The start of a new college year never fails to bring on new challenges. Maybe you’re taking on upper level courses, adding an internship to your schedule, or juggling other commitments. If this is your first year of college, home might be hours away, and you’re trying to live on your own for the first time. All of these things have different types of stress attached to them and anxiety can be a common response to these things. But what happens when these feelings of excessive worry and nervous energy don’t stop after you turn in that final paper of the semester? It’s possible you could have an anxiety disorder.
“I guess I didn’t really realize it until college,” said one St. Kate’s student, who wishes to remain anonymous. “I went to the health center and took a survey for depression and anxiety. Oh my god, did I score high.”
This student had gone to the health center for an unrelated concern, but was surprised to leave with the knowledge that a lot of what they were feeling after fall semester ended and when spring semester was starting met a number of the symptoms of an anxiety disorder and depression.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America,
“GAD [Generalized Anxiety Disorder] affects 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the U.S. population, in any given year. Women are twice as likely to be affected.”
Individuals can also show signs of an anxiety disorder anytime from childhood to adulthood.
Maddie Thies, ‘19, an English major at St. Olaf College, recognized that she was suffering from an anxiety disorder in eighth grade, after moving to South Korea with her family. She experienced panic attacks with no explanation and when they kept happening, she knew that she needed to get help.
The St. Kate’s student described their experience as “Not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel” and “helpless.” Thies described the physical and mental aspects of her anxiety. She described her elevated heart rate, erratic breathing. She explained that there are times when she is not able to get out of bed and she feels that her mind is in too many places at once.
Both of these women are thriving college students. Both have found strategies to help them cope and be successful. For example, the St. Kate’s student who wishes to be anonymous, has found that knitting is a strategy that works for them.
“[Last summer] I picked up knitting and I realized it was really helping. It’s really peaceful and just a good way to meditate. I didn’t realize the power of meditation,” said anonymous. “It’s a lot of repetition and you don’t have to think about it too much once you get the hang of it. I think it really just helped to empty out my mind.”
Thies has other strategies that have proven effective for her. After visits to the doctor, she knew that part of her anxiety disorder was a chemical imbalance, so medication has been helpful for her. On top of this strategy, she has found others such as seeing a therapist, eating consistently, engaging in brief meditation using the book The Promise of a New Day, and having an outlet such as engaging in a hobby. She also takes walks in order to clear her head and keeps her living space clean.
“Your physical space can reflect your mental state of being,” said Thies.
Thies also remarked on the importance of having a strong support system in family and friends.
For students at St. Kate’s or other colleges, experiencing prolonged anxiety can be quite common. Luckily, there are resources that can be easily accessed on campus. You can go to the Counseling Center or the Health and Wellness Center to receive the questionnaires for depression and anxiety if you feel that you’ve been struggling for too long. Counseling services can be regularly provided to students who ask.
“Be very open with [your anxiety]. You’re not the only one struggling,” said the anonymous St. Kate’s student.
For those who know someone who has been struggling with an anxiety disorder, it can be hard to know what to do to help your friend or family member.
“Anxiety is something you can’t fully understand unless you’ve experienced it,” said Thies. “Have compassion. Everyone experiences and copes with anxiety in different ways.”
If you would like help, you can contact the Counseling Center on the St. Paul campus by calling 651-690-6805 or on the Minneapolis campus at 651-690-7830.