Anxiety. When hearing this word, my guess is there are a million thoughts that come to mind. Maybe feelings you automatically feel as you think of times you’ve felt anxious. There is a multitude of diagnosed “anxiety” disorders: Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Phobia, Panic Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, just to name a few.
While these disorders are very real and very serious, I personally believe that many college students— myself included— struggle with a type of anxiety that doesn’t exactly fit into any of these categories. That being said, in this post, I thought I would attempt to make a diagnosis myself, and then offer a few “remedies” that I have found to be the most helpful in clearing anxiety from my mind and spirit, in hopes that these might work for you, too.
So let’s get right into it, and first talk about:
- The feelings that “anxiety” brings to the surface in our minds, and
- how those feelings affect our bodies and spirit, as well as our day-to-day life.
The best way I can describe this “anxiety” that I’m talking about is a feeling of unrest. Uneasiness. Apprehension. Discontent. It’s the feeling you get when the things that are out of your control have just tipped the scale in comparison to the things that are within your control.
As human beings, we are hardwired to control our lives, and are given this control bit by bit as we grow older. Starting from the day you learn to walk, to the day you ride a bike, to the day you drive a car. From the day you go to school for the first time, to the day you start to do your own homework without your parents, to the day you go to college and take yourself to class. To the moment that you form your first opinion, to your first argument, to the clarity when you start to truly learn your worldview. This ease into controlling our lives sets us up to be independent by the time that independence is necessary.
Although the process of growing up offers itself to us in a mostly natural flow, the jump of leaving for college is comparable to moving from the safe 3 foot end of a swimming pool to jumping off the high dive into the 12 foot unknown. Suddenly, you are at the total independent end of the spectrum, and are forced to put into practice every independence tactic you’ve ever learned, all the while balancing school, health, relationships, emotional wellness, work, a social life, etc.
Suddenly, loss of control— the core concept that is hardwired into our brains from day one— becomes almost inevitable. This loss of such an essential operating principle is what can kickstart a cycle of uneasiness, discomfort, panic, and ultimately, loss of confidence.
Without confidence— the belief in our own simple ability to control our own lives, which is the center of our capability, and the way we tap into our potential— negative energy thrives. In this weak emotional state, uneasiness and apprehension quickly take the place of enthusiasm and hope, threatening our happiness, and ultimately our success.
Once your center is thrown off, you will immediately start to see this imbalance bleed into each of aspect of your life that you are supposed to be controlling. Suddenly, without confidence in your ability to handle the things you must handle, life just gets harder. Studying becomes a struggle. Relationships become work. Eating at all, much less healthy, becomes a chore. Working out is a source of more stress. Health and emotional wellness become a distant memory. Struggle becomes reality.
When the dust clears, all of the components to this problem revolve around control. Are you in control of your life, or are your circumstances in control of your life? Does power lie in your hands, or have you placed that power in situational strife? These questions bring me to the solution that I have arrived at, as of now, and want to share. Seeing anxiety in terms of power could be the game winning strategy to the battle we face in our minds every time that things don’t go our way.
The best way I can define “seeing anxiety in terms of power” is making conscious, controlled decisions that enable you to flip each emotion caused by anxiety to its exact opposite. In turn comes the ability to flip each responsibility and situation from struggle to opportunity. So, what does this mean? How do I see anxiety in terms of power? To answer these questions, I am going to offer three strategies that aid in this change of mindset.
- Flipping the context
- Digging below the surface
- A practice called brain dumping: Identifying the Problem + What I can do
Starting with the most important first, the tactic that I find to be the most helpful with anything I struggle with is flipping the context. In terms of anxiety, this simply means changing your mindset to see “anxiety” as not a weakness or a disorder, but a power. It’s no secret that our bodies are incredible— anxiety is a way of our body expressing to us that it is time for something to change. It’s a call for editing. A sign that something isn’t flowing just right. In response to this, remind yourself of all you’re capable of. Of all the things you’ve conquered up to this point. Picture yourself winning your next personal battle and how it will feel. Repeat to yourself over and over that you have the power to move yourself from point A to point B. Then use the energy and awareness that anxiety has provided you with to manifest change.
The next practice is simply the act of digging below the surface to find the roots of what’s causing your unrest. The first step to relieving anxiety is feeling it. The next step is identifying the causes, one by one. Often, with loss of control, we can neglect very simple tasks, including simply figuring out what’s causing our struggling. The tricky thing I have learned about anxiety is the problems are often not what you would think. Your first thought may be to look at issues that are very apparent— problems that present themselves in day-to-day life.
However, anxiety is not that courteous; it often likes to hide itself just out of our reach. But we are smarter than that. Ask yourself, What issues and feelings have I been suppressing? What emotions and situations do I move to the back burner in hopes that if my mind stays busy, they will simply disappear? Facing these things head on— moving them back up front and channeling your energy to handling them— could hold the solution to the uneasiness that you are subconsciously allowing in your life.
Lastly is a strategy called brain dumping, followed by a simple practice of identify problem + solution. Brain dumping is exactly what it sounds like: a process of clearing your mind of clutter, leaving space for new thoughts to grow. Think of it as weeding a garden: if your garden is full of weeds, there is literally no soil space for healthy vegetation to grow. Similarly, with our minds full of thoughts that aren’t serving us, there is no room for fresh thoughts to develop. In brain dumping, simply take a few moments— preferably at the very beginning or very end of your day— to write down all the thoughts that are darting, without direction, through your mind. This symbolic practice truly works. By putting this all on paper, your mind is left feeling clear and open, with more room for better content, and better yet, the opportunity to start over and intentionally put higher quality thoughts in that precious mindspace.
Following brain dumping, I occasionally like to make a simple list of “problems”, or even simply situations, I feel as if I need to deal with, and then an action that I can take. Tying back to my main point, I truly love this practice because it puts things in terms of power. Instead of simply journaling about thoughts and feelings, you end with writing down actions that you can literally enact to tackle problems, leaving you thinking in terms of your ability to handle the things you face.
To end, I’d like to go back and reiterate the first strategy of flipping the context. We are born with strength and we are born with weakness, we have confidence and we have doubt, we have control and we have chaos. I truly believe that anxiety is simply a circumstance, and every circumstance has many different vantage points it can be seen from. Every circumstance can be tackled with the strategy of our choice. This type of anxiety that I’m talking about today is not a disorder of our minds, but simply a display of the disorder that we are allowing in our life. It’s a red flag that our body waves not to alarm us, but simply to alert us that it’s time to edit. We know that we have all the tools we need, so I hope these words can inspire you to honor anxiety, and thank it for it’s reminder to tap a little deeper into our potential.