April 18 2017

Coping with High Functioning Anxiety

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Thoughts dance around my mind, twirling faster as they confound into a sonata of angst. Blood beats through my veins to the staccato rhythm of my heart as the fibers in my back contract like strings of a guitar that has just been tuned. My fingernails- half bitten, half broken- tap the desk to an uneven rhythm as my other hand twirls my hair, fingers propped like a baton amidst my locks, swirling to the beat.

On the outside, I appear perfectly calm.

On the inside, my head pounds louder with thoughts which, by now, drown out what’s going on around me.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

I’d like to think so too, but in reality, it’s not. In fact, it’s the norm for many people. This is what it’s like to live with high-functioning anxiety.

Unanswered text messages. Canceled plans. The need to plan. Long hours at the gym trying to burn off steam. Twirled hair. Bitten nails. Fast heartbeat before, during, and after exams. Self-doubt. List-making. Insomnia. The desire to be heard but the fear of being judged.

To jot down a mere list of everything that contributes to what is formally known as “anxiety” is a bit tough. The truth is, the symptoms differ for everyone, both in their longevity and in their severity.

I, myself, will admit to experiencing higher-than-average anxiety since I’ve begun college. In elementary school, I was able to mitigate my stress by adhering to a strict routine and keeping my life under careful control. However in college, between a packed load of courses, activities, social commitments, adjustment problems, and lack of sleep, nutrition, and personal time, all of these problems creeped to the surface and then…you guessed it…erupted. Let’s face it: it’s virtually impossible to keep your life entirely under control in college. Universities are breeding grounds for dishevelment and chaos. It’s almost abnormal to not have your life in shambles at least some of the time.

When you’re first confronted with a feeling of losing control of your mental state, it can be pretty scary. You may be sitting in class and all of a sudden your heart could start racing. You might feel hot and uncomfortable, restless and irritable. I’ve had more than a couple of episodes of this occur during my undergraduate years and, through trial and error, I have learned the strongest thing you can do for yourself is to reexamine your mindset. Always listen to your body, it is trying to tell you something. While I didn’t always know exactly where my stress and anxiety stemmed from amidst the matted web of college stress, I did know I needed to somehow learn to regain composure and own my body, not let it own me.

To train your mind is a lot harder than I ever could have expected. Think of it as training for a marathon: you must build up to it gradually and be able to maintain composure for a long amount of time. You must become the queen of your mental fortress. There’s no one cure for everybody facing anxiety, but there are certainly ways to help relieve anxiety for anyone, and that’s what I’m here to talk about. This is just what’s worked for me, and if it can help anybody else out there too, then I want to share!

My first escape became running. I’d run day and night, every chance I got. Something about my feet pounding on the pavement, propelling my body forward was calming…and addicting. However, I was naive and forgot that there is a such thing as too much of a good thing. I figured I could outrun any amount of stress that life sprung on me. Over a series of months, my anxiety began to recede and was replaced with feelings of unruly freedom. The result of this tiny lapse of judgement was that I got chronically injured from a repetitive muscle strain (think: overuse injury) and there went that plan. The lesson? Everything in moderation. Despite my own personal shortcomings, I do endorse exercise as a physical outlet  because physical challenges can do wonders for your mind. It really doesn’t matter what you do, just find something you like and stick with it.

Next, I tried meditation classes, both from the school wellness center, and from videos I stumbled across online. Meditation has been extraordinarily helpful, but with one slight caveat: it demands an unrivaled level of patience. Frankly, I don’t have much of that. But I’m working on it. If you have access to free group meditation classes, I highly recommend popping your head into one and seeing if it’s for you. If you’re not comfortable with that, just simply googling “free meditation videos” will lead you to an abundance of Youtube tutorials which can serve as the perfect place to start.

Okay, so I’m not a big journaler. One of the things I have found, though, is that making lists of everything I have to do for the day can be a source of stress relief. Somehow, checking things off a list makes me feel accomplished. It can be as simple as Wake up. Chug coffee. Do 30 minutes of homework. And voila! I did something. Instant mood booster. But another thing I have really picked up on is quote hoarding. I scroll through Instagram, Google Images, Tiny Buddha… you name a quote, I’ve probably seen it on multiple platforms. I like to write down quotes that inspire me and put them into what I call a “Hope Jar,” and whenever I need to take a break and recharge myself, I pull out a quote and read it aloud. It’s a little daily dose of inspiration. Maybe you’re not into quotes, but what inspires you? Find out, and try to weave it into your everyday life. It will help make everyday a better day!

The last bit of advice I will say is don’t be afraid to seek help. Seeking help when you cannot solve your own problems is a source of strength and empowerment. I’ve taken advantage of free counselling sessions on my campus— because, hey, why not? It’s free! You don’t need to have anything “wrong” with you to simply go talk to a professional and dump some of your fears and anxieties and stressors on him or her. It can make you feel better. There’s no need to suffer in silence if you’re ever having trouble balancing your life. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather do whatever it takes to be in a good state of mind so I can perform at my best. So I urge you to take advantage of resources that are at your disposal if you ever need them because the way I see it is: healthy mind, happy life.

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