As a student who has experienced anxiety since childhood, I’ve had countless encounters with triggers on campus. Had I been keeping count, the list of things that have caused me anxiety at school would easily number in the hundreds. Still, facing these triggers has helped me learn how to cope with them, even if my anxiety never completely goes away.
I’ve heard similar stories from a lot of other students who battle daily anxiety. There definitely seems to be some common concerns on campus, from classwork and organization to awkward peer interactions. There’s no shortage of anxiety in any school, but some of these common experiences are just oh-so-relatable; here are 8 things that students with anxiety can relate to.
1. The questionable moment when someone I might know is waving to me from across the quad…at least I think they are.
Deciding whether or not to wave back is the first step toward overthinking every social interaction for the rest of the day. If they were waving to me and I don’t wave back, will they think I ignored them? If they weren’t waving to me and I do wave back it’ll make everything awkward, especially if I ever see them again. I usually end up regretting whatever decision I make, so I don’t think this is a situation where anyone can win.
2. How hard it is not to dread the first week of the semester and its overwhelming chaos.
When you’re trying to catch up with friends, get to know your teachers, get involved on campus, and map out due dates for all your classes, it’s easy to get lost in the confusion. I find myself checking my class schedule every few minutes and forgetting to reply to texts or emails. A simple organizational tool such as a planner can make a world of difference, although I still don’t have a strategy for those first-day-of-school icebreakers that I spend more time rehearsing in my head than actually participating in.
3. Constantly being around people, even when I really don’t want to be.
The ultra-structured schedule of school doesn’t allow for much flexibility, so I can’t always have my space the moment I need it. Even in college, where I’m allowed to get up and leave the classroom without asking, I wouldn’t dare draw that kind of attention to myself–even though I know I’m not doing anything wrong. Instead, I just bury my face in my notebook and wait for class to end.
Living on a bigger public campus means running into lots of high school tour groups, Greek life meetups, and other events that throw me head-first into one of my most-feared triggers. Crowds make me anxious practically instantly. Even though there are times that end in panic attacks and ruined days, there are other times when I’m able to relax and even enjoy myself at a busy event, despite any anxious thoughts and feelings.
4. How exhausting it is to be constantly worried for my safety.
It saddens me almost as much as it worries me that so many public places are considered unsafe after so many mass shootings in the United States. Whether they have anxiety or not, countless students are nervous about their school’s safety plans and about being at school in general. For someone like me who does have anxiety, though, this worry can easily become an obsession. I make escape plans in my head wherever I go on campus and I even have a strategy to avoid a gunman’s attention in the event of a shooting. Seeing a therapist has been helping me to control the power these worries have over me, although handling anxious thoughts can be a lifelong journey.
5. Wishing I could work by myself on group projects because I trust no one else with my grades.
It’s happened too many times: the group project is due in an hour and one of my groupmates has yet to finish their piece of the work. They’re currently MIA and I’m considering doing their work so we have something to turn in. My other groupmates are surprisingly unconcerned about our incomplete assignment while I’m going crazy trying to decide what to do. No matter what I choose, things get complicated.
Even when I am blessed with groupmates who do their work in a timely manner, I’m such a perfectionist that I’d still rather do it all by myself.
6. Being self-conscious of something that should be insignificant, like the size of my backpack.
I could never understand how everyone else’s backpacks could be so slim and light when they had to pack for eight classes a day. I had a separate notebook and folder for each class, an extensive pen collection for color-coded notes, and a very specific homemade lunch all stuffed in my backpack, but no matter what I tried I couldn’t make my backpack as small as everyone else’s. I don’t know why this bothered me so much, but there was no way I was about to use the same notebook for multiple classes.
7. The slippery slope of poor grades has been my worst fear since elementary school.
In my suburban town, children are basically born into a cookie-cutter life plan: you go to school, attend college, find your career, and stick with it for the rest of your life. Even in elementary school, grades mattered. Students were split based on abilities and were tested constantly. I remember being pulled out of class once a week to practice math for standardized testing; it made me fall behind in class since I was missing so much of it, and the negative attention I got from other students made me want to keep to myself. The pressure for perfection begins at a young age, so I try not to blame myself for having so much anxiety about grades.
8. I’m afraid that if I’m quiet in class, teachers will assume I don’t care.
I’ve always enjoyed school and cared about the work I turn in, but I’m not the most outgoing person in the classroom. To this day, I worry that my lack of voluntary participation comes across like I’m not paying attention; it’s always the quiet students who get randomly called on in class, which is something I am constantly anxious about. It’s also important to me that my professors know that I am doing my best, but I worry that my behaviors don’t always show it.