Growing up I knew something was different about how I coped with stress and dealt with my emotions. I have very vivid memories of waiting outside by the mailbox almost an hour before the school bus was expected to arrive because I was so afraid to miss it. On bad weather days I would stare out the front window instead, nerves building and building, just waiting for the bus to show up. Who even does that?
Fast forward to today, a year out of college and I feel that I have just now figured it out… and I’ll be the first to tell you that college was not at all easy living with these illnesses. Starting in 2009 when I had my first visit to any kind of therapist, I have been diagnosed with both anxiety and depression. I feel that during my four years in school I have learned SO MUCH, both about myself and about the illnesses so many people misunderstand and oftentimes fear.
1. “Seriously, It’s NOT That Serious!”
This is a big one for me – anxiety makes mountains out of mole hills (what are mole hills anyways?) The problem here is that ‘sweating the small stuff’ adds up and can affect our overall mental health. Daily negative feelings of stress coupled with the inability to cope with minor events can have a long-term impact on mental health. The worst part? You’re stressing away the best days of your life… take a few breaths, find humor in things and try to enjoy it! Trust me, you’ll thank yourself later!
2. Take Time Out For Yourself
Don’t forget about YOU! Whether you’re working three jobs on campus, president of your senior class council or just a little overwhelmed by your workload; take time out to just relax and do what YOU want. Being busy is a nice way to keep your mind off reality but let’s be honest – you need time to kick back and relax. Your body needs it and will thank you for it.
3. Don’t Feel Ashamed – Challenge the Stigma
Three out of four people with a mental illness report that they have experienced stigma. Stigma can be defined as a mark of disgrace that sets a person apart in a negative way and can bring feelings of shame, hopelessness and distress. Hanging your head because you feel ashamed can be a normal reaction, but it doesn’t have to be. Everyone is different, everyone has their own story… and this is yours. Whether it’s with your boss, your professor, your significant other, your roommate or your parents… we all know honesty is the best policy! If something is bothering you about anything in your life, speak up and let your voice be heard. Be open and honest about your feelings and don’t bottle it up – because we all know that only causes more problems.
4. Know When to Seek Help and From Where
Signs that you’re suffering from depression or anxiety are not always recognizable at first glance. For depression it could be loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities, tiredness and lack of energy, slowed or trouble thinking, and sudden disturbances in sleep. For anxiety it could be feeling restless or on edge, tiring easily, experiencing muscle tension and prolonged irritability. If you feel as though you may be depressed or suffering from anxiety, but are reluctant to seek treatment… talk to a friend, a loved one, or someone else you trust. This is the first step to getting help! Seek professional help (like your school’s counseling services, public safety, or even 911) if you feel as though you are in crisis, or have thoughts of suicide or self harm.
5. It’s OKAY to Seek Professional Help
I remember the first time I sought professional help for my mental illness and can recall almost every detail about that appointment, because of how traumatic it was for me. I was SO reluctant and toyed around with the idea for months – I felt like I was being judged and that seeking professional help wasn’t “normal”. It’s not like anyone actually wants to go see a therapist or psychiatrist. It’s not the type of thing someone wakes up in the morning and says “Wow, I’ve been missing something in my life. I’d love to chat with a stranger about my innermost personal fears, thoughts, and feelings and see exactly how screwed up I really am!” Instead of fighting these feelings, it is best to just accept them as part of the process of getting better.