Confronting the Challenge of College Anxiety

Brie Schroeder

UW-Eau Claire
UW-Eau Claire

Freshman year of college is anything but easy, and neither is living with an anxiety disorder. That being said, being a freshman in college with an anxiety disorder seems nearly impossible – but here I am, a college freshman, just a few weeks into my second semester at UW-Eau Claire, doing the impossible.

Anxiety is extremely prevalent among college students. Given that 41.6% of college students suffer from some anxiety disorder, it is one of the top presenting concerns among the college population. The symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks vary from person to person. Mine just so happens to be rapid and shallow breathing, shaking, nausea, and lots of tears that are usually accompanied by hyperventilation.When the anxiety kicked in, it was definitely a shock to the system. I felt incredibly suffocated and helpless.

“Just last year I had to raise my hand and ask to use the restroom, and now I am expected to know what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

It is crazy how fast it all happened. Just last year I had to raise my hand and ask to use the restroom, and now I am expected to know what I want to do for the rest of my life. In the beginning, it was all fun and games. There were bonfires to go to and floor events to attend; my entire schedule had been planned for me and there was no time to think. But once classes began, things started to slow down. Suddenly, I found myself having more free time (to think, of course) and more time alone, and that is the most “deadly” combination for someone living with an anxiety disorder.

After my first panic attack at college, I quickly realized that this was not something that I would be able to cope with alone. Don’t get me wrong, I was never really alone, but my aunt and boyfriend are not therapists and can only help so much. After looking into the resources both on and off campus, I was led to the university’s counseling services. After trial and error with several therapists, I finally found a good match for me, Wendy. Upon talking with Wendy, I realized that my much of my anxiety was/is triggered by intense thoughts of myself getting sick. I thought it was so silly that I needed therapy for overwhelming thoughts of puking or getting cancer when there are individuals with much more serious mental health disorders (post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, depression, etc.), but then a friend put it all in perspective for me: “A doctor wouldn’t deny a diabetes patient because their illness is not as severe as a cancer patient. So why would it be any different for mental health patients?”

In the meantime, I kept my friends and much of my family in the dark. College is my time to become independent and learn how to find resources and deal with my mental health on my own (for the most part). I am not sure if they could ever tell that I was struggling because of my very strong poker face and goofy personality. Also, no one would be able to tell because when I was having a hard time, I would take a step back and spend some time alone in my dorm room.

After two months of what seemed like hell, it was finally winter break and I had time to reflect on my first semester of college as well as my overall wellbeing. During that time, I realized that a life of constant worrying and anxiety was not a life that I wanted to live. Also, although I am on one prescribed drug for anxiety and a fast-acting drug when needed for panic attacks, I did not want to have to take any more medications. After much research and planning, I found natural ways to be able to reduce my anxiety. I am now approaching my third week of second semester and am feeling much more confident and relaxed with my “natural anxiety relievers” then I believe that I could feel on any medication. Natural is better!

I’ve found the following natural anxiety relievers to be helpful:

Chamomile Tea

Chamomile has been found to significantly relax blood vessels and well as relax muscle fibers. When I find myself getting noticeably anxious or panicky, I will drink a hot glass of my favorite honey vanilla chamomile tea, and it usually does the trick!

21 Minutes

Research has shown that exactly 21 minutes of exercise a day is enough for your body to release endorphins (hormones that trigger a happy, positive feeling) that results in reduced anxiety and depression. I make it a goal to get 21 minutes of exercise at least five or six days a week and have found a huge improvement in my mood since starting.

Aromatherapy

Lavender is known for its calming properties. Therefore, when I am feeling anxious, I will take a steaming hot shower and then use my vanilla lavender “sleep” aromatherapy lotion as well as a lavender essential oil diffuser.

Four-Square Breathing

When I am panicking and notice my breathing picking up, I will often practice four-square breathing. In four-square breathing, you take a deep breath in for four seconds, hold it for four seconds, release for four seconds, and hold again for four seconds. I repeat this as many times as needed.

Distractions

Anxiety often strikes when you have time to sit and think. Distract yourself! Some of my favorite distractions are Facetiming my little cousins (Yeah, technology!), reading, and adult coloring books. Netflix is mindless, and therefore, not a distraction.

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