As the end to another stressful and rigorous semester approaches, some LSU students are facing high levels of anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses. Is the need to achieve and succeed in school so important that students must sacrifice their mental and physical health?
Intense studying for finals, lack of adequate sleep and self-care, and the rapid spread of colds and the flu all lead to heightened stress among many students. One sophomore in particular opened up about her anxiety, and how she has adjusted to stress in school.
Cailyn Gross, who is switching her major in the spring to receive dual certification in general and special education, attended a magnet high school and is currently enrolled in the honors college at LSU. While she is not currently finishing up any honors classes, she is scheduled to take two in the spring.
“I first knew that I had social anxiety in middle school. I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety and social anxiety during senior year of high school.” Gross says that while many of her symptoms are mental, there are some that manifest themselves physically as well. Stomach pain and headaches–in addition to feeling hopeless, inadequate and destined for failure–were common symptoms she experienced.
She says that she started medication soon after her diagnosis, however, and that this marked a turning point for her mental health.
“I’m definitely an advocate for medication, because some people think that it will change you too much, or change your personality, but for me, it helps deal with overwhelming or irrational feelings. Now I can live my life without having to deal with that.”
Gross says that her ability to rationalize “thoughts of impending doom and feeling like [she] can’t do anything right” has helped her to have a more stable and rational outlook on life.
Gross noted later on, in addition, that finding the correct dosage for a particular medicine is critical as well. Even with the right medicine, many may still need to complete a trial-and-error to find which dosage works for them.
Although Gross has not taken medication for about two months, she has still noticed a significant improvement in her mental health. “Now my personality has been able to grow and change, and I have higher confidence.”
When asked about how her medication has helped throughout her life overall, she said that she began to notice changes in how she dealt with strong negative emotions, and that she learned how to approach them calmly and rationally, rather than immediately acting with extreme emotional responses.
About her social anxiety now, Gross said, “I feel confident and at ease in social situations, even off of medication.” This shows that even when off medication, anxiety sufferers can still feel relief from their symptoms.
Cailyn says that although the honors college may seem like a major cause of her stress, “the class setup did not actually greatly impact my ability to participate.” Before being medicated, participating in smaller classroom settings and involving herself in discussions proved difficult, and at times overwhelming.
Gross actually recommends that students who have their anxiety under control should consider joining the honors college. “I think it was worth it because i do like to be challenged and i feel like i was challenged [in my honors classes]. I think people should be able to be challenged without having debilitating anxiety.”
Gross spoke later on of how changing her major this semester had brought some anxiety back as well. “This semester I felt … like i sunk from my glory days with ‘easy’ classes and it actually made me reconsider what I wanted to do as far as my education and career.”
This common feeling among college freshmen and sophomores leads to added stress and lack of confidence in school. Students often experience this when the difficulty of their coursework from year to year does not transition smoothly. Students like Cailyn often feel suddenly thrown into the chaos and stress.
However, this anxiety did not last long once she found the major that works for her. “I feel a lot more at ease [now] because i feel like my new major works with my personality and abilities in school.” She adds that finding a major that suits students’ personal strengths and interests aides in confidence and success.
“[While I was changing my major], I felt a lot of relief when I realized there was something I could do to alleviate the situation, and do something about it.” Often, anxiety sufferers feel that they have lost control of their particular situations or their lives in general. When they regain control of their situation, stress levels, depression and anxiety all decrease.
Gross emphasizes the importance of being self-aware about mental health, and taking adequate self care. “If you have an opportunity to improve your life, you should take it.”
While depression and other mental illnesses can make challenges out of every day tasks and basic self care, students must pay attention to what they are feeling so that they can properly treat themselves. “It’s up to each person to decide if [they’re] happy with where [they’re] at mentally, and if [they’re] not, I do think [they] should seek help from professionals.”
She ended with saying that her college social experience, and her college experience in general–both in and out of the classroom–has not been stressful due to the progress that she has made in her mental health.
While people cannot ever fully overcome mental illness, they can certainly adjust their lives around their symptoms. Cailyn represents many students like her who suffer from mental illness. She speaks very openly and confidently about her past.
She is proud to say that she has conquered her struggle.