The Anxiety of Adulthood

When I returned to Boston for my sophomore year, I was unprepared for the anxiety that greeted me. I did not foresee any obstacles that would stop me from moving forward in my life - socially, academically and personally. Anxiety did not fit into my plan.

College seemed much more overwhelming than I’d remembered and my first few days back felt like a bad dream. I experienced intense anxiety that caused me to feel foreign in my own body and I had no idea why. I had never experienced anything like it. After researching, I discovered it was called derealization. CalmClinic describes derealization as a coping mechanism that stems from anxiety, “ During intense periods of anxiety (as occurs with panic disorder and other severe stress disorders), the mind essentially decides it's going to tune the world out in order to cope.”

These feelings came and went, but they always occupied space in my mind, causing my everyday life to feel uncomfortable and scary. Near the end of my first semester as a sophomore I had a panic attack during class. It was nothing like the moments of anxiety that I’d experienced in the past few months, it felt worse. My heart rate rapidly increased, I became sweaty and had difficulty controlling my breathing, feeling like I would never again be able to catch my breath. It seemed to come out of nowhere and to this day I don't know what caused it.

Now, a year later, I’m able to go long stretches of time without thinking about my anxiety, but that doesn’t mean it’s disappeared. After a bad attack it becomes increasingly difficult for me to think of anything else for weeks, sometimes months, on end.

Julie Eaton, a licensed therapist in Bozeman, Montana, says those who experience anxiety often feel a pull to think through their racing thoughts and find the source of them. “This doesn’t help and instead creates a continual loop,” says Eaton, “The real trick is to move away from these thoughts, not to engage in them.”

Thinking through my thoughts, as Eaton described it, is something I struggle with. It was something I would like to have thought I’d conquered over this past summer, but as my junior year approached I worried about whether or not I was ready for the struggles that awaited me.

When I returned to Boston I was completely focused on moving into my first apartment, working on just four hours of sleep and little food. By the end of the day I could literally feel the anxiety creeping up from the back of my neck. While sitting in my new bedroom it finally hit me that this was where I would be for the next year. Suddenly, everything around me felt wrong and looked unfamiliar to me.

Professional counselor Patti Sage, at Sage Counseling Solutions in Marlton, New Jersey, says that during a panic attack you should accept the feelings instead of fighting them. “It’s just a chemical. It always passes. I’ve lived through them before,” Sage says.

I reminded myself of her advice while lying in my new bed, desperately trying to calm myself down. I meditated, telling myself that everything was absolutely fine; everything would be alright. After that I’d been back on high alert for any feelings of panic, but like always, I told myself that these things pass.

It took a while to realize that what was making me uncomfortable was my transition into adulthood and aversion to change. I wasn’t a freshman anymore; the novelty of college was wearing off, I was living off campus and I’d have to make some serious decisions concerning my career and plans after graduation. It felt like so much was going on and changing; it scared me more than I’d like to admit.

Coming to terms with my anxiety for the past year has definitely been difficult, and it’s something I am constantly working on. Talking about my anxiety with others has helped me regain some control in my life. It allowed me to learn more about myself and shattered the idea that I was alone. The support I receive from friends and family gives me the strength to conquer my anxiety in even the scariest of moments. I’ve proved to myself that I grow stronger after every battle and this makes all the difference. My anxiety will probably never go away, nor will the possibility of change, but I know that I’ll only get better at dealing with it.

Art by: Lillian Cohen

Tara McDonough