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How to Recognize and Cope With Anxiety as a Student

It's tough to cope with your anxiety when it crops up and you have a busy student life to keep up with. Here are some do's and don'ts to get through it.

One thing not many people talk about is anxiety, and even fewer people talk about the anxiety that young people face in the high school and college environment. Being a student can be extremely stressful, and that’s very hard on your mental and physical health. Not to mention the incomparable changes you face from childhood to adulthood in going off to college—it’s a cultural shock for everybody who experiences it. However, when people do talk about anxiety and these big life changes, still no one actually talks about how you can cope with these feelings. Genuinely, it’s not fair that we have the expectation to just know how to deal with it. Instead, I want to teach you a little bit about how I’ve learned to manage anxiety in school.

What is anxiety?

First, let’s talk about what anxiety might feel like so you can recognize it. Anxiety is intense, excessive, and ongoing stress caused by everyday life. Anxiety is feeling like you’re in a hole full of all these responsibilities and social events, and everything’s overwhelmingly surrounding you. Anxiety is being constantly on edge as you keep looking up at the top of the hole, expecting it to all come falling down on you. It’s hard to live with a constant fear that you’ll never catch a break—the consistent thoughts of “It will never end.” Your anxiety might crop up when you automatically think someone has something bad to tell you when they say they need to talk. No one will truly understand how anxiety feels unless they’ve experienced it themselves, but these are some common examples for students.

Related: How to Beat Back-to-School Anxiety

What not to do when anxious

There is no step-by-step method for dealing with your own anxieties and worries. If you are struggling or think you may have an anxiety disorder, you should consult your primary care doctor or another trusted professional. But based on my personal experiences, here’s what not to do when you start having anxiety.

  • Don’t criticize yourself: Bringing yourself down doesn’t solve the situation; if anything, it makes it worse.
  • Don’t make your circumstances more dangerous: If you’re driving and feeling anxious, don’t accelerate to get where you’re going to faster; that will only make everyone around you and yourself unsafe. Pull over until you feel calmer.
  • Don’t get aggressive with those around you: If others don’t know what’s going on or how you’re feeling, they’re going to feel like they’re getting attacked for no reason. Don’t drive away the people you love and care about in the whirlwind of your anxiety.
  • Don’t resort to drugs and alcohol: There’s no positive outcome that will come from mitigating your emotions with substances. You’re only hurting yourself and increasing your anxiety.  

We are all humans who make mistakes; we may get mad at somebody when anxious or try to numb the pain with harmful habits. Sadly, the things many of us resort to first are the worst things for us. That’s why we need to invoke positive habits in our lives to be healthy, both mind and body. There’s a huge difference between saying “I’m fine” and actually feeling fine.

Related: Feeling Burnt Out? 5 Steps to Get Back on Track

What you should do when anxious

Let’s walk through some coping strategies for anxiety and how you can apply them to your life. Some of them are so simple you can even do them in public or with friends. Others you might feel like you need to do in a more private place like in your living room, bedroom, or wherever you feel most comfortable. 

Strategy #1: The 333 and 555 rules

In your head or out loud—whichever feels better to you—name three things you can see, list three things you can hear, and then move three of your body parts. This may seem simple, but it helps greatly in distracting your mind from everything else going on. There’s also the 555 rule, which is a breathing technique. You breathe in for five seconds, hold for five seconds, and breathe out for five seconds. This will make you focus on how long you’re breathing in, holding, and letting go and help stabilize your body’s fight or flight response.

Strategy #2: Tense and release technique

Another amazing strategy is to tense up individual parts of your body, hold it for 10 seconds, and then let it go, allowing that part of your body to relax fully. A lot of people use this as a meditation method as well. However, I’ve found it very helpful whenever I’m feeling anxious and need a quick trick to calm myself down.

Strategy #3: Identify your triggers

One of the most important strategies that also might seem so simple but helpful is identifying what’s making you anxious. What triggers you into having anxiety attacks or just feeling symptoms of anxiety in general? By doing this, you’re gaining power over your anxiety and using it to help yourself curb it the next time a stressful situation arises.

Related: Alleviating Stress and Anxiety: The Best Advice From Real Students

Do not let anxiety control you. You have power over your anxiety and your own emotions. As hard as it may seem to get over some things, just know that you can do it. It’s okay to be anxious, but don’t let it stop you from living. It’s easy to get consumed by bad emotions you may be experiencing. It’s easier to not try, but that’s precisely why you have to. If you don’t, you’ll only dig deeper into your anxiety hole—and eventually, it will feel impossible to get out of it. No matter what you’re going through, you have the strength to get through it.

You also don’t have to face your anxiety alone! Check out our article Mental Health: What It Is and How You Can Find Help to learn where to get support for your needs.

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