend with anxiety would be something like, “Let’s meet up at the Starbucks on Maple Street on Sunday at 2:00 P.M. We can get coffee and muffins and then walk around the park.”

Step Three: Be Patient

Even if you have your exact date and time all worked out, there still may be some uncertainties. Your friend might worry about what they should bring or wear or what parking will be like. Be patient with your friend and do your best to answer their questions.

Step Four: Confirm Your Plans With Your Friend Beforehand

This is just a nice courtesy in general, but it will reassure your friend with anxiety that they don’t have the wrong date or time.

Step Five: Try to Be Understanding if Your Friend Needs to Change or Reschedule

It’s fair to expect an apology and an explanation if your friend needs to back out at the last minute, and it’s fair to be frustrated and even angry if your friend is always cancelling plans on you. One of the unpleasant realities of living with anxiety is that occasionally we can’t follow through on plans that we’ve made because we’re having a bad anxiety day and really just don’t feel up to it. Trust us when we say that we feel worse about it than you do.

Step Six: Do Not Change any Aspect of the Plan Without Giving Your Friend a Heads up First 

I really cannot stress how important this is. It’s totally fine to change the plan, but please do not surprise your friend with any changes.  Even if you’re just running a bit late and think you might be there at 7:20 instead of 7:00, text your friend and let them know.

Step Seven: Have a Great Time 

Just because we have anxiety doesn’t mean we aren’t witty, charming, generous, great listeners, or lots of fun!

Step Eight: Follow up Afterwards and Let Them Know You Had a Good Time

Your friend probably enjoyed hanging out with you, but they may be wondering if you did too. It’s nice to let them know that you had fun hanging out with them and appreciate their friendship.

Remember, your friend with anxiety might need to do things a little differently, but that doesn’t make them any less awesome or any less deserving of your friendship.

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Telling Me I’m 'OK’ Doesn’t Change My Anxiety

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Recently, on our way to work, I told my boyfriend my therapist asked how I was dealing with the possibility of his death. I hadn’t intended to broach that subject with him. It’s morbid and pessimistic. He, however, brings it up regularly. I’m the optimist. He’s the pessimist.

My boyfriend needs a kidney transplant. At first, the timeline for his transplant seemed like it would be in a year or two. That timeline soon became six months, and now it needs to happen as soon as possible. It’s a lot to try to comprehend and prepare for.

He asked why my therapist had brought up that topic and if she was concerned about him. I laughed and emphasized she’s concerned about me. She’s concerned about how I will handle it and about how I’ll deal with it on top of everything else that’s going on in my life at the moment.

She wants me to be prepared for the possibility. She also knows I’m worried I’ll get to the point that I somewhat jokingly call “losing it.” This is the point where I know that everything has become too much, and I need to ask for more help in the form of inpatient programs or other interventions. Those are the things I am trying so, so hard to avoid.

Anxiety is a thief and a liar. More precisely, panic disorder with agoraphobia, is a thief and a liar.

My boyfriend looked at me and said reassuringly, “You’re fine. You’re doing OK. You haven’t lost it.”

I paused, then said, “No, actually, I am not OK.” He said it again, confirming what he thought to be true.

I replied, “No, I’m not, and your saying that I am isn’t helping. Saying I’m OK doesn’t actually make me OK. It doesn’t make it better.”

He looked at me, puzzled, and said, “But you seem OK. You seem fine. You’re… you.”

That’s what I do. I can compartmentalize with the best of them. I can be outwardly OK while my inner monologue is a mix of primal screams and a repeating chorus of how not enough I think I am. Some days, I am certain I’m going to be found out, that someone is going to notice my not so put-together side is showing.

Someone is going to tell me I am, in fact, not capable of handling this or anything. Someone is going to tell me I possess a character flaw that guarantees I will lose it at any moment. I am equally worried someone will judge me for not being “not OK enough,” for not falling apart as much or as quickly as I should be.

I can even fail at having enough anxiety. Seriously, anxiety? The door is that way.

So, when you ask me if I’m OK, I might say I am. For that moment and for that interaction, I am. It’s not a lie, but it’s not the entire truth. If you ask me if I’m OK, and I say that I’m not, know I trust you enough to know that about me. Know I trust you enough to understand while I might not be OK, I’m OK-ish. Know I trust you enough to not judge me for my “not OK-ness.”

Know I trust you to not judge my problems as “not real problems” or to not tell me that “things could be worse.” (Did I ask for your opinion, judgment police?) Know I don’t need your pity, but I do need you to know I’m doing the best I can every single day. Know I’m doing my best even when my best is watching 10 episodes of “Veronica Mars” in a row because that’s all I can handle.

And that? That is absolutely enough. That is definitely OK.

Image via Thinkstock.

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Illustrator Jag Nagra Draws Other People's Anxieties for 'I Still Have Anxiety' Series

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It doesn’t matter how long ago it happened — anxiety over a particular event, thing you said or awkward encounter can keep you up at night even decades later. To help herself, and others, dispel these anxieties, Canadian-illustrator, Jag Nagra, is drawing them. She shares the illustrations as part of a series called “I Still Have Anxiety.”

“I initially started this project as a joke to document the embarrassing things I had said or done in the past that still gave me pangs of anxiety even years after they happened,” Nagra told The Mighty. “While many of those things were seemingly small and laughable, they still caused a lot of internal anxiety that I couldn’t seem to shake off.”

As part of the series, each illustration is paired with an anonymous short story detailing where the anxiety came from and how long ago it happened.

Illustration of a luggage tag that says "MEX"

10 years ago, at a staff Christmas party, I heard my boss tell someone that he was going to surprise his wife with a vacation over the holidays. As I was leaving, I accidentally blurted to her, “Have a good trip!”

I still have anxiety about this.

At first, the series began with submissions from family and friends. From there, the word spread and others began sending Nagra their stories. “I very quickly realized this site was incredibly cathartic to read,” she said. “Releasing my anxieties, and reading what others submit, it was very freeing and comforting to know we’re not alone in our struggles. And very surprisingly, the things that caused me anxiety — things I held on to for years — posting them on this site has helped me let go of them in some way. ”

Illustration of a rotary phone

14 years ago, I put my manager’s name on my resumé as a reference without telling her. When the new company called her for a reference, she was so shocked that she started sobbing on the phone call.

I still have anxiety about this.

Some of the anxieties Nagra illustrates are lighter than others, ranging from embarrassing moments to deeper concerns about mental health.

Illustration of a megaphone

As long as I’ve lived, I’ve had social anxiety and I don’t see it going away. When I have to speak to anyone or do anything, I’m often met with the crippling fear that I’ll screw it up horribly (and probably illogically), and sometimes it’s just too much. I’ve never broken under the pressure, but I’ve lost chances time and again because I couldn’t muster up the nerve to speak to someone.

No wonder I often seem better off alone…

 

So far, the reaction to “I Still Have Anxiety,” has been overwhelmingly positive. “I was talking to a few people one day about some of the submissions on the site, and we all realized that we had similar stories. We would read one out loud, and we could recall similar stories from our own experiences,” Nagra said. “It was that moment I realized that although we don’t always express our thoughts to those around us, we all have unspoken shared experiences as we work our way through our lives. While I won’t be able to post every single submission I receive, it’s still helping bring us together and it helps to know what kinds of thoughts other people are carrying around with them.”

Illustration of the Statue of Liberty

The last few months, I’ve been anxious about whether or not to drop my art and take a big job. I finally decided to take my savings and move to New York, instead.  Am I even more anxious now? Yup.

You can read more stories or submit a story for Nagra to illustrate through the “I Still Have Anxiety” Tumblr page.

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The Day I Realized My Son Was Becoming a Self-Advocate

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A few weeks ago was the first day of school. And predictably at the end of the day, the kids came home with the stacks paper – some of it actually needed my attention, and much of it went straight into the recycling pile.

Among the items that needed my attention was the reminder to send in an emergency kit for each child. Living in California, emergency prep means earthquake prep. Our school district requires each child have an emergency kit supplied by the family that includes basic essentials for up to 48 hours. There is an option to either purchase a pre-made kit from the school, or supply your own. I purchased the kits for both kids when they were in kindergarten and we just re-use them each year, restocking when perishables hit their expiration date. So as I was going through the folder full of paper my son brought home and saw the notice listing the items that should be included in an emergency kit, I almost didn’t look at it as I moved it the recycling pile. But then a handwritten note on the side of the page caught my attention, and I paused to read what it said. The note had been written by my son: “Include 48 hours of anxiety medication in emergency kit.”

I asked my son if his teacher had told him to write the note, and he said no. It was his idea. He told me, “My medication only works if I take it every single day. If something happens and I get trapped at school, I want to have my medication there.”

I was momentarily stunned.

I asked if getting trapped at school was something he worries about, “No Mom. I do worry about a lot of things, but not about this. But we do live close enough to the San Andreas fault that a major earthquake could happen. If it happens while I am at school, I want to know I have everything I need until you can get to me. The roads could be really messed up. It’s possible I could have to spend a night at school.”

OK. So he wasn’t worrying. He was being practical. And that means as much as he loathes going to the psychiatrist and to the psychologist, he knows the medication is helping him. He still won’t really talk to us about what he is feeling or experiencing, but he told me so, so much when he said, “My medication only works if I take it every single day. If something happens and I get trapped at school, I want to have my medication there.”

With those two sentences, he told me he knows how far down he had spiraled before starting the medication, and he told me he feels better on the medication. With those two sentences, he told me he knows he needs to do the work to help himself. With those two sentences, he told me he is beginning to self-advocate. With those two sentences, he gave me hope.

Clearly I do not want to see a day when there is an emergency so massive he does get stuck at school, but if that day comes he will be prepared, because he was brave enough to acknowledge his truth.

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