13 Different Ways College Students Define Anxiety

by / 1 Comment / 224 View / February 19, 2015

The following article contains potentially triggering or upsetting mentions of suicide, anxiety disorders, and descriptions of anxiety symptoms.
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Anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental disorders, affecting 25 million Americans at any one time. They include panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and phobias. The commonplace sterile rhetoric of anxiety disorders often glazes over the nuances of what it is actually like to live with an anxiety disorder.

We’ve talked to 13 different college students from across the United States and asked them this question: How would you describe your anxiety disorder without using the word “anxiety”? Here’s what they said:

1) Suffocation
“Although my symptoms are better than they used to be, whenever I have a flashback or something reminds me of what happened, I feel like I can’t breathe, like I’m grasping for air that’s not there.” —a Junior at Brigham Young University, UT, with PTSD

2) Anterograde Amnesia
“I’ve been having panic attacks a couple times a month since middle school and if I feel like I’m starting to have one I’ll take medication to lessen the severity. I’ve tried six different medications in the last couple years, and the only one that actually works (for the most part) makes me seem like I’ve had a few glasses of wine. When I take it, I seem spacey; I lose my articulate edge; I seem buzzed, and afterwards I have a lot of trouble remembering what I did and conversations I had because the medication prevents me from making new memories of what’s going on. But I suppose that’s better than completely choking up or passing out, because that’s what can happen if I can’t control [my panic attacks].”—a Junior at Spelman College, GA, with panic attacks

3) A Blessing
“I suppose it may be paradoxical, but my anxiety has probably been the reason why I’ve
been so successful. My anxiety has given me, quite literally, a ‘fear of failure’… if I were lying in bed at night during high school, and I realized I forgot to do my homework, my heart would race until I dragged myself out of bed and finished it. Now the fear of having a bad GPA keeps my adrenaline flowing enough for me to pull all-nighters studying.”—a Junior at Columbia University, NY, with anxiety

4) Compassion
“If anything, I’ve become a more compassionate person. Before I started having problems with social anxiety I was very flippant about other people in general, but now I feel like everyone has a reason for they are the way they are.”— a sophomore at Ohio State University with Social Anxiety Disorder

5)Perspective
“Even though I struggle every day, I always know that it could be significantly worse. I thank God every day that I still am able to wake up with a smile on my face.”—a First Year Student at Loyola University of New Orleans with anxiety

6)Heat Stroke
“Have you ever had a heat stroke? A panic attack is just like a heat stroke, just triggered by stress. I’ll feel like my body is on fire, my head will pound till I’m dizzy and [I] have trouble seeing… sometimes my muscles will kinda give out and I’ll have trouble standing up. My left arm will [go numb] sometimes, and my back will feel tingly.” —a Senior at Oberlin College, OH, with panic attacks

7) An Academic Edge
“I almost physically can’t stop studying until I’m sure that I’ll do well on an exam”—a sophomore at Tennessee State University with Generalized Anxiety Disorder

8)Seasonal Allergies
“I only really have a problem during the spring, like roughly March through June… but for the rest of the year I’m fine and I don’t really have any symptoms.”
a freshman at Pueblo Community College, CO, with Generalized Anxiety Disorder

9) A Wrecking Ball
“[The panic attacks] usually come out of nowhere . I’ll be playing video games or watching Netflix and then BAM, they start and then mess up my whole night.”—a sophomore at Furman College, SC, with panic attacks

10) Chronic Illness
“It’s always going to be with me. I’ve been trying various forms of therapy and medication since I was in 3rd grade, and it’s never gotten significantly better.”—a sophomore at University of California-Berkeley with Generalized Anxiety

11) A Tightrope
“[It’s] like walking a tightrope. I’m completely in balance and everything is fine until I take one wrong step and [then] I’m suddenly scrambling to get back in balance before I fall.”—a freshman at Florida International University with Social Anxiety Disorder

12) Ridiculous
“I deal with my issues by not dealing with them at all. I haven’t had a chance to be officially diagnosed by a doctor. For me, it’s like I have a dull ache in my side. But I feel it all the time, especially when I let my guard down. It just slips through the cracks and I feel like a dam breaks inside me and all of a sudden, I can’t even move. I am scared of interacting with people sometimes. It’s ridiculous. I just always feel so ridiculous.” — Sophomore at Cleveland State University, OH, with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

13) Peace
“[I’ve been told] since I was in 4th grade that anxiety can be cured. I’m a [senior in college] right now. I don’t believe that I will ever be ‘cured.’ But right now I’m at peace with that, and I’m trying my best.” — a senior at San Diego State University, with panic attacks and Generalized Anxiety Disorder
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Although some of the people we talked to said that nothing has significantly helped their anxiety, the majority did talk about things that have. These include meditation, exercise, reading, medication in consultation with a psychiatrist, nature walks, avoiding over-thinking problems by “distracting” yourself, therapy, talking to family, avoiding “taking too many credit hours,” herbal supplements and peppermint tea.

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