Is it normal to feel this stressed?
Jose Gardea studies for a final on Dec. 3, 2016. Some stress in college, especially around finals week, is to be expected, but if it persists, you may be suffering from anxiety.
We’ve all experienced it before — that one week in the semester that makes the rest of the year seem like a joyride. Between caffeine-crazed study sessions and emotional breakdowns in the library, no one would blame you for feeling like you’re on the brink of insanity. Stress is a generally accepted part of the college experience. Some might even say college wouldn’t be the same without it.
So how do you know if what you’re experiencing is just normal college-related stress or something more serious? According to Jennifer Wilson, a mental health clinician at the University of Arizona's Counseling and Psychological Services, stress becomes anxiety when it interferes with someone’s ability to function and accomplish tasks that are important to them.
“Stress is unavoidable, it’s just going to be part of the territory of being a student and it’s not all bad,” Wilson said. “If we didn’t have stress, we wouldn’t be motivated to do anything because it helps us want to overcome a challenge or do well on something.”
Stress might be a normal part of college, but anxiety shouldn’t be. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety is feelings of worry, nervousness or fear for extended periods of time.
In other words, you might feel increased nervousness during finals week or before a class presentation, but when those feelings persist after the stressful event, anxiety may be the culprit.
So you think you have anxiety — now what?
Your first step doesn’t have to be sitting on a couch in a psychologist’s office, although that’s not necessarily a bad idea. It’s helpful for students to take an online quiz and become more informed about their symptoms before coming in to see a doctor or counselor, Wilson said.
For example, all students at the UA have access to a program called WellTrack, an online mental health tracker with surveys, quizzes and workshops about anxiety and depression. You can set up your free confidential account here using your university email and student ID.
Another option is to visit the walk-in triage program at Counseling & Psych Services. Students take a survey to further diagnose their symptoms and then meet with a counselor for a brief consultation, according to Wilson.
The walk-in triage program sees students any time between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Though it may sound counterintuitive, it’s not uncommon to have anxiety about meeting with a counselor to discuss anxiety! The following are some suggestions for defusing those fears.
It’s helpful to be informed about exactly what the counseling process will entail. For example, students should be prepared to spend up to an hour and a half at the CAPS walk-in triage, Wilson said. Because most of that time will be spent in the waiting room, consider bringing a book or a friend to pass the time with.
“I think when people are more informed [about] what the process is like, they can envision it a little bit better, or bring a buddy with them to buffer the tension of coming into a new place,” Wilson said.
Though it might not be appropriate once individual counseling sessions begin, students are more than welcome to bring a friend with them to their first consultation appointment, Wilson said. A friend can offer their perspective on the situation of the person seeking treatment and provide moral support.
If you are diagnosed with anxiety, there are plenty of options for healing, Wilson said.
“Anxiety is one of the most treatable, manageable types of diagnoses to have,” Wilson said. “Oftentimes, people with anxiety are high achievers and they’re very successful when they’ve got it managed well, so it’s not a horrible thing to have — it’s just a challenge. A person will need to find what tools work for them.”
These tools include self-care, group or individual therapy, medication, mindfulness activities and many more. They don’t need to take up a huge chunk of time either — daily treatment can be as simple as downloading and using a meditation app on your phone or watching a five-minute YouTube video on grounding techniques.
Some people find that taking anxiety medication, either on a daily or situational basis, helps them best manage their anxiety levels, Wilson said. Anxiety is an illness, and just like many other illnesses, medication is a valid and sometimes necessary treatment option.
Anxiety might be a part of who you are during this time in your life, but it does not define who you are, Wilson stressed. With proper treatment and self-care, she said you can continue to do the activities that bring you joy in life, form healthy relationships and succeed in your classes.
“Anxiety can’t be completely eliminated, and it shouldn’t be completely eliminated from your life, because the flipside is apathy and depression — [to] have no worries and you don’t care about anything,” Wilson said.
If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed or overburdened with worry, fear or anxiety lately, it might be time to get help. Reach out, either by speaking with a Campus Health care coordinator or by using some of the resources listed below.
Crisis Response Center (24/7) 520-622-6000 2802 E. District St, Tucson, AZ 85714
Peer Support/Warm Line 520-770-9909 (8 a.m. to midnight)
Crisis Text Line/Peer Support Text HOME to 741741
National Suicide Prevention 800-273-8255 or www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
Cenpatico Integrated Care 866-495-6735 (24/7 Crisis Line)
CAPS Educational and Relaxation YouTube videos: www.health.arizona.edu/caps-tv
FREE APPS (Android or iPhone): Stressbusters Wellness; Stop, Breathe, and Think: Meditate --
Tool for Peace; Insight Timer; Calm Harm; Suicide Safety Plan -- Mood Tools
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