By Leandra Cilindrello & Frank Pellino
“I’m going about my day normally and all of a sudden I begin to feel it. I know something bad is going to happen, I just can’t describe how or why.”
A female senior at Fairleigh Dickinson University, “Student A”, told her story of the daily struggles between her anxiety and her sanity.
“My mood totally changes and the worrying sets in,” she said. “I can’t think about anything besides what my mind is telling me to think about. I am a prisoner to my thoughts and scenarios that my mind wants me to believe are real dangers, even when they’re not. The tears start streaming down my face as it sets in. I’m having another anxiety attack.”
This is the sad reality for many students on college campuses nationwide struggling with mental health issues. The stresses associated with going to college range wider than writing assignments and studying for exams. Many people are quietly fighting internal battles that are much more difficult. “It’s so hard to concentrate on anything but my anxiety that I can’t even get out of bed some days,” Student A said. “I can’t write my papers or study or do anything but worry, and there’s no real reason to describe why I feel that way.”
According to WebMD, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) can be caused by three different factors: genetics, our brains and our environment. Of these three, the brain may have the greatest influence on anxiety.
“GAD has been associated with abnormal functioning of certain nerve cell pathways that connect particular brain regions involved in thinking and emotion,” WebMD states. E n v i r o n m e n t a l factors also cause many students to have anxiety. An anonymous FDU male senior, “Student B,” said his anxiety is mostly tied to academics.
“It starts with school,” Student B said. “Of course having assignments due and responsibilities adds a certain level of stress that isn’t so bad. But it’s more about how things compound on top of that. Take an 18-credit schedule, it’s not too bad. Then add 20 hours at work a week. And then try to add all of your social responsibilities like family and your social life. It gets to be a lot.
“Three semesters ago during finals week, in the midst of studying for five other classes and trying to work my job and carry out my family responsibilities, I slipped up. I mixed up the times for one of my finals. I showed up two hours late to see an empty room.”
Student B received an incomplete in a class that he otherwise would have done well in, forcing him to retake the course.
“I was so mad at myself – I’m still mad at myself,” he said. “How could I slip up so badly and hurt my future? I’m not graduating on time in part because of that. There was just too much going on and I made a mistake. I still beat myself up over it.”
This is only one example of many. For many students, the future seems to cause a lot of anxiety.
“Sometimes I honestly feel like I’m not going to make it in the future,” Student B said. “Say I get a grade that isn’t as high as I expected or I feel lost in class, I tend to get down on myself. I worry a lot about what I am I going to do after I graduate and if I’m going to be a failure. I think that’s my biggest fear, failing. I feel there is so much pressure to do well in school and go out and become ‘successful.’ Like what does that even mean? To be successful? It feels like a constant worry.”
Student B has found one way to escape the anxiety: an illegal one.
“Honestly, I smoke a lot of weed,” he said. “It helps remind me that it’s not that bad. It helps me relax and not feel that anxiety anymore.”
Other students turn to prescription medications for anxiety. Buspirone is a very popular anti-anxiety pill taken by students.
The website Drugs. com states, “Buspirone affects chemicals in the brain that may be unbalanced in people with anxiety. Buspirone is used to treat symptoms of anxiety, such as fear, tension, irritability, dizziness, pounding heartbeat, and other physical symptoms.”
Drugs.com says that the appropriate dosage of Buspirone can vary from an initial dose of 7.5 mg orally 2 times a day to a maximum dose of 60 mg per day. This can leave students feeling so overwhelmed with anxiety that they turn to the highest dosage they can take.
“I take 60 mg of Buspirone once I can tell I’m going to have a bad day,” Student A said. “After taking my medicine, I become relaxed and more confident. I guess I feel like I didn’t even have the anxiety at all and all the thoughts of my anxiousness just disappear.”
S – C A P S Psychological Counselor Bill Maurice says that stress remains a very big problem for students.
“Every year they conduct a national study, they go look at approximately 40 different colleges, over 100,000 students a year and they ask them what are the number 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 different problems that you deal with that get in the way of academic performance,” Maurice said. “It turns out that stress is the number one problem that gets in the way of academic performance. So a lot of the challenges we see here with the students is stress related and what ever issues come about are exacerbated by stress-related issues.”
Maurice offered insight as to how student might better cope with stress.
“As counselors we’re looking for harm reduction,” Maurice said. “Now if someone is using a substance such as marijuana or alcohol to reduce their stress as one of their coping mechanisms, we try to offer other options – more healthy options that aren’t going to affect the individual. So we are helping them find healthier alternatives and always encouraging students to help reduce substance use, but it comes down to the student’s goals. And we’ll try to help them figure out ways to add to their coping strategy.”
Students who are struggling with any mental health issue should visit Student Counseling and Psychological Services (S-CAPS) located next to the SUB on the FDU Metropolitan campus.