Thinking of a title freaks me out
March 16, 2011 7:00 PM   Subscribe

Am I just going through a phase or do I genuinely suffer from anxiety?

I'm generally a happy person, so I don't think any of this stems from depression. Additionally, I've had a very good life and am lucky enough to have a strong group of friends and family whom I love very much. Perhaps because of this, I've always been reluctant to share how I feel, since it could (probably correctly) just be considered whining and countless people out there are suffering significantly worse. But my problem has finally had a noticeable impact on my life, so I figured I'd just ask.

I'm a freshman in college. Lately, every single decision I make is accompanied by a sense of anxiety and dread. I've become all but completely incapable of socializing with anyone because instead of relaxing and having a conversation, I just become very aware about how I look and what I'm saying and what the other person will think. I've just found it easier to not talk to anyone at all. I face the same problem with writing papers for class, where I end up freezing before I even begin. To be completely honest, I picture my teacher reading my paper, looking at my name, and laughing at how bad what I wrote was. It's taking a lot just to write this because right now I'm imagining that everyone views this as a huge waste of their time (which is why I'm submitting it anonymously). I know this is a really minor and really selfish problem, but I'd like it to stop since it's become a huge problem. It used to be that my favorite escape was writing (typical, I know), but now I feel like everything I say is stupid and unoriginal. I'm also pretty close to deleting this because I feel like it's probably a really simple problem that I should be able to figure out myself or that I'll get the dreaded "everyone goes through this, suck it up" answer (however true that may be). Blech.

In summation: I've been a happy guy basically my whole life, but in the past year or so I've found that everything I do and say brings out an overwhelming sense of dread that results in psychoanalyzing myself to the brink of insanity.

If anyone's found even the simplest method that helps them in the slightest, please share. Thank you all so much.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This does not sound like a really simple problem. This sounds like a problem that you need help to figure out. You should start with your university counseling center. If you want, you can print out this question, which is very clear and well-written and did not make me want to laugh, and show it to a counselor and ask them for help.

It is not selfish to ask for help, you are not whining, and it does not matter how bad other people have it.
posted by prefpara at 7:27 PM on March 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

IANAD, but this sounds like the beginning of some horrendous mental battle...luckily for you, now is the optimal time to take action! Book an appointment with the campus counselling service (or similar), and tell them your worries - this is exactly what they are for! They'll assess your situation fairly and let you know whether you need further medical help or just a good night's sleep. They might even help you uncover the root of the problem - you never know, there might be a solid explanation for why you're feeling this way...
posted by fix at 7:30 PM on March 16, 2011

Yep, this sounds like anxiety, perhaps coupled with its frequent bedfellow, perfectionism. It's a real problem and having it doesn't make you crazy or whiny or bad. It's actually very common, especially among people your age. BUT it has the potential to seriously screw with your academic career if you don't get it treated. Go to your university mental health clinic and tell them you need to talk. You can overcome this problem completely, but you probably can't do it alone.
posted by embrangled at 7:46 PM on March 16, 2011

As hard as it is, don't cut off all social ties (as it will just make future interactions harder). Would you be comfortable having a small group (or maybe just one friend) over to your place to watch TV or movies? Then you can be social but still be in a comfortable environment and NOT in a large group? You indicated you have a strong group of friends which is great, I imagine they wouldn't mind a night at home hanging out here and there. Venting about your day can be therapeutic.

On top of that, like fix stated, I would go see your school counselor. There are some self-esteem issues at work, which is totally understandable when facing the stress of school. If this problem has just started up then perhaps you need to discuss the current program you are in, and what you may or may not want to do in your career.

Don't feel bad WHATSOEVER. It is good of you to ask.
posted by groovesquirrel at 7:48 PM on March 16, 2011

Not everyone goes through this, but a whole lot of people do. Which means that your school's counseling center will be very well versed in how to help you with this.

Freshman year, and college in general, is a super transitional time. You're likely away from home, your family, and everything familiar and being placed in a situation where for you have a lot more agency over your life. Probably half the conversations I've had with my friends since starting college have been basically: "AHHHH what am I doing with my life/AHHHH my life is nuts right now/AHHHHH who decided we were old enough and mature enough to deal with this." Anxiety is normal but that doesn't mean you don't deserve help.

You say "my problem has finally had a noticeable impact on my life," so go talk to someone about it! That's what they're there for!
posted by MadamM at 7:49 PM on March 16, 2011

agreed. it might be the warning bells of oncoming clinical anxiety, or you might just be going through a stressful phase, but even if it's "just" stress, there's nothing wrong with getting help with dealing with it. if, for no other reason, to be proactive. as with any other health concern, early detection is the way to go. visiting a counselor is a good first step.

good luck!

(also, for the record, even a life that looks perfect "on paper" can be troubled in reality. the positive benchmarks you mention are things to be grateful for, but they're not the whole story.)
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:50 PM on March 16, 2011

this is a reasonable ask. please don't beat yourself up about it.

it does sound like you are showing tendencies toward a more serious mental/emotional issue than something you could just acknowledge and then move on from having done so. very likely something a counselor would be able to help with. stress can be a reason for this to suddenly be a problem, and being in school on your level is a common ingredient for that type of stress response.

solutions-oriented/goal-focused therapies are probably going to get you further than simple talk therapy, so if you can bring yourself to ask for that when you start looking/scheduling, it will likely serve you well.

what you're describing sounds like "irrational thinking", and there are ways to combat it with recognition and positive self-talk. if you can start on this in the interim between now and any other solution, you might be able to have some immediate relief.

whatever you do, be gentle with yourself.
posted by batmonkey at 7:50 PM on March 16, 2011

I've always tended to worry about stuff that's not worth worrying about. I was eventually diagnosed with low level GAD (General Anxiety Disorder). My opinion is that most people have it to a certain extent, and a bit of anxiety is a good thing (people who have absolutely no anxiety are probably sociopaths).

From your post, you seem more anxious than me. You should talk to a professional.

Even just being told by someone who knows about such things "Yup, you have anxiety" can help. They may suggest medication. I was put on an SSRI, but it didn't seem to be doing much after a few months, other than killing my libido, so I stopped. But just knowing that I have a recognisable, common disorder is somewhat comforting. It gives me a logical reason to tell myself "Stop worrying about that thing. That's just your GAD."
posted by Diag at 8:03 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

IANYT but if you want to try something that may soon nip this in the bud and give you some really useful emotional skills in the process, do the Feeling Good Handbook. In that book you will find descriptions and advice on the very situation you are suffering, as well as a wide range of other commonly experienced anxieties.

Do some every day and do the exercises, just like it was a school subject. Think of it as an extracurricular self-improvement class. Trust me and the 1000s of mefites who agree: this handbook could change your life.
posted by Kerasia at 8:12 PM on March 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

mefites who agree
cite: Mefi Wiki There Is Help - books, articles etc
posted by Kerasia at 8:20 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is not a surprising thing to be going through in your freshman year of college! If you've found that, hey, lots of your fellow students are really intelligent, interesting, and attractive people, then it's understandable if you feel some pressure to perform or demonstrate that you're good enough to hang with them. In addition to approaching a counselor (which I agree with others is a good idea, because it does seem to be affecting you significantly), you might google the phrase "impostor syndrome," which refers to a fairly common fear among academics that they're not smart enough and somehow got where they are by mistake. I don't mean that to be dismissive, because it could very well be true there are one or more areas in your life where you could use some improvement. Which is okay-- improving yourself is one of the things college is good for! One idea regarding paper writing is that it's okay to start by writing crap. Ernest Hemingway supposedly said, "The first draft of anything is shit." (And your AskMe title didn't need to be brilliant because your question is plenty well written enough to get the message across-- the title even fits when you go back and read it again after.)

Finally, I want to comment on the idea that because you're lucky and have had a very good life, it's therefore not okay to whine, or to express selfish desires, and you must "suck it up." I think that no life is truly good without friends and family who will forgive you for whining or being a little selfish sometimes, because life is difficult for everyone, even the lucky ones.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 8:31 PM on March 16, 2011

The way you describe this, "it's become a huge problem," "waste of everyone's time," etc, is classic anxiety/depression. I had minor onsets of this in college that got worse and worse in my twenties, and finally got into therapy in my late twenties, having severe anxiety and depression. I didn't seek treatment forever because I felt like I had a good life, didn't have "real" problems, it's a waste of time for therapists who see people with real problems, etc. Don't. Be. Me. I had tons of happy moments in my twenties but could have had so much more if I'd seen a good therapist much earlier. So much anxiety and dread I didn't have to live with. Don't be me, get help now. You're worth it. Being in college you also have access to counseling services ( most likely) and the people there will have good context on what's going on in your life.

Yes, this is somewhat "normal" for early college, but not wanting to talk to people and freezing up when facing commitments and tasks isn't normal, and more than that it's not something you have to live with.

tl;dr, get help, don't be me, good luck.
posted by sweetkid at 9:02 PM on March 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

mefi-mail me
posted by evil_esto at 4:59 AM on March 17, 2011

"Going through a phase" and "genuine anxiety" are not mutually exclusive situations. I have been medicated for anxiety, unmedicated, in therapy, not in therapy. I definitely fall more into the chronic management side of things, but sometimes life hits you hard and you need some help dealing with it and you may never need professional help again. The important thing is that you do not deserve to feel this way. Additionally, yes, this is common for early college (guess when I got my first zoloft prescription?) but that doesn't mean that it's not a problem or something that you don't need help with. Your choices are not just to muscle through this as a way of making it not a "real" psychological issue or to resign yourself to a lifetime of teh crazy. There is much happier middle ground between those two and I urge you to get some help for it.
posted by Polyhymnia at 11:13 AM on March 17, 2011

If I were you I'd be seeking out help right now. If I could go back in time and do this, I would.

Prior to about 5 years ago I was a happy-go-lucky sort of person, and then some things occurred which had me feeling anxious and unhappy and I was freaking out about them a lot. Alcohol helped suppress for a while, and then I realised I was going down a bad, bad route, stopped--and then had a breakdown which left me in a state of anxiety and depression for years.

A couple of years I ended up going to a psychologist and that helped a lot. Medication didn't (Cymbalta), so much, nearly as the lady I was seeing. She kept asking me things like, "and why is that so bad?" so I could deconstruct the process on downwards, etc, and now I'm at a reasonable place. Told me it was ok to avoid situations and people who would make me feel worse. Not 100% every day, but most of the time.

Arrest this right now. See your college counsellor.
posted by owlrigh at 11:34 AM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

In summation: I've been a happy guy basically my whole life, but in the past year or so I've found that everything I do and say brings out an overwhelming sense of dread that results in psychoanalyzing myself to the brink of insanity.

I'm really sorry you're suffering like this. I would urge you to see a trained therapist/psychiatrist as soon as you can. This is not just because your symptoms are interfering with your life, but also because it sounds from your description like your mental state has changed pretty dramatically over the course of the last year. Only a professional would be able to rule out something more serious than anxiety (which is of course plenty serious on its own).
posted by en forme de poire at 11:15 PM on March 17, 2011

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