BY ALEXA CHERRY
For the UAS Whalesong
There are lots of books, blogs, and articles out there in the world that talk about the detrimental effects that college can have on you as a person. They talk about stress and sleep deprivation and the importance of eating properly – but one topic that I think needs to be discussed more is anxiety. This can be a side effect of, and is often associated with, stress, but is also its own separate animal that ought to be looked at and treated as such.
Now, I’m certainly no mental health scientist, and the definitions for stress and anxiety look strikingly similar: stress is “a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life; something that causes strong feelings of worry and anxiety,” while anxiety is “fear or nervousness about what might happen” (Merriam-Webster). There’s the interconnectedness I mentioned earlier – purportedly, stress causes anxiety. However, both definitions are highly subjective, so here are my subjective interpretations of what they are.
To me, stressed is what I am when I have a presentation of assignment due – I know it’s coming up, I know it needs to get done, and I can feel the weight of that responsibility and the associated time limit of the deadline looming over me. Stress is the knowledge that something is expected of me, and the pressure to meet those expectations. On the other hand, anxiety is what wakes me up in the middle of the night after I’ve only been asleep for two hours, but I know I have a lot to do and I know that if I’m asleep I’m not doing it. See the difference? I guess the easiest way to explain it would be that stress is the cause; anxiety is the effect. In my experience, you’re only stressed until the deadline has passed and the assignment is turned in; however, the anxiety can – and often does – last beyond that.
There are, of course, differing degrees of anxiety. Some people are just anxious because that’s what college and living life does to you; other people have full-blown anxiety disorders, of varying levels of severity. This article is not intended to teach you how to straight-up cure your anxiety, however bad it might be; instead, I thought that I would just share with you all some tips and tricks for coping with it that I’ve learned from my own experience and research.
Tip and trick number one is to take advantage of the free counseling services that UAS offers! Located on the bottom floor of the Mourant building, the counseling center is available for use to any students who are taking classes during the current semester. You can make an appointment at the Student Resource Center, either in person or by calling 907-796-6000. As one of the counselors who works there pointed out to me recently, “Why not do it while it’s free?” It never hurts to talk to someone about what you’re going through – and while talking to your friends and family is certainly helpful, speaking to a trained professional in the field can be even more so.
Never underestimate the power of a good self-care session. I’m not a proponent of skipping class, but sometimes it’s not a bad idea to take even just one morning off and sleep in that extra hour. And of course, you don’t have to take a class off – but I recommend taking care of yourself. Take a long hot shower, make a cup of your favorite tea, take a nap, treat yourself to something you’ve been saving for a “special occasion.” Sometimes, even if pampering yourself doesn’t completely eliminate your stress and anxiety, it’s at least a good step on the way to feeling better eventually.
Another tip is to take deep breaths! Yeah, I know, when you’re panicking over an assignment the last thing you want to be told is to breathe deeply. But there’s actually a reason for this – when you’re super anxious and panicking, you take faster, shallower breaths without actually realizing that you’re doing so. The next time you’re feeling anxious, I recommend actively taking a “breathing break” and making sure that you’re getting enough oxygen to your brain.
Finally, try not to get overwhelmed, and to recognize when you are! There are a lot of aspects of college life that aren’t mandatory. If looking at your schedule or to-do list induces a panic attack, decide on some things to knock off it. Mark what’s absolutely essential to get done (e.g. attend class, study for test, take test), and then don’t feel bad about canceling extraneous tasks and events if you have to (movie night, basketball game, cleaning room). I mean, you can’t put cleaning your room off forever, but pushing it back by one or two nights won’t hurt, and will certainly give you time to recover.
I hope you found this article useful! If you have other ideas or ways that you deal with stress and anxiety, feel free to either write your own article to submit, or write a Letter to the Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.