Mental Health Awareness – What College Has Taught Me

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MeganMentalHealth

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.

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 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.

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.

Overcoming Test Anxiety

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It’s exam day. Your nails are chewed down to their very core and you’re tapping your foot obnoxiously against the desk in front of you. You woke up 90 minutes earlier than usual just out of sheer anxiety, and you stayed up the entire night studying. Even though you’ve been studying for days you still can’t help but feel like you’re un-prepared. Finally, you sit down at your desk and stare at that pasty, thick stack of papers with the words “Final Exam” spewed across the top. You go to write your name, and your stomach growls. Now you’re off track and distracted and your minds jutting all over the place, what are you ever going to do?!

First of all, let’s rewind to a week before your exam to go through how you could really curb your test anxiety. The first and most important step is to be prepared! Pay attention in class, take your notes, and do your homework! There’s absolutely no way you’re going to grasp your class material just by physically being there. At some point you’re going to have to do the reading, participate in discussions and do the homework. Once you fall behind, get right back to where you were and ask for extra help. Preparation involves studying, so make sure you’re not waiting until the last night to cram it all into 5 hours. Meet up with students from your class a week or two in advance to go over the exam guide and knock out the ones you aren’t sure of. This is a great way to share answers and help explain concepts in ways that you all will understand.

Secondly, that growling tummy you heard? That was hint number two that you were unprepared. Make sure to always eat before an exam! Even if you’re not a huge breakfast eater, filling your belly with some good, nutritional foods before a test will help you stay concentrated and alert. Be careful what you eat though, as certain foods will make you jittery and more anxious! Avoid high-sugary or fried foods. Go for fruits, veggies or even some whole grain toast with peanut butter. This will get your body up and running from the get-go and won’t leave that distracting tummy growl to orchestrate the classroom during the middle of your exam.

The next step to curb your test anxiety is to get a sufficient night’s sleep. Staying up the entire night before shoving all of that information in your head may SEEM like a good way to keep the info fresh, but it’s actually not. To start, trying to cram a whole semester’s worth of lessons and concepts into your brain during a 5 hour time period is next to impossible unless you’re a noted genius. You’re more than likely just going to end up overwhelming yourself and getting concepts confused more easily. Your short term memory is only so big, so make sure if you ARE studying the night before it’s as a refresher, and not to teach yourself the whole textbook. Waiting until the last night to do your studying also handicaps you from getting the extra help you need. If you’re struggling with a concept or can’t find the answer in your textbook, you’re out of luck on asking for help. Most of your classmates are most likely snuggled in safe and sound in their dorm beds awaiting that morning exam. Staying up all night and not getting enough sleep will make your brain groggy in the morning and less concise, even with those 3 cups of coffee.

During the test, make sure you stay calm and relax. Don’t rush yourself to finish as fast as the other students, you have plenty of time to finish at your own pace. Remember, just because there’s three students who turn their exams in within the first 20 minutes doesn’t mean they’ve gotten a perfect score. Some people who don’t know the material just rush through it so they can turn it in and get it over with. Take your time and don’t compare your speed or levels of anxiety to any of your classmates around you. If you don’t know the answer to a question, leave it behind and come back to it later. Sometimes, reading other questions on the test can trigger something in your brain to make you remember the ones you didn’t know before. Just make sure you take a mental note and go back when you’re done to make sure you’ve answered every question. If the noise in the room is starting to distract you or the guy behind you is clicking his pen way too many times, go ask your professor if you can take the exam in the library or away from noise. Some people feel pressured when they’re taking a test in a room full of other people. If you’re one of those people, don’t be embarrassed. You know what you need to be able to learn effectively and if that means taking a test in silence, then that’s what you need to do. Work out a plan with your professor so that they are aware of your test anxiety at the beginning of the semester. This may win you some extra test taking time and replacement locations.

Remember, preparation is key! Take your time, be confident and don’t panic! If you’ve been paying attention in class and keeping up with your assignments you’re golden. And, if you do all of these things but still bomb the test, don’t beat yourself up over it. Review your test with your professor to see where you did wrong and reflect on how you could do it differently for the next test.