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14 Tips on Surviving College With Anxiety

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Going to college is hard. In most cases, you’re miles away from home and completely out of you domain or, if you were like me, you went to a college that was close to home. For the first time, you have a different kind of independence and you get the first taste of adulthood, but when you have a mental illness like anxiety, college can be so much harder. You have to manage your mental health, personal responsibilities, and school. It is possible to get through college when you’re struggling with any type of mental illness, although it can be difficult at times. I started my freshman year not really sure about how my anxiety would react to this new environment. I learned within the first few months of my college career that my anxiety did create a problem in ways I did not anticipate. In the end, I was able to figure out ways to cope with my anxiety, which allowed me to successfully complete my first year at college. If you struggle with anxiety I hope these following tips help you find a way some positive coping mechanisms.

1. Advocate for yourself.

This means going to the office of disability to get accommodations for specific triggers you may have, like the need to have your exams in another room. Keep in mind, you may not be able to be accommodated for everything, so make sure you talk to the office of disability to know for sure what you can be accommodated for. You can talk to your professors after you get your accommodations that you have pertaining to your anxiety. However, if you decided not to go through the office of disability, it’s a good idea to communicate with your professor through email or in person about your specific concerns regarding your anxiety in that class. You may not need to talk to every professor you have about your anxiety, but if you do need to talk about specific concerns, make sure you reach out to that professor. Most professors are really understanding and may want to work things out with you. Don’t be afraid to talk to them. I myself only had to talk to a professor one time because I had to present and I knew it may be a little difficult for me. That professor was really understanding.

2. Take advantage of your campus resources.

At my university, there is a counseling program designed to help students with mental illness. Most universities should have some sort of counseling department where you can go to get therapy or go talk to someone. College can get overwhelming at times, and it’s important that you take care of yourself. You may or may not have a therapist/psychiatrist at home, but while you’re away it’s good to take advantage of your campuses resources. Keep your therapist/psychiatrist updated and reach out to them as well. The counseling program at my university offers group therapy and one-on-one therapy. Make sure you take note of all the services your university provides. If you’re living on campus, talk to your RA. They should be trained on how to help their residents and guide them. They’re another resource you can take advantage of. You should also try befriending upperclassmen. They can help you out too by offering advice or just being there as a friend.

3. Exercise.

OK, I know this is really obvious, but please exercise. Not only will it help you stay physically healthy, but it will help you feel good. Exercising helps boost serotonin levels. You don’t have to do this every day, either. Plan out some days for when you may want to work out. Most schools have gyms for their students that you can work out in and even attend classes at the gym if your university offers them. Or, if you’d prefer, you can go for a walk/run or even do mini exercises, (e.g yoga/meditation) in your dorm room.

4. Sleep.

Get a healthy amount of sleep if you can every night. Don’t deprive yourself of sleep. You don’t want to be walking around like a zombie. When your mind is rested, then it’s much easier to take control of you anxiety. If you need to take a nap, then take a nap.

5. Grounding techniques.

Sometimes when you’re about have an anxiety attack it can be hard to calm yourself. It’s a good idea to have some grounding techniques. I use the mantra “Just breathe” to help me (I have it on my lock screen, and I had it on my dorm wall on a canvas). Other times, I use STOP or a grounding technique that makes me aware of my surroundings. You can also use breathing techniques. Find something that works for you. It is also helpful to identify your old triggers and your new triggers.

6. Create a comfort box.

A comfort box is so useful. You can put anything you want in there that you know may soothe you. This box is really helpful for when you’re feeling down, anxious or just stressed. You can get an actual box or use one of those storage drawers. In my comfort box I kept adult coloring books, markers, colored pencils, my journal, favorite snacks, a stress ball, bubbles, a glitter jar, etc. You can really add whatever you want that may help you feel better.

7. Create a playlist.

Sometimes it’s nice to listen to upbeat or positive music. I have a few playlists that I created to help me when I’m feeling a little down because of my anxiety. You can put any type of music you want in your playlist, like your favorite songs or catchy pop music. You can look up different types of playlists if you don’t want to create your own. It’s totally up to you.

8. Make your dorm comfortable.

Bring things from home like your favorite stuffed animal or some other personal things to make the dorm a little bit more comfortable. Make it feel like home away from home.

9. Eat right.

I know firsthand how in college all you may want to do is eat junk food. But in the long-run, eating a balanced diet will be a lot better for you. You’re putting good food into your body and it’ll make a huge difference. I’m not saying you should eat healthy all the time, but let’s be honest: dining hall food is meh half the time so try to change things up and eat well. Make sure to eat even when you’re not hungry. Your body needs fuel to get you through the day.

10. Journal.

This may seem a little intimidating, but journaling can be so helpful. If you’re the person who has a million thoughts going through your head, journaling is a really good way to get those thoughts out. I’ve gotten into the habit of journaling through writing open letters or just venting about things that have bothered me. Afterwards you may feel like a huge weight is lifted off your shoulders. There’s not a right or wrong way to journal. You don’t have to do it every day. It doesn’t have to be pretty if you don’t want it to be. It’s a place for you to vent your inner thoughts, so do what works for you.

11. Don’t spread yourself too thin.

College is exciting. There are events going on all the time. There are parties. There are your classes. There are clubs. You have personal things you’ve got to do. In your first semester, you may want to do everything and it’s really hard to find a balance, but you shouldn’t spread yourself thin. What really helped me was using a planner. I planned out my week based on things I needed to do. Don’t take on too many things at once, and try to keep procrastination to a minimum.

12. Make friends/keep in contact with loved ones.

If you’re like me and have social anxiety and therefore tending to avoid social situations, this will be difficult for you. However, it is very important that you try to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Try to make friends with people in your dorm. Most dorms hold little programs which are great ways to mingle with people. Join clubs that interest you. Try to make friends in your classes. Try to be friends with your roommate(s) if you can. Keep in contact with friends from back home. Keep in contact with loved ones. Call your parents/guardians if you need to. College can be scary, and just hearing a loved one’s voice can be soothing. I called my mom more than she called me, if we’re being honest. Hang out with people. Create a support system of friends or even faculty members.

13. Don’t be afraid to take a break.

You’re going to be swarmed with work, but make sure you spread that out so you’re not so anxious about deadlines. If you have to take a mental health day then do so. It’s OK to have leisure time. If an assignment is stressing you out and you’re getting anxious, it’s OK o take a break. Watch Netflix or do something you love. Use your comfort box. Hang out with friends. Take care of yourself. You can still do well even if you take breaks. Don’t push yourself too much.

14. “Treat yo self”/Self-care

Treat yourself. If you step out of your comfort zone and face your fears, treat yourself, even if that means having two desserts at dinner or ordering your fave food from a local restaurant. Buy something you want. Pamper yourself. Spend a few hours in your favorite place on campus. Go do something fun. This is all about you, so do what you love. Self-care is really important. You’ve got to take care of yourself. That means sleep, eat right, and exercise. It’s finding a favorite place on campus where you can just chill out for a little while. Some days may be hard, but make sure you try to get up and shower. You may feel so much better. Don’t be afraid to take a mental health day. Take care of yourself and your mental health anyway you can.

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Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Originally published: September 3, 2017
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