When "Just Relax" Doesn't Work Anymore

“Everyone gets anxious.”

“This is normal.”

“Just relax.”

When you’re anxious, no matter why, it hinders your life. Maybe for 10 minutes, a day or even longer. The question of normalcy is a very gray area, especially when you’re in college. When does anxiety stop being normal? What thoughts are considered normal? What reactions are normal?

Even the word “normal” can cause anxiety.

When your life is speeding by you in college, it’s easy to get caught up in moments. You miss class, you ace tests, you meet boys and you have wine nights with your girls. I’m a huge fan of mental health days when life gets a little too overwhelming because it’s nice to just veg out for a day. But then there are the questions. How overwhelmed should I be? How many mental health days should I take? Is any of this normal?

I had never thought about talking to someone at school - I don’t even like going to the University Health Services because its such an inconvenience. But then it happened. I had been feeling a little off for a couple of days but decided it was nothing. I had been stressed before, this was nothing new. I’m a senior, I’m applying for jobs, of course I’m anxious. And as I was sitting in class that day, my heart started to race, and my palms started to sweat. I’m fine. My ears began to ring and I wasn’t able to focus on my professor. He was talking, but I wasn’t processing anything. I’m fine. An awful pain began to hit my stomach and I could almost feel my breakfast coming up. My thoughts were all over the place and I felt scared. Not even scared, I was terrified. I could barely move. Now I was sweating. I’m fine. Class is over? I stood up, I got dizzy, I passed out.

I’m not fine. I had just had my very first panic attack.

I went home immediately, crying at the bus stop and on the bus ride home. It was that breaking point that pushed me to open up to everyone I knew. It wasn’t easy - I had never really opened up to anyone about my anxiety. It was personal. It was “normal”. I talked myself down every chance I could. If I began to talk about it, I would get “just calm down” or “you’re fine!” But talking about it helped more than keeping it in, and one of my good friends gave me a very important piece of advice:

It’s okay not to be okay.

Mental health is such an important part of a person’s well-being, and the stigma around any type of mental health problem creates a fear of judgement or a fear of misunderstanding. Not talking to someone, professional or not, will only make the bubble burst worse. I know it isn’t easy to talk to someone, but living with something like anxiety, depression, insomnia, PTSD, etc. is an awful life to live when you think you’re alone and you think you’re a freak.

You’re not a freak.

You’re normal.

It’s okay.

I can’t even put into words how glad I am that I’ve started to take steps to control my anxiety. It’s not a one stop fix, and a lot of mental health problems aren’t a “one size fits all” when it comes to treatment. It’s always a work in progress, but that’s okay. You are the only you that you have - so you have to take care of yourself, inside and out.

You’re never alone, either. It’s scary to pick up the phone, it’s scary to open up. But it’s detrimental living without help.

It’s okay.

You’re normal.

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