Coming up after breaking down

Imagine for a moment: taking 18 credits, working 17 hours a week, spending time at an internship and writing for two different publications all while being only one month away from graduation. Sound like a hectic life? Well, until last week, that was my reality.

I thought I was doing a good job balancing it all until it came to a head last week and I suffered an emotional breakdown. I knew I couldn’t keep going on that way, and I needed to make changes in my life to not only make time for myself, but to help manage my daily stress and anxiety.

If you are going through a period in your life where stress and anxiety are taking over your mind, you’re not alone. While stress is a normal part of collegiate life, taking on so many responsibilities that you feel like you’re at your wit’s end requires some reflection and reprioritization.

I don’t claim to be an expert on mental health or on stress-related issues, but I know what it’s like to suffer from severe anxiety and stress – to the point where it’s affected me physically, emotionally and spiritually. So, from one college student to another, here are some of my tips to handling anxiety and stress:

 1. Take a deep breath

Once I began to calm down from my breakdown, in that exact moment I was able to take a deep breath and assess where I was and what I needed to do. I knew I needed to take a step back and give myself time to calm down; I wasn’t going to do anything productive that would help make things better while I was having an emotional breakdown.

Allow yourself to take the time to calm down and do something that makes you happy: take a hot, relaxing bath, light a candle with a relaxing scent, get yourself comfortable. Clear out your head and realize that taking some time to clear your head isn’t going to cause damage to any relationship/piece of work you have to finish. Remember to relax your mind and take some time to understand that no matter how it may feel at the time, it isn’t the end of the world.

 2. Analyze your situation

When I was calm enough to think rationally and understand that I needed to make some changes to my schedule to give myself more time to take care of myself, I began to analyze my situation and look at what areas of my life I needed to make some changes to; what was my current situation and how I could make slight changes to better my life?

It takes some time to understand your situation and figure out the best move to make; but in order to make any sort of change that will positively impact your life, you need to analyze your workload and life situation: how many hours do I work a week? How many credits am I taking? What other responsibilities do I have that I can continue to focus on or maybe cut back on?  Analyze those and then…

3. Make reasonable & manageable changes

I knew that I had to make some changes at work. Working early hours (3 a.m. to 6 a.m. in the morning once a week) was breaking down my energy, damaging my physical health and making it hard for me to find motivation to do anything else. The next day, I talked with my boss and cut my hours from 17 to 12, in an attempt to lessen my workload and also give myself more nights to rest and recover from a busy day. It isn’t much, but it’s a start.

When you know the extent of the situation you’re finding yourself in, be careful and make a change that is reasonable and that you can live with. Taking some time off work can make a big difference. Contact your manager, professor and/or supervisor to explain your situation and ask what changes you can make in order to reduce stress and produce better work. Don’t feel bad about asking for help or making changes to your life; there is nothing wrong with giving the same time and compassion you give others to yourself.

4. Give yourself some “me” time

Take a few days (for me, it will be the weekend) to relax and do something you love. You can take the time to clear your head. For example, cleaning and decorating your room can be a therapeutic experience that can also aid to free your head from negative thoughts and stressors that may come from a messy atmosphere.

If you have a favorite way to relax, don’t be afraid to take time for yourself and just do it. Get all your work done during the week and give yourself a pass to stray from your duties for a few days. Everyone deserves some time to themselves, and even if you don’t believe you did enough to warrant some time to relax, chances are that you worked hard enough to earn a few hours of relaxation. Work and responsibilities are of course important, but so is time to make sure that your mental health and stress levels are in check.

5. Realize that “this too shall pass”

As hard as it may be to visualize this stress coming to an end, realize that the semester will finish, that what you’re going through right now will come to an end, and that this will not last forever. You will make it through, and even if all the doors seem to be closing in your face at the moment, this will change, and you will look back and realize that this was a rough patch in life, but it changed for the better.

I know that months from now, my life will probably consist of grad school and writing for a magazine or blog of some sort, along with any little position I can acquire. While I am busy now preparing graduate school applications while hoping and praying that someone will accept me, I know that my life will not be the same, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. I know that there are things happening that I do not have control over and all I can do is go along for the ride, doing what I can to get good results but not stressing over things that are not in my control. It is a tough thing to learn and to practice, but it helps to not worry that things aren’t in your control. Keep Calm and Carry On. You owe it to yourself.