Dear college student struggling with anxiety,
You’re off to school away from home for the first time and I know this is so hard. You’re far from your comfort zone, your safe place, in a world that is all so very new. It’s terrifying and I know you want to leave and come back to your familiar life with trusted friends and the security of your family. I know you miss your bedroom and all the familiar hiding places that give you protection. I know this is all too much, too fast.
You thought you could handle it, you hoped you could pull through, you tried so hard to believe it was going to be a good thing. But instead you feel exposed, threatened and rocked to your core, and it’s so very hard. All of it.
First, let me tell you something.
You are so brave.
And you are stronger than you believe.
Despite the panic attacks that seem to shatter your strength and scream to go home, you can do this.
One day at a time. One hour at a time. And sometimes?
One minute at a time.
You have taken a huge step out into the frightening world with new people and uncharted territory to navigate. But even with anxiety, you can do hard things. You have proven this before. Each time you have faced your fears and managed to push through them to the other side, you realized you were brave and strong and able to withstand the anxiety that tried to pull you under.
You can feel that same victory every day you make it through at college. Every day that you are brave.
When you are experiencing anxiety, wanting to give up and come home, remember these things:
Your overwhelming anxiety is valid but don’t let it be victorious. The emotional roller-coaster you are experiencing is natural and normal in many ways because having anxiety triggers them. This in no way means you are failing at doing this college thing. It simply means you are in a very emotional season and that’s to be expected. Don’t let your feelings make you believe you are failing. You are not. You are simply feeling all the feels right now and that is scary.
Each time you feel the overwhelming surge of anxiety hit you, remember that it will pass. You will survive. It will end. Close your eyes and take slow deep breaths. Then focus on the things that bring you joy, comfort, and peace. Bring them to the forefront of your mind. Stay there. Those are your buoys. They will keep you from drowning when the waves hit. Hold on to them tight and remind yourself that this is temporary, it will pass.
When you can, leave an anxious situation and go do something that is familiar and comforting to you. Dive into that book, listen to your music, go for a run, write in your diary, call your mom, text your best friend. Do all the things that quiet your nerves and make you feel the familiar security you once had. Do them often because they will help calm you down. They will stabilize you and anchor you onto a more steady ground when your footing feels shaky.
Pace yourself as you go. Only do what you must at first. Make it to your classes, eat your meals, then find your safe place in between and keep doing those comforting things to settle you down. Take one step at a time, then pause, rest, refuel. You can add more to your day when you feel more confident and secure, but for now, it’s okay to go slow. Don’t feel pressured into doing #allthethings that college students can do. And do NOT beat yourself up over going slow and saying no to those things. You have lots more time to get involved. For now, slow and steady wins the race.
It’s uncomfortable to start new friendships, but you must. I know you miss all your high school friends, but new friendships are good for you too. You will meet many more people who have the potential to also be best friends, even life-long friends. You just need to take those courageous steps to get to know people. A true friend makes the world feel a whole lot safer, so look around and see who might turn out to be that trusted friend. Reach out, say hi, and see what happens. You’ll know when it’s a good friendship fit. And when you find a connection, that will change everything.
Believe in yourself. I know you feel so vulnerable, so fragile like you could break at any moment. But you are proving to yourself that you can do new things, you can survive your fears, and you will become stronger each time you do. Don’t give up on yourself. Stop those negative voices whispering in your mind telling you, you can’t do this. Don’t let them win this battle. Instead, tell yourself over and over again that you are brave. You are brave.
These first weeks (and even months) will be the hardest to endure. It’s all so new and terrifying and you ache to go home.
But if you can persevere through this really tough season, if you can ride through the emotional waves that want to pull you under, I promise it will get easier. Someday, you will experience the joy that results in taking these bold first steps in going to new places, doing new things and meeting new people!
Minute by minute, you will steady your steps and open your world.
Little by little, the fear will lessen.
Day by day, you will prove to yourself that you are stronger than you believe.
Week by week, you will discover that in this scary new terrain, there are things that bring you joy.
And you will be empowered, emboldened, enriched.
Big changes for anyone with anxiety are terrifying, I know.
And this is the biggest change in your life, but it’s also the greatest opportunity too.
Don’t let your anxiety steal that from you.
Battle hard against that brutal beast and WIN.
You deserve this. You are worth it.
Don’t ever forget you are brave.