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Friday, June 2, 2017

How I Manage Anxiety in College



Hello, beautiful! If you're enjoying your last summer before college or getting ready to return, you've probably already had your first experience with anxiety. That feeling you got in the pit of your stomach as you were opening your first few acceptance letters? Yep, that was probably anxiety.

But when those butterflies cross the line into restlessness, fatigue, irritability or tension, they might be a symptom of an underlying anxiety disorder. While anxiety seems like something we only hear about from our guidance counselor, it's actually the most common mental health diagnosis in college students across the country.


If you've followed me since my days at Love, Haley Blog, you probably already know that I suffer from both anxiety and depression. Managing my symptoms as a busy college student hasn't been easy, but I have learned a thing or two along the way.

Whether you're facing a few worries or a full-blown anxiety disorder, what better time to prepare than summer, when the stresses of college are still in your distant future? That's why I'm bringing you my best tips on managing anxiety in college while it's still all sunshine and swimming pools! That way, the next time college anxiety gets the best of you, you'll be ready to grab it by the horns.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, so please don't take this post as medical advice! If you have any serious concerns about your anxiety, please seek the help of a trained professional. And, of course, if you are in crisis, please call the national suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255.


Therapy


I started going to therapy not long after I started going to college. Many colleges offer free or inexpensive counseling through their student health centers, like my school does, which is where I started before moving to my current therapist's office. Before that, I used TalkSpace - an app for confidential text therapy - to manage my stress, depression and anxiety. Both options were great because they allowed me to seek the help I needed without getting my parents involved.


Medication


I've been taking 5 mg of Lexapro every day for about a month now to help manage the symptoms of my anxiety. Lots of people view medication negatively, but since I've started it, I've noticed a huge difference in my mood and overall anxiety levels. While Lexapro doesn't fix all of my problems, it does give me more energy and reduces the number of panic attacks I have. If you think medication might be an option worth exploring for your anxiety, reach out to your psychiatrist or therapist, your primary care doctor or your school's student health center for more information!




Journal


Every night I try to complete a mini journal entry that includes my anxiety and mood levels for the day, my triggers, three things I'm grateful for and three goals I have for the next day. I try to do this either before or after I meditate, whether that's in the morning, the afternoon, the evening or late at night before I go to bed. Journaling helps me keep tabs on my emotions and track my anxiety over time, which helps me see how well my medication and coping strategies are working in real-time - and it can even be fun, too! 



Worksheets


Filling out weekly and daily anxiety worksheets helps me better understand my triggers and stay in touch with my emotions during periods of business and worry. My therapist recommended the Anxiety and Worry Workbook, which I bought on Amazon for less than $20.00. It's based on CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy, so it helps you get to the root of your anxiety by changing the way you think. However, I'm also a fan of this free depression tracker by Writes Like a Girl and Lavender Life's library of printable mental health resources


Diet


Eating a healthy diet helps me stay on track with my anxiety because it keeps me from worrying about what I'm putting into my body. Making sure I'm eating healthy meals simply means one less thing on my mind! I especially love meal prepping for this reason because it helps me stick to a plan and keeps me from freaking out over what I'm making for dinner. In case you missed it, you can check out my last blog post, all about meal prepping, by clicking here! 



Exercise


Even though I rarely get to the gym as often as I should, I feel my best when I exercise for at least a little while every day. As Lena Dunham says, "It ain't about the ass - it's about the brain!" When I'm on the elliptical or the mat, I'm rarely worrying about the rest of my day. In fact, exercising helps me stay grounded because most of the time, all I can think about is getting through my workout! Plus, as Elle Woods helpfully pointed out in Legally Blonde, exercising gives you endorphins - and endorphins will not only prevent you from shooting your husband, but also keep your anxiety at bay.


Yoga


If you have anxiety, you know it can have just as many physical symptoms as mental ones. That's why yoga is one of the best ways I've found to manage my anxiety. Nothing relaxes my body and mind like yoga! I enjoy taking class at a local studio when I'm home and through my school's gym when I'm at college, but when I can't get to a class, there are plenty of free videos available on YouTube. Yoga with Adriene's Yoga for Anxiety and Stress and Yoga for Anxiety videos are both great, free options for reducing your anxiety levels with your yoga practice.





Meditation


I'm not great at meditation, but my therapist advises me to practice it regularly to keep my anxiety levels manageable. As silly as I feel doing it, I know it works, so I try to meditate for at least 5-10 minutes every day. Since it's such a great anxiety-buster, I've tried almost every meditation app in the App Store - but here are just a few of my favorites:

  • Meditation Studio. If you joined me for my 2017 Whole Body Reset back in January, you're probably already familiar with Meditation Studio. For around $3.99, you can get access to hundreds of guided meditations geared toward all sorts of moods and conditions. 
  • Calm. Calm is a free meditation app with the option for a paid subscription. I like it because you can choose your favorite background noises, like a waterfall or gentle waves, and meditate for as long as you like with or without guidance.
  • Simply Being. Simply Being costs $1.99 and offers 5-30 minute guided meditations with a variety of background noises. The best part of this app is how relaxing and soothing the woman's voice is! 
  • Stop, Breathe, Think. This meditation app has been my FAVORITE as of lately! After performing a quick "check-in" for your mind, body and emotions, the app recommends a meditation for you. After you meditate, you can then complete a second check-in and watch how your mood changes over time!
  • Mindfulness Daily. This app isn't strictly a meditation app, but offers a 21-day program in mindfulness training. Additionally, you can take short "pauses" whenever you want throughout the day, as the app guides you through two short, mindful breaths to a relaxing background.

Apps


In addition to my meditation apps, there are a couple of other apps I currently used or have tried in the past to help with my anxiety. (I am also always on the lookout for new ones, so be sure to let me know in the comments if I've missed any of your favorites!) Here's a brief list of some of the best anxiety apps I've used:

  • Round. This is an app I use to track my medication. Every day it gives me a reminder window from 6:30-7:30 (I take my medicine at 7:00 PM every night). When I take my medicine, all I have to do is slide the notification and tap the button! I can then view a grid of every day I've taken/missed my medication.
  • Worry Watch. In this app, which costs about $1.99, you can log your worries in a password-protected journal. I love that you can write them down once and not have to think about them for the rest of the day. Plus, you can select if your worries came out better or worse than you expected, allowing you to visualize your own catastrophization. 
  • Pacifica. Pacifica is an all-in-one anxiety reliever, where you can log your moods, rate your healthy habits, enter your thoughts in a diary and even calm down quick by listening to breathing exercises or meditations. 
  • Happify. This app makes overcoming anxiety, stress and depression fun by giving you games and daily activities to help you bust your worries. I like to use it in bed in the morning or at night instead of scrolling through social media until I fall asleep! 

What strategies do you use to manage anxiety and stress? LMK in the comments below!



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