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Facing my college fears

I suffer from panic attacks about school. How can I go to college without anxiety?

From meditation to “social deodorant”, our elder shares his tips.

Dear EWC

Hi! I am a senior in high school. Over the years, I’ve really struggled with anxiety and panic attacks when it comes to school. I’ve never really been able to determine why it happens; it just seems to stem from school. I’ve been doing really well this year, but next year is college and I’m afraid I’m going to be an anxious wreck and I’m going to want to come home or something. I know that’s also normal, since it’s the first time I’ll be on my own. I just get really nervous for the future… Anyways what I’m asking is, do you have any advice for essentially facing your fears, or advice about college that you think is worth sharing? Or advice for doubting yourself? Thanks so much for taking the time to help me!

Lloyd replies

Hi there. Well, it’s been 50 years (I know that because my 50th high school reunion is this summer) since I was heading off to college and I still can remember the feelings you are describing. Feeling anxious about the future is a pretty normal and universal response. If you live on the earth and you’re not a little anxious these days, you may want to check for a pulse. That is just to say, you are not alone, but I realize that’s only goes so far — what you’re asking for is advice on how to cope with what you are feeling.

I am not a therapist. What you’ve described sounds within a pretty normal range to me, but do know that there is in-person therapy and medications available if your anxiety really starts to interfere with your life. Again, that’s not what I’m picking up. What I’m going to share with you is not original, but it is the kind of advice you sometimes need to hear repeatedly.

In my opinion, this is one of those areas you treat indirectly. Here’s what I mean. What you don’t do is carry on a dialogue with yourself that goes something like this: I’m feeling anxious, I don’t know why I’m feeling anxious, I shouldn’t feel so anxious, I wish my anxiety would go away, what’s going to happen if my anxiety doesn’t go away, etc. It makes me anxious just writing that. My point is just that the way to deal with this is to strengthen all the elements in your life which you can control and not dwell on this. Here’s an analogy. If you want to quit smoking, you don’t repeat over and over, “I want to quit smoking”, you repeat over and over, “I want to be healthy”. The former keeps you thinking about smoking, the latter, not.

So what are these other elements? Nothing new, just tried and true. 1) get enough sleep — have a good sleep routine and treat it as, what it is, a refueling for the next day 2) eat well — among other benefits, if your brain sees that you are being concerned about what you put in your body, it will assume you are cherishing yourself and valuable 3) EXERCISE — the caps because I think this an incredibly powerful way to get rid of nervous energy and again, it gives your brain that message that you are caring for yourself 4) Meditation — whatever works for you. Some people think this only happens in a monastery setting sitting in the lotus position, but you can be still, quiet and follow your breathing (for example) almost anywhere/anytime 5) be social — spending time with friends and family is a great deodorant, when life seems to stink.

Oh, one last thing about going off to college. For some reason everybody thinks they’re the only ones that aren’t completely cool and don’t have their sh*t together. Trust me, every freshman is full of the same doubts and fears. Some schools are better than others at helping manage this transition. The only thing I can say is that if you’re not getting the support you need in those first few weeks, ask for it! That’s all I got. I think you’re going to be fine. I’m rooting for you.

Letter #: 457139
Category: School

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