Sometimes I feel like college stress just sucks the life out of me.
Honestly, I think it’s worse to suffer from anxiety in college than in almost any other life stage. If you experience work-related anxiety, at least you’re away from work at night. When you experience school-related anxiety it follows you everywhere. You can’t sleep, eat, or take a five minute break without being reminded of 76 things you should be doing and that someone else is probably doing. Someone who will take your place in that grad program you’re trying for.
Anxiety is something that I’ve struggled with since I was 16 (when I started university). Over the years I’ve dealt with it really well and really badly–but I’ve learned a lot in the process. I thought that today I’d share you 9 of my top tips for dealing with anxiety in school from my own experience.
One thing I want to make clear, though, is that I am a psychology student. NOT a psychologist. This is simply meant to be a list of things I have found helped me–they are not all supported by research, but mainly my musings. If you have an anxiety disorder, please seek professional help. It’s great.
With that being said, here are my 9 tips for battling anxiety in college:
1. Accept it
You’ve just got to come to terms with your anxiety. If you struggle with extreme stress to the point where it interferes with daily functioning, you’ve got to deal with it. You can’t keep ignoring it–it’s unhealthy for you academically, psychologically, and socially.
This doesn’t mean that you can use your anxiety as an excuse. I fell into that trap–just being anxious doesn’t give you an excuse for blowing up at your partner or being snippy at a friend or leaving the dishes for your roommate two weeks in a row. Rather, accept it so that you are aware of it and how it may be showing itself in your daily life. Accepting it helps you notice the power you’re allowing it to have over you, and slowly take that power back.
2. Decide what you can handle
We have this idea that school needs to be completed in 4 years right after high school and then you immediately start working or go to grad school. But why? If you’re experiencing anxiety, why not take a reduced course load? Is that really the end of the world?
If you’re finding that school is taking too much from you emotionally and in terms of time, I would seriously consider taking a reduced course load to help you stay psychologically healthy while in school. I took a reduced course load last semester because my honours thesis is due sooner than everyone else’s, and I’m so glad I did, even though it means that I’m not graduating with my friends. It’s worth it for me to have a bit less stress even if it means graduating a few months later.
There is no shame in admitting that you can’t handle everything. And you owe it to yourself to stay healthy.
Related: 10 Ways to Relieve Stress over Exams
3. Break up tasks by time spent rather than number of items
After you decide what you can handle, I want you to try changing the way that you write your “to-do list” of the day.
Something that I find really overwhelming is seeing a list of 7 things to do, all of which are huge projects that can’t possibly be finished in a day. How much do I do? When do I know I’m done? Have I done enough yet?
What I started doing this semester is scheduling my work based on time for my larger projects. If I have 10 pages to read for a course, of course I still just write down “readings for course A,” but for giant research papers I write down “1 hour methods,” and “2 hours results” instead of “methods and results.” See how much clearer that is? It helps me know when I’ve completed what I need to do and lets me feel finished without feeling guilty about how I should have done more.
4. Schedule in school-free time
This is time where you do something to just turn your brain off of school for a while. That could be having a nice, long bath after a night class or going for a run on Saturday morning. Whatever works to help you relax and feel refreshed.
Related: How to relax
5. Assess your worst-case scenario
A lot of anxiety is fear of what might happen rather than what is happening now. Something that helped me was when Connor asked me “But what’s the worst that could happen?”
Of course, I rattled off about 25 things that might happen if I didn’t get the grade that I wanted on a paper (I kid you not, one of them actually ended up with Connor dying. Because I didn’t get the grade I wanted on a paper. Anxiety is a funny thing.), but I realized that after looking at my fears, only about three or four of them were realistic, and I could live with all of them.
The fears still worry me, but knowing that you can handle your worst-case scenario gives you a sense of control and stability even when you don’t know what’s coming next. You can deal with it, whatever it is.
6. Learning relaxation techniques
Sometimes you’ve got to calm down and you’ve got to calm down now. Especially in exams! Learn some relaxation exercises, like deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation. Oftentimes universities have workshops on mental health and CBT, go to one and listen to what they have to say! It’s pretty amazing how much power we really have over our emotions.
If you don’t have on-campus mental health services, just google deep breathing or muscle relaxation techniques. Something that I find helps is putting a hot pack on my shoulders. (I just made one by sewing together a hand towel and filling it with rice. Pop it in the microwave and it’s immediate heat therapy!)
7. Develop a routine of self-care
It can be really helpful to feel like you have some control over life, even if it’s just taking care of yourself. Create a quick routine that’s easy to stick to that makes sure that you always feel clean and fresh. You don’t need to leave the door with a full face of makeup and Victoria Secret model hair, but make sure you have a schedule that helps you get good food in your body and stay on top of basics of grooming at least. It makes a huge difference than just grabbing a slice of pizza on your way to class.
Feeling like you look clean and nice and knowing that you have given yourself healthy food that morning can immediately improve your mood enough to help you combat anxiety. Give it a try.
Related: Why You Should Take Care of Yourself
8. Remember that this is a phase
Sure, things like huge deadlines for work may bring back feelings of anxiety in the future, but for a lot of us this feeling we get while in college of not knowing what’s happening while simultaneously having zero control is one of the most anxiety-provoking situations we’ll ever be in.
Remind yourself that even though it feels like it will never end, you only have 12 weeks of class in a semester. It will end, and you will survive. Whatever you’re dealing with right now is a phase that will pass, and you’ll be OK on the other end.
9. Consider seeing a psychologist
If your anxiety is severe and you feel like you need help, please consider seeing a psychologist. Most people with mental health issues never receive professional help for their struggle, and therapy can be extremely helpful. I’m a psych student, and I’ve seen and read about so many examples of how life-changing it can be to work with a psychologist to get to the bottom of what’s causing your anxiety or depression or whatever you are dealing with. Seeing professional help can equip you with the tools you need to combat this, and there is no shame in asking for help.
Look for mental health services on your campus, or look into your medical plans to see if they cover any therapy costs. Many do, so take advantage of that benefit. (you’re paying for it anyway!)
Anxiety is a struggle. But it’s one that we can win!
I really hope that I could offer a bit of light for some of you who are feeling extremely stressed right now–we’re all in the same boat.
What are some ways that you deal with stress or anxiety?
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