Saying “Everybody has anxiety” is a strange way to say that we don’t want to talk about it.
I was taken aback last week when I met with an official to talk about my career goals and possible internships and they told me, “You seem nervous, which is something you could work on.”
Talking about how I would pay back my immense student loans over the next 40 years of my life made me nervous, and they assumed that because I fiddled with my hands during an official meeting, I would be unsettled in any workplace. All I could think was, “You should’ve seen me in high school. You should see how far I’ve come.”
When I talked about being stressed to my father, he asked, “But I thought you were over all that?” It made me realize how little people are educated about the anxiety crisis among teens and college students, and often into adulthood.
An anxiety disorder is classified as anxiety that interferes with daily life. It goes beyond being nervous before a performance or test. According to the American Psychological Association, 40 million adults suffer from anxiety disorders in the U.S. and with 41.6% of people affected, it is the top concern among college students.
People aren’t taught how to manage their stress and anxiety, and they’re suffering because of it. Only one third of adults living with anxiety seeks treatment, according to Best Colleges. Living a stressful life should not be the norm, and the same goes for the stigma that seeking help is a sign of weakness.
Anxiety is all over college campuses. The American College Health Association found an increase in “overwhelming anxiety” among college students from 50% of students in 2011 to 62% in 2016 (Denizet-Lewis). This is similar to what the University of California, Los Angeles found when asking college freshman if they felt overwhelmed with all they had to do. Starting in 1985, the percentage was only 18. This increased to 29% in 2010, and 30% in 2011.
For the first time in most of their lives, students are on their own, managing their future, current jobs, classwork, food, and finances. For many, their anxiety can become debilitating to a point where they fall behind on all of these things.
Mental disorders are seen as a weakness, while students are expected to manage themselves in a new environment while attempting to be a part of all that is college. They don’t care about themselves, for the most part. I’ve seen more than enough people chug vodka at parties to know that self-help isn’t in their vocabulary.
The pressure that most students students face, combined with the work they are expected to keep up with, leads to a life run by stress. Anxiety can develop into depression, and those feelings of weakness can sometimes lead to suicidal thoughts and actions, according to Back It Up. In order to prevent this, college campus provide accommodations for anxiety that can range from service animals to where and when students take exams.
However, students don’t frequently take advantage of these accommodations. Their mental health disorders then take away from the social aspects of their lives and often leaves students in their dorm room, avoiding people and classes.
Yes, there’s a lot to be worried about, and we should be worried. But now is also the time for us to learn how to manage our stress, food, sleep, socialness, and every other aspect of our own lives. We are one of the first generations to accept and understand mental illness. Accommodations around college campuses are slowly increasing, counseling is becoming more prevalent, and professors are generally understanding in deadline shifts and knowing how busy student lives are.
In the meantime, if you’re feeling anxious or unwell, talk to your friends, take a walk, read a book for fun for once. Take a deep breath and sit outside somewhere and take some sun in. Find the nearest dog and pet it until your hand feels gross. Now is the time for you to focus on yourself in a positive way.