Dealing with anxiety while at college

By Michaela Parks |

Pictured above is Flagler College Sophomore, Matt Trainor. Photo by: Christian Saulnier

Colleges tend to advertise their campuses as places filled with smiling students with coffee in one hand and textbooks in the other. But what the glossy brochures don’t show are what many college students are feeling on the inside–anxiety.

As of fall 2017, Flagler College is home to 2,574 students. Kathy Payne, a mental health counselor at Flagler, said anxiety is likely the most prevalent mental health issue she sees on campus, adding that some call anxiety the ‘common cold’ of mental illness.

“When I was glancing through this book [the Association for University and College Counseling Directors], I saw that it said ‘in 2011, 41 percent of all college students who visit counseling centers struggle with anxiety,'” Payne said.

Payne believes that Flagler aligns with that statistic since she sees firsthand how many students come into her office for anxiety.

Matt Trainor, a Flagler College sophomore, is part of the 41 percent who suffer from severe anxiety.

“I’ve had anxiety probably my entire life,” Trainor said. “But the way it’s manifested itself has changed since I was younger.”

Since starting college in fall 2016, Trainor has had one instance where he couldn’t control his anxiety.

“I ended up having to leave school for a little while to withdraw. It was a huge adjustment being far away because I’m from Maine and I don’t really have too much family down here,” said Trainor when describing his spring semester of freshman year.

“It’s kind of unexpected how it’s going to manifest itself, how it’s going to change, how it’s going to affect your daily life,” Trainor said. “I think it’s mostly just not understanding where it’s coming from and not having that ability to understand your emotions—what’s leading you to act that way and to feel a certain way about something. I was at a little bit of a low point before I had to go back home, but being able to develop coping mechanisms is very important in addressing the illness.”

Trainor stated the way he dealt with the illness before learning how to manage his own emotions.

“I think my problem was that I use to not have them [coping mechanisms] while I was down here, and I use to just ignore the anxiety. I would just be like ‘oh it’s going to blow over, it’s going to be fine.’ I wouldn’t really talk to anybody about it. Nobody really knew,” Trainor said.

After learning coping mechanisms, he’s able to go about his daily routine much easier.

“But then I went through therapy and that was really helpful. Having them label it as anxiety instead of me labeling helped because like I said, it’s kind of hard to even understand what’s going on with your own self. I also think just recognizing what was going on, being able to compartmentalize things and put things in certain categories was useful. Being able to realize like ‘OK this is a trigger, this isn’t a trigger.’ For me breathing or meditating was helpful when combined with the right medication prescribed by a doctor,” Trainor said.

Kathy Payne said there are a few good ways she uses to help students cope with their anxiety.

“When helping students with anxiety, we first talk a little bit about separate areas of their lifestyle, where they may be able to improve their lifestyle habits,” Payne said. “We talk about how well they’re taking care of themselves, how they’re eating and sleeping and if they’re getting some exercise. We talk about if there are any serious issues going on. Anxiety can come as a result of a lot of different things mixed all together, so we just start exploring all the different areas of their lives just to see what’s going on.”

Trainor said his first experience with the counseling center was a good one.

“I went to the counseling center on campus last year and they were so supportive,” he said. “They were able to refer me to a few people that could address my situation more in-depth. Even though they can’t provide a student with medication, it’s great to just have someone so easily accessible to talk to.”

Payne said there are certain times of year when the counseling center experiences spikes in visitation.

“We see some anxiety, especially from freshmen when they first arrive on campus, so at the beginning of the school year. We see students come in during the midterm period, but we tend to see more students towards the end of term when maybe they just don’t know how they’re gonna get through exams. We’re always here to address any kind of situation that a student is going through,” Payne said.

Trainor shared a few words for college students, or anyone, who is trying to juggle anxiety while still trying to focus on school, work or a daily routine.

“I think the biggest thing is just, to be honest with yourself about whatever you have going on,” Trainor said. “I know in my case, I didn’t really want to believe that I had anything going on. Trust me, college is a really stressful time. Regardless, everybody has anxiety and/or stress but definitely analyze whatever you got going on and get help if you need it. Something I wish I would have known or had someone tell me when it started getting really bad is don’t let people tell you what you have is fake or not a real issue. People don’t really pay as much attention to it as they should and it’s a lot harder to deal with than people think. I feel like a lot of people don’t take it as seriously because it’s not a physical ailment or illness that you can visibly see. Someone can look like they have it all together on the outside but maybe something’s brewing underneath.”

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