The Take Home Lessons…for me and you.

19 12 2009

Several portions of this blog are about coping with the “campus blues.” Currently, I am a terrible example at college coping skills. I have procrastinated writing a fair majority of this blog until hours before the deadline. The take home message of this blog writing experience…practice what you preach. Trite but true. I need to improve my time management skills to reduce depression and anxiety. Hopefully a new year and fresh semester will bring better habits. Time will certainly tell.

But the take home message for you…STOP the STIGMAS! Mental health disorders are serious illnesses. Talk with your friends and family about how you are feeling, what you are feeling, and why you feel the way you do. Don’t be shy about finding help and recognizing your problems. The first step on the road to recovery…admit it. By admitting our problems, we can solve them. Remember to use your resources. Don’t resist medication, relaxation, exercise, or other coping strategies. At first, I resisted all forms of counseling, but a persistent mother persuaded me to have professional help. I am truly grateful for faithful parents who never gave up. Their love, support, and encouragement helped me conquer my panic disorders. They are my greatest support. Find someone who you can rely on, someone who you can trust, and someone who cares. Change takes time. But the wait is well worth it.


Tips for Students with Anxiety Disorder

19 12 2009

Coping with anxiety disorders is similar to coping with other mental illnesses, like depression. Psychologist, psychiatrists and counselors use cognitive-behavioral therapy, relaxation, and medication to treat anxiety disorders. Cognitive-behavioral therapy involves identifying, understanding, and modifying thinking and behavior patterns. If a person can change their thinking and behavior, positive emotional changes usually follow. Relaxation helps to cope with the physical stresses caused by anxiety disorders. Medications, such as antidepressants or antianxiety medicines, are used to alleviate severe symptoms. Depending on the individual, treatment can be short-term or long-term. Since I suffer from severe panic disorder, I take a daily dose of Paxil. It is extremely important to take your medication has directed by your pharmacists. DO NOT mess around with antidepressants. (I know from personal experience. It isn’t pretty.)

The Anxiety Disorders Association of America offers these suggestions to help students with anxiety disorders:

Exercise: Physical activity benefits your body and MIND.

Eat a balanced diet: Don’t skip meals and remember to eat from all of the food groups. Avoid caffeine since it can trigger anxiety attacks.

Do your best instead of trying to be perfect: Perfection isn’t possible, so be proud for however close you get.

Take a time out: Take a deep breath and count to ten. Mediate. Get a massage. Go for a walk.

Put things in perspective: Look at life from new angle. Ask yourself if you are blowing things out of proportion. (I always blow the little things out of proportion. I like to think I come from a long line of over-reactors.

Talk to someone: Don’t bottle up your feelings to the point of explosion. Talk to a friend, roommate, church leader, or family member.

Find out what triggers your anxiety: Take notes or write in a journal so you can reflect on your anxiety. (This is easier said than done…but try it!)

Don’t give up. Dealing with anxiety is a never-ending process.


18 12 2009

A psychologist explained obsessive compulsive disorder to me as a flashlight. People with OCD focus their flashlight beam into a small, strong stream of light, rather than broad warm light. OCD is a mental illness that causes people to have distressing, intrusive, irrational thoughts, images or impulses, and to perform repetitive behavioral or mental acts aimed at reducing distress or some dreaded situation. OCD suffers often fear illness or contamination, making mistakes, or losing things. They indulge in obsessive hand washing, excessive checking, extreme hoarding, or uncontrolled organizing and arranging. Along with panic disorder, I also suffer from mild obsessive compulsive disorder. Individuals with one mental illness are more likely to suffer from another disorder. I constantly obsess over getting sick and passing germs. I guess you could say I am a legit “germaphob.” Like others with OCD, I compulsively wash my hands before eating, after touching money, in between classes, and after coming home. My OCD habits increase during times of stress and anxiety. In general, I obsess over things. OCD can cause debilitating habits, but it has also allowed me to accomplish great things. I usually obsess over something until I reach perfection. However, I have to consciously remind myself to stop obsessing and not stress over perfection. Through  counseling and medication, like Paxil, I am learning to channel my OCD behaviors for good rather than destruction.

I found this great website on OCD run by a college student who suffers from the mental illness. Brittney, a college undergrad, shares her experiences on OCD, provides information on the disorder, and offers support. The following is an essay she wrote after recognizing she had OCD.

Never underestimate the power of the mind,” is a statement that I did not understand until recently. I was oblivious to the powerful truth behind this proverbial quote until one night in fifth grade. Only being in fifth grade, I never thought that one day or one moment could forever change the rest of my life. That life-altering moment came when I discovered I was suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), depression, and anxiety. Sitting on a floral couch in my best-friend’s living room, I made the connection when watching Jack Nicholson portraying a man with OCD in the movie As Good as it Gets.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a chronic mental disorder that can lead to depression. OCD can impair one’s life on both physical and mental levels, and make a person lose their identity in the many false obsessions. I know that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I also know that this will always be an ongoing struggle. Fortunately, I have learned that this mental disorder is something that I can fight. I have learned to fight this with the help and support of my loved ones, doctors, and medication.

Waking up not feeling quite the same, I recalled the night before and what I discovered; I made the connection with OCD. From then on, a shocking depression inhibited my life. I remained isolated, confused, and in a world I could never imagine for the next five years. I learned that every ounce of joy could be drained from my heart, and only to be filled with hopelessness. Over time, when I become older, I slowly found a godsend in my life through the exhaustion and doubt. I decided to dedicate my life to becoming a psychologist for the mentally troubled youth. I wanted to change my seemingly disappointing and hindering secret to awareness and hope, which then could be passed to the OCD patient. Being affected with OCD changed me completely because I no longer take happiness and true sincere feelings for granted.

Call to Action…a Need for Change

18 12 2009

Mental health disorders are a growing concern on college campuses. Research shows that stress and anxiety disorders have increased substantially over the last thirty years. Thousands of college students silently suffer from depression, anxiety, social phobias, and eating disorders. Studies indicate that college students are more frequently using campus counseling services to cope with mental illnesses. College wide changes on campuses across American can improve the mental health of millions of students. What can you do to help???

The Anxiety Disorders Association of America offers the following suggestions:

A Call to Parents: Parents of college students should consider both academic and nonacademic resources available to help their children have a successful college career. Before selecting a university, parents should research the options available to students who may experience problems with the college transition. As a parent, help your child identify and locate college health services.

When students call home, parents should pay attention to the worries, stresses, and fears their child expresses. Fears and anxieties are a normal part of college life; however, if these fears seem out of the ordinary, a parent should help their child seek help. Parents should also listen to the mood of their child. As a parent, be mindful of your child’s happiness, sadness, or distress.

A Call to Students: If you see your peers, friends, or roommates struggling with the signs of an anxiety disorder, help them. Talk with your friend about their feelings and encourage him or her to seek help from a professional at the college health center.

A Call to College Staff: Colleges and universities should inform their staffs about the rise of mental illnesses on campuses. During new student orientation sessions, colleges should supply students with information on mental illnesses. Colleges should help students feel less embarrassed about seeking support from professionals or peers. Academic advisers should know to refer students to counseling services. Universities should also inform students on the signs and symptoms of mental illnesses and available treatment options.


Am I Having a Panic Attack?

18 12 2009

I have suffered from severe panic attacks for the last ten years. Despite frequent panic attacks, I still can’t adequately describe how I feel during an episode of panic. Dark. If someone asked me for a one word description of a panic attack, I would answer dark. During a panic attack I feel alone, lost, disoriented, confused, troubled, frustrated, afraid, fearful, and hopeless. The cherry on top of a panic attack, might be the physical symptoms. Panic attacks also make my hands tremble, heart race, chest tighten, feet tingle, stomach churn, and body hurt. After a panic attack, I experience extreme exhaustion.

The emotional and biological changes that occur during junior high worsened my panic disorder. I can vividly remember lying on the bathroom floor with a nauseated stomach, tight chest, racing heart, and tingling feet. My mom tried to force rescue medicine down me, but my trembling hands made it difficult to drink the glass of water. My body sat balled up on the bathroom floor, but my mind, consumed by dark thoughts,  was somewhere else. My parents held my trembling body for hours, until I finally regained physical and mental strength. Unfortunately, we have never identified why I suffer from severe panic disorder. But after years of counseling, daily medication, and regular exercise, I have learned to control the disorder.

The unknowns of freshman year brought a similar series of panic attacks. Luckily, I lived with friends from high school who were aware of my problems. Although they knew about my disorder, the first attack they witnessed was both frightening and confusing, If you also suffer from panic attacks, tell your friends and roommates. Talking about the symptoms of a panic attack will help them understand what you are experiencing. Let them know what they can do to help you. USE YOUR RESOURCES!

Generalized Anxiety Disorder…and YOU?

18 12 2009

The fact of campus life…it’s tough! Adjusting to difficult classes, meeting new roommates, exploring shifting social groups, and finding financial security is naturally overwhelming. The majority of anxiety we experience as college students is normal and healthy. Normal levels of stress and anxiety encourage us to perform well and step up to the plate. For me, a little stress helps get the job done. If I didn’t stress, I wouldn’t accomplish much. But thousands of college students suffer from stress and anxiety beyond levels deemed “normal.” Personally, I believe that normal stress and anxiety levels vary from student to student. It is important that you understand what  anxiety level is typical for you, and not your friend or roommate. We all handle anxiety and stress differently. Learning to manage your anxiety is a life-long process. Stress management doesn’t happen overnight. Life happens. Unfortunately, college may not be the most stressful time of your life.

Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by EXCESSIVE, UNREALISTIC WORRY that lasts six months or more. In adults (or college students), the worries may focus on career, school, money, or health. Symptoms of GAD can also manifest physically like trembling, muscle aches, insomnia, abdominal upsets, dizziness, or irritability. If you think you may suffer from GAD, seek help. Contact your campus health or counseling center, chat with school adviser, visit with a religious leader, make an appointment with your family physician, or talk to a friend to receive help for generalized anxiety disorder.

The Signs Point to Eating Disorders…

12 12 2009

Yesterday I had an eye opening conversation with a good friend of mine. We like to consider ourselves seasoned BYU students, but she was concerned about her freshman roommates. She noticed they were losing weight rapidly and constantly baking cookies, brownies, and other sweet treats but never eating. They obsessed over calorie counts, fat contents, and waist sizes. She was worried they had an eating disorder or heading in the wrong direction. After reflecting on my past roommate situations, I realized I probably had a roommate with an eating disorder. She carefully planned every meal, ate little or no food, measured her waist size, constantly fed me her fattening treats, and obsessively exercised. I think I knew at the time she was struggling, but I didn’t know how to handle the situation. I didn’t want to confront her about my suspicions in case I misunderstood her actions. But speaking up saves lives. No girl should suffer through anorexia alone. As a her roommate, and more importantly her friend, I should have helped her.

I found these helpful hints for confronting a friend with an eating disorder:

Set a time to talk: Find a quiet place to talk with your friend. Leave plenty of time for a long conversation.

Tell your friend about your concerns: Be honest. Tell your friend you are concerned about their eating or exercise habits.

Ask your friend to talk to a professional: Explain to your friend that a counselor or doctor can help her overcome her eating disorder. Offer to help her make an appointment or go with her to the appointment.

Avoid conflicts: If your friend won’t admit she has a problem, don’t push her. The best thing you can do is maintain your friendship. Show that you love and care about her.

Don’t place blame or guilt: Don’t accuse her of not eating, throwing up, or over exercising. Instead show you are concerned that she doesn’t eat enough or exercises too much.

Don’t give simple solutions: Combating an eating disorder is complex. Your friend can’t just stop or simply start eating.

Most importantly, let your friend know she can count on you for love, support, and sympathy.

Food Phobia

12 12 2009

Last week in my technical writing class, this girl gave a presentation on eating disorders among college gymnasts. College gymnasts suffer from higher rates of eating disorders due to coach pressures, weigh-ins, and performance factors. She showed an interesting video on Bela Karolyi, a famous coach, and the standards he holds his gymnasts to. As a gymnast at BYU, the girl in my class discussed her battle with eating disorders. She said student athletes constantly feel pressure to maintain that “target weight” by eating chicken and vegetables. Food becomes a fear, rather than a pleasure. Eating disorders among college athletes are also influenced by other mental illnesses like anxiety and depression. Combating eating disorders on college campuses requires changes from both coaches and athletes.

Eating disorders, like anorexia, are the top mental illnesses that lead to death. Anorexia is characterized by a resistance to maintaining  a healthy body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight, and a distortion of body image.  College girls are especially at risk for anorexia due to age, gender, media, and social influences. Symptoms of anorexia include thinning of bones, brittle hair and nails, dry and yellowish skin, growth of fine hair over the body, mild anemia, constipation, low blood pressure, and drop in body temperature. The social pressures in college to be thin, fit, and beautiful prompt thousands of girls to resort to unhealthy weight loss methods. Be aware of those around you. Make sure your friends try to lose weight in a healthy and safe way. Positive peer influence can make a difference; however, serious anorexia requires medical treatment.

College Coping

11 12 2009

Coping skills can help you conquer those “campus blues.”  Mental Health America offers the following suggestions:

Carefully Plan Your Day: Planning your day and prioritizing your work will give you a sense of control over what you must do. Better control will reduce stress and anxiety.

Plan Your Work and Sleep Schedules: As college students, we often leave homework and studying until late at night. Working through the night and missing out on sleep can trigger depression. Try to get eight hours of shut eye every night.

Participate in Extracurricular Activities: Extracurricular activities can provide a welcome and much needed change from classwork. Be careful not to overload.

Seek Support From Other People: Roommates or friends are great ways to make strange places feel more comfortable. Find a friend you can trust and confide in. Sharing your emotions helps you realize you are not alone.

Try Relaxation Methods: Relaxation methods include deep breathing, meditation, long walks, and exercise. Personally, I find exercise a great way to burn off stress and steam.

Take Time for Yourself: Focusing on yourself can be energizing and give you purpose in life. Focusing on others is always a great way to forget about your worries and concerns, but don’t forget to take fifteen minutes of “me” time.

These are tried and true skills to help you cope with mental illnesses. Although these coping skills are a great resource, many people need extra help through medication and counseling. In junior high, I experience  severe series of panic attacks and accompanying depression. A psychologists taught to me a game he called “now I notice.” In between deep breaths, he told me to say “now I notice…” followed by an object I saw around me. Like, “now I notice the clock.” Although, I thought the game was stupid, it worked. By focusing on simple objects, I changed my train of thought and could calm myself down. If you don’t think it works…try it! (You don’t have to say it out loud.) You can also help change your thought pattern by folding your arms and alternate tapping your elbows. If you ever feel stressed, depressed, or anxious give it a try.

Depression Hurts

11 12 2009

The typical college student experiences periods of sadness, hopelessness, frustration, and fear.  Such emotions are normal and should be expected. However, continued bouts of sadness may indicate clinical depression. Depression is a serious illness that requires medical attention. It is more than feeling those “campus blues” for a few days at a time. It is feeling down, hopeless, and sad for weeks at a time. Depression interrupts daily life and routine tasks. Personally, I experience seasonal affective disorder, a form of depression that occurs during the winter months. SAD is generally treated with a light therapy, but some cases require antidepressants. Many colleges students, especially those attending schools in areas with long, cold winters, do not realize they have seasonal affective disorder. If you feel like you may suffer from SAD, find help from a school counselor, psychologist, or family doctor.

College students also suffer from major depression. Studies show that 15% of college students suffer from clinical depression, but only 33% of those with depression seek help. Major depression affects both the mind and physical body. It is characterized by a loss of interest in normal activities, feelings and emotions that disrupts a person’s ability to sleep, eat, study, work, and find pleasure. Most health professionals categorize depression as a chronic illness that requires long-term treatment.  Don’t let the term “chronic illness” scare you. With effective treatment, most people feel better and can lead a happy, healthy life. Long-treatment usually involves medication, exercise, counseling, or a combination of the three.

Don’t let depression control your life. Don’t be afraid to talk about depression. Depression isn’t your fault. If you feel depressed…find help. Tell someone.