Author: Dr. Z. Kubai
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Whereas certain levels of anxiety are an unavoidable part of life, feelings associated with anxiety may transform into an anxiety disorder. For those affected by the condition, anxiety interferes with almost every aspect of life, disrupting your ability to function, and causing disproportionately large feelings of stress and apprehension. Common symptoms of anxiety may include but are not limited to irritability, fearfulness, shortness of breath, headaches, muscle tension, irregular heartbeat, dizziness, an upset stomach, and troubles concentrating. Yes, university may be challenging and students should expect to deal with a variety of stressors. At times, however, anxiety may manifest in obsessive behavior or a debilitating sense of fear, and this is when you should seek professional help.
At times, extreme emotional states can be a signal that you might be dealing with an underlying mental condition. According to the 2019 College Student Mental Health and Well-Being Survey of Presidents, three-quarters of presidents said they are most likely to hear about students facing depression (83%), making the condition a top-three health priority on campus together with anxiety and non-suicidal self-injury. Depression is associated with intense feelings of despondency, helplessness, and detachment from one’s surroundings. The illness has a debilitating effect on one’s life, making everyday tasks such as sleeping, eating, and studying difficult. Symptoms include a feeling of intense sadness and feelings of being overwhelmed coupled with difficulties concentrating, sleep deprivation or sleeping more frequently, and changes in appetite.
If you feel that you might be dealing with depression, you should seek medical help immediately.
Change is hard. If change completely throws you offboard, however, you might be dealing with an adjustment disorder. This condition usually manifests when an individual’s stressors exceed their coping resources and mechanisms for overcoming obstacles. In such cases, an individual’s reaction to change becomes disproportionate to the actual event that has triggered the reaction. Struggling with adjustment physically manifests as sadness, sudden bursts of anger, and crying. However, unlike other disorders, this condition is purely situational because symptoms are caused by external stressors. Once the person has adjusted to their new environment, the adjustment disorder tends to resolve.
If you feel you might be dealing with an adjustment disorder, try to keep any nonessential work down to a minimum, give yourself time to reflect, and surround yourself with healthy habits such as journaling and exercising.
Fear is perhaps the most typical emotion associated with studenthood. But if fear and extreme stress begin to occur regularly over time or become overwhelming to the point of being debilitating, you may be dealing with a panic disorder. The physical symptoms may include but are not limited to a feeling of extreme unease, disproportionately intense feelings of worry, strong anxiety, and the notorious panic attacks. A panic attack occurs when your body experiences an overflow of uncontrollable mental and physical symptoms including chest pain, nausea, shortness of breath, a quickened heartbeat, chills or hot flushes, dizziness, and an intense feeling of dread.
If suffering from panic attacks, you may want to turn to a behavioral therapist.
Social isolation as the result of having difficulties with forming personal relationships may have debilitating effects on your mind and body. Isolation is extremely difficult to withstand for social creatures such as humans, and loneliness may turn out to be the most challenging thing a student has to face on campus. At the end of the day, it may not be the classes or assignments that are difficult to navigate, but the complexly woven fabric of one’s personal relationships. Research has shown that lonely people are less capable of dealing with stress, more prone to depression, have a weaker immune system, manifest difficulties with decision-making, and need longer to process information.
If facing isolation, work to develop a systematic socialization strategy.
Difficulties in catching up with studies can put an enormous emotional strain on students and make them question their very ability to cope with their core activity on campus. Conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), however, are a serious medical issue manifesting in differences in brain development and activity that affects personal behavior. A recent study published in neurotherapeutics reveals that about 25% of university students with disabilities have been diagnosed with ADHD. Whereas the underlying causes of ADHD are still unknown, the symptoms include inattention, feeling distracted, disorganization, having difficulties staying focused, and overall feeling of restlessness, acting impulsively, as well as having trouble following through on a task or meeting deadlines.
If facing ADHD, you can contact a behavioral therapist through your health service on campus.
Overworrying when facing the challenges of university can lead to sleeping disorders ranging from occasional sleep deprivation to insomnia. Sleep issues indicate any type of disorder preventing an individual from falling asleep or making it difficult for them to stay asleep. Notoriously, about 25% of university students experience sleep issues as an effect of over-worrying at some point in their student careers. When fueled by this emotion, typical student activities such as studying long hours into the night, getting up early for classes, or maintaining a busy partying schedule may all lead to a sleeping disorder.
Try to create healthy sleeping habits by maintaining a strict sleeping schedule. If over-worrying is keeping you up at night, you can start keeping a journal to sort your thoughts out.
We all have experienced this all-consuming feeling of not being able to cope. Being overwhelmed can be described as being overcome by the intense feeling that a certain phenomenon is too challenging to manage or a certain obstacle is too large to overcome. Students on campus often find it difficult to navigate among a variety of stressors, and becoming completely immersed in problems may leave them in a state of emotional paralysis that is often described as feeling overwhelmed. One such feeling may interfere with just about any aspect of life, making hardships seem insurmountable. The physical symptoms range from something as inconspicuous as shortness of breath, perspiration and a faster heartbeat to chest pain and panic attacks.
Talking to a therapist may help you develop coping strategies to deal with your intense emotions.
Many Ph.D. students do exceptionally well: they get into the top journals of their field, attend the top conferences, and even seem to get along with their advisors! Deep down, however, these high achievers may feel like complete frauds. This phenomenon, known as impostor syndrome, reflects the unjustified belief that an individual is incompetent and failure despite piles of evidence to the contrary. Those suffering from impostor syndrome tend to believe that all their stellar accomplishments are simply the result of chance or even a mistake. If affected by impostor syndrome, you will be spending your days waiting in dread for people around you to finally find out how incapable you actually are.
It takes a lot of self-searching and discipline to bring your feelings to the surface, identify and examine them, and act towards change. You may want to keep a journal to document your emotional progress along the way.
Intense obsessions over food and a strong emotional attachment to a particular body image may lead to serious conditions such as eating disorders. This is a psychiatric illness that may prove fatal if left untreated. Atypical behaviors around food involve a cocktail of negative emotions and distorted perceptions surrounding one’s body image. A recent survey of the Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association has uncovered that around 20 percent of college students report having been exposed to an eating disorder. The common factors for developing this condition can range from trauma to stress and peer pressure.
If plagued by an eating disorder, you should contact a medical professional immediately.