Anxiety has become much more recognized in society in recent years. It affects every individual differently. The severity and nature of anxiety will vary, but no matter how our anxiety manifests, we all want nothing more than to get it under control so that we can live our best lives.
I have been struggling with anxiety since I was a sophomore in high school. Sometimes, it feels like I'm holding the weight of the world, and other times I feel as though I could conquer it. Anxiety is not constant for me, it comes in waves. As I transitioned into college, I wanted to get control over my life. I wanted to stay above the waves. In order to do that, I had to find a way to manage my anxiety so that I could still make the most of my college career. Based on my experience and my improvements, here are seven ways that I learned to manage anxiety in college.
1. Find a personal escape.
When it comes to anxiety, it feels impossible to escape because the problem is literally in our own head. It is a very real problem, but not a tangible one that we can run away from (as hard as we might try). The most effective way to handle anxiety in the moment is to find an “escape” that is unique to you. Of course, there are methods that offer long-term solutions, but sometimes we have to focus on the present and simply escape our brains.
The problem at hand will still need to be dealt with, but taking a moment to clear your head can make facing the issue much more manageable. Your escape can be an activity, a thought or even an actual place. Depending on your personality, hobbies and experiences, your escape will vary from everyone else’s.
I, personally, have always been a music kid, so my escape is playing the ukulele. I run through a song, and usually by the time I finish, my heart rate has calmed down, my hands have stopped shaking and I feel much more grounded. Playing the ukulele makes me feel like I’m just chilling on an island somewhere without a care in the world. It sounds ridiculous, but it works for me. Find whatever works for you, and anytime you feel your anxiety acting up, escape until you feel better fit to face the issue.
2. Establish a routine.
Routines are often perceived as boring, but they can actually be very healthy for people with anxiety. They create a sense of control that allows for a calmer, smoother day.
Morning routines are a must. Knowing what to do as soon as you wake up not only causes less stress when preparing for the day, but also provides an immediate source of productivity. There will be more on productivity further down, but having a designated routine as soon as you wake up can help overcome that daunting task of getting out of bed every day.
Establish a specific time for the necessities such as eating, sleeping and studying. Appetites can falter when affected by anxiety, but having a scheduled eating time can prevent any health deterioration. In order to keep being productive, you have to eat something, so include meal times in your routine. Sleeping habits are also affected by anxiety. Try to get your sleeping schedule on track, whether that means going to bed the same time every night, waking up the same time every morning or even just aiming for those glorious eight hours of sleep. Finally, as much as none of us want to do it, homework must be included. If we don’t do our assignments, we will get more stressed. It's the circle of crippling anxiety which is nothing like the miraculous circle of life in The Lion King.
No matter what your typical day consists of, it can't hurt to have a routine. It is not necessary to map out every moment of every day; however, a general structure creates a stronger foundation for you, your emotions and your life to better manage anxiety.
3. Make use of on-campus counseling.
Most college campuses offer free counseling to their students. Friends are great listeners and loving companions, but there is nothing like talking to someone whose actual job is to listen to your problems. We might need professional help. We desperately want someone to hear the same things out loud that we hear in our heads. However, due to the constant fear of being judged, annoying or ignored, we never want to talk about our problems. Counselors don't make you feel insane or a nuisance. They are simply there to listen and help you improve your life and health as much as possible. It's free. It's accessible. It's beneficial. So make use of on-campus counseling while you can.
4. Practice positive self talk.
Whoever came up with the "sticks and stones" phrase had a disastrous misunderstanding of the world, because words definitely matter. We can't control what other people say to us, but we can control what we say to ourselves. If you make a mistake or don't like how you look that day, don't belittle yourself. Instead, re-frame the way you address yourself.
When you accidentally sleep through a class, don't say "wow, I suck." Say "at least I got up today" or "let's try to do something else then." When you accidentally mess up a speech or an exam, don't say "I failed." Instead, quote Daniel Radcliffe and say "I tried, and therefore, no one should criticize me." The world isn't always kind to us, but that doesn't mean we can't be kind to ourselves.
5. Maintain your surroundings.
As cliche as it sounds, your outer surroundings reflect your inner mindset. If your brain feels jumbled with anxiety, eventually your room will look about the same. However, your brain doesn't have to be the determining factor here. You can force yourself to clean your room or to do your laundry even if your anxiety is telling you that getting out of bed is the worst decision of your life. Bribe yourself with food, nap time or whatever else it takes. My personal favorite method of bribery is retail therapy in exchange for doing a load of laundry.
These tasks don't seem that important, especially when compared to things like homework and exams. But fun fact: a messy room will distract you from your homework. I say this because I used to do it all the time. I'd start to write a paper, and then I'd see something on my floor, and it bothered me, so I sat down my laptop and picked it up. This process repeated until it was 4:00 a.m. when my paper was due at 8:00 a.m., and I was in severe distress. To avoid this, I simply take some time every week to do a general clean up. It makes me feel productive and makes my surroundings a better place to function or relax.
6. Praise your productivity.
Waking up is one of the worst parts of my day when my anxiety is misbehaving. Imagine all the things that can go wrong. "Staying in bed is clearly the most logical choice." I say this to myself and then immediately regret it because not only have I refused to do anything, but I also allowed my anxiety to control my entire day based on that one decision.
Life can be hard when your heart is beating out of your chest like a pinata at a kid's birthday party, but staying in bed only enables the cycle to continue. Get up and make a cup of coffee or tea, and brush your teeth. The little things matter, too. It is important to find at least something productive in every day. You don't have to write a book or win a gold medal to be productive. Getting out of bed and moving to the couch can be considered productive. Eating is productive. Cleaning is productive. Taking care of yourself is productive contrary to what you may believe, and it is worth being proud of when you do.
7. Identify your triggers.
There is usually some underlying cause for our anxiety episodes. It took me two years to realize that my anxiety attacks are triggered by questioning my self-worth. Sometimes it is related to our own insecurities or past traumas. Maybe you haven’t figured out what yours is yet, and that is perfectly okay.
There are also physical signs for those with clinical anxiety. Irritability, fatigue, excessive sweating, trembling, numbness in limbs and several other symptoms can give an indication for an upcoming anxiety attack. If you start to notice any of these symptoms or whatever symptoms are unique to you, simply give yourself some time to recharge, rethink or relax.
As infuriating as it can be, anxiety doesn't have to control your life. The tips above are just small fixes, but any amount of relief can make a big difference. Take care of yourself out there, and remember that you are so much more than your anxiety.
Lead Image Credit: Unsplash
Editor's Note: The information within this article is provided for informational purposes only and should not be used in replacement of professional medical care.