Everyone gets some form of anxiety from time to time, especially in college. Anxiety in college is normal as it is a response to stress and can even occasionally be healthy. The symptoms of those anxious feelings may be very similar to anxiety disorder. So similar that sometimes it is difficult to know the difference. This is a problem that I personally faced.
I have always been an anxious person, both socially and when dealing with stress. And though it did sometimes interfere with my life, I was always able to get it under control. But then I got to college and I felt the clock ticking on my life. The never ending worry that I will not be successful after I graduate was too much to bear. I was not even aware that it was what was actually bothering me, but it was always in the back of my mind. After I could not get motivated to do things that I normally loved doing, was unable to complete some schoolwork, and secluding myself from my friends, I finally realized that this was not normal.
An anxiety disorder means the anxiety you feel can be irrational, extreme, and interfere with daily life. Although you can’t diagnose yourself, there are four aspects of your anxiety you should analyze if you feel out of control by your anxious feelings.
1. The source of your stress. Since normal anxiety is a reaction to stress, there is usually a clear stressor in your life. Maybe it’s an exam you’ve been studying for since the beginning of the week, a parent is sick, you have a big championship game coming up or you’re relationship is on the edge of falling apart. But with abnormal anxiety, there is not a clear source of stress. You could be experiencing anxiety with even the smallest tasks or you can be stressed all the time for no good reason. Getting up in the morning feels like a chore and you’re uncomfortable with adding new daily tasks. Not being able to pinpoint your source of stress is a key indicator that you’re losing control.
2. The duration of your anxiety. If your response is disproportionate to the source of stress, there might be a problem. Once the exam is over, you should feel relieved. Maybe a little nervous about the grade, but it shouldn’t stop you from living your life. If you just feel anxious all the time, even when the stressor is over, you may want to sit down and figure out what will help you feel better about it.
3. How much the anxiety affects your day-to-day life. Healthy anxiety may help motivate you to conquer your stress, like forcing you to study harder for an exam you are worried about. Unhealthy anxiety may cause you to avoid the situation. You may be stressing about an exam, or a problem with your boyfriend, so much that it becomes crippling and you find yourself not being able to do anything productive. If you find yourself avoiding situations and having trouble getting motivated, it may be a sign to seek help.
4. The last one is the most obvious: physical symptoms. If anxiety gets severe enough, it can trigger an attack. The symptoms include dizziness, trouble breathing, light-headedness, sweating, trembling, headaches and nausea. The U.S. National Library of Medicine suggests seeking help if you experience dizziness, rapid breathing, or a racing heartbeat associated with panic, inability to function at home or work, uncontrollable fears, and/or flashbacks to a traumatic event. Not only can anxiety trigger physical symptoms, but it is also a gateway into another mental disorder, such as depressions, an eating disorder, or suicidal thoughts. That’s why it is so important to nip it in the butt while you can.
Once you think your anxious feelings have developed into a disorder, the next step is to get help. If there is one thing you can’t do, no matter how much you try and no matter how much you try and convince yourself you’re strong enough to, it’s do it on your own. Reach out to a friend or family member, even your RA. Explain what you’re feeling. They can’t diagnose you either, but it sure helps to talk to someone. When you feel comfortable enough, reach out to a professional. Please remember that accepting help is not a weakness.
If you are hesitant to approach your family or friends, most colleges have counseling resources. You can use this tool to search for your campus: http://www.ulifeline.org/campus_services.