Dealing with Anxiety in College: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff or the Big Stuff

Senior spring of high school was a time of bliss and much-deserved relaxation, of long afternoons spent blowing off class for impromptu trips to the beach with the dulcet tones of Rebecca Black wafting out of car windows. Senior spring of college is a hellish thing, the place where practical worries and existential fears converge. For so many of us, the end of our college careers represents the culmination of all those panic attacks and pangs of self-doubt heretofore, and no amount of free alcohol can ever change that.

But maybe we can.

A few years
ago, I began to notice a shift in the way we talk about imperfection, and it gave me pause. All across the Internet, a diverse array of
brave individuals living with everything from AIDS to Zinc Deficiency were
beginning to stand up and reclaim their agency.

“I have male pattern baldness,” one such commentator announced on a
message board I stumbled upon quite by chance one day. “But male pattern
baldness doesn’t have me!”

As I idly continued to scroll through the rest of the
Men’s Hair Loss Solutions page, I couldn’t help feeling something altogether
unexpected—a vague sense of annoyance, like how you feel when there’s a fruit fly
buzzing around in your peripheral vision, and a deep sensation of loss, rooted
way down in the pit of my stomach.

Because for me, the problem is anxiety, and
my relationship to it is nothing like what this fellow’s worked out with his
thing. The truth is, anxiety has got me in a big way, and it doesn’t look like
it’s planning to let go any time soon.

I can’t remember a time before
anxiety. I suspect it was congenital; that it slid out of my mother as I did, a sinister parasite free-loading off my happiness, waiting for me to let
down my guard for a second, just one measly second. That’s all the time it would take for anxiety to tighten its walls around me until I imploded into nothingness.

It
grew as I did, poisoning what could have been by all accounts a healthy and
relatively happy childhood. When it was at its best, it manifested as a nagging
dread, a troublesome if impish foil lurking in the wings while I nervously
staggered through the day’s interactions desperately trying to remember my
lines; at its worst, it was total paralysis of mind, body, spirit.

As I got
older and the stresses of school life mounted, my anxiety continued to find new
and intoxicating ways to torture me, and I began to crack under its weight. I’d
spend the five-minute interval between Social Studies and Math sucking on my
asthma inhaler, completely unaware of the stimulating (and thus,
anxiety-exacerbating) properties of albuterol. I’d come home after spending the whole day on red alert and collapse out
of sheer mental exhaustion.

Things got marginally better, but
only because I decided, after a certain point, that the best strategy was one
of avoidance; I learned to suck it up. I got through high school and went
to college, where the proximity of the real world threatened to set fire to the
whole powder keg. That hasn’t happened yet, and I wish I could say that’s
because I’ve slain the beast, but the truth is that I have given up.

And, honestly, I don’t think I’m the
only one who feels like this. Spend a little time talking to people on these
campuses and I can guarantee you’ll find others in a similar situation, white-flag wavers who’ve gone so far down into the trenches they see virtually no
other choice but to hunker down and live there, necrotizing foot diseases and
all.

But when we step back
and examine the phenomena of our personal neuroses and our collective hysteria,
we begin to realize the most bafflingly simple truth of all: that they’re
really not worth it.

Of everything you learn in college, maybe
the real thing to keep in mind as you go out into the world is that things
generally work themselves out. My mother used to tell me that when I was a kid,
but only now am I beginning to have accrued enough life data to believe it. And
the other thing to take with you, the one I’ve learned from the self-care
rhetoric I’ve encountered on these campuses: You and I are both worthy of serenity.

Recently, I was lamenting to a close
friend about the sheer volume of work I had left, how it would never get done
and how painful it was to know that. And she said the most beautiful thing to
me, really.

She told me not to forget about the Milky Way’s spiral and the
peace each day brings. That I had a lot to swallow but that she could help.
That the sun was shining, and that I’m healthy, strong and alive. She said it
without the faintest hint of judgment or belittlement or irony, everything I
relentlessly fire at myself on a daily basis.

And wouldn’t you know, it got
through to me. For one measly half-second—a whole second, maybe—I felt the
grasp loosen. It tightened up again after that, but I was okay with that. Because for that one second, I’d caught a glimpse of what could be, and along
with it the feeling that maybe it really could
be like that. And that had to be enough for a start. 

Lexie Kelly Wainwright PO ’15 is a religious studies major and a linguistics studies minor. This North Campus queen was destined for royalty from birth—she was born in the same hospital as Blue Ivy Carter. 

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