College is hard. Living with an anxiety disorder and being a full time student is even harder. In many ways, it’s like juggling two full-time jobs. Unfortunately, some people believe that college is out of the question for young adults living with an anxiety disorder.
I used to think so too. I’ve dealt with my anxiety disorder and panic attacks for years. In some ways, graduating high school felt like a miracle. I didn’t know how I would cope with college, given how bad my anxiety was. Fortunately, through trial-and-error, I figured out how to cope and thrive in college. In fact, I got a 4.0 during the previous two semesters.
Today, I want to share some of my strategies for getting a 4.0 GPA in college.
- Talk to your school’s disability services department.
They will help you get disability accommodations for your classes. They can also connect you with useful resources. Asking for help may be difficult, but these accommodations will help level the playing field and give you a fighting chance. If asking for help is difficult, bring someone along for moral support. It’s also a good idea to think of what you want to say before your meeting; write down a summary of what you want to say, in case you forget.
- Find a good therapist and/or a psychiatrist.
Depending on the nature of your anxiety, you may need therapy, medication, or both. Many schools offer free counseling for students. If yours doesn’t, or they don’t offer what you need, find a therapist as close to campus as possible. If you have frequent medicine changes, try to find a psychiatrist near campus. If your anxiety is stable, you can get away with having a psychiatrist further from campus, if need be. If finances are an issue, see if you can find a counselor who charges fees on a sliding scale.
- Build your support network, and lean on them.
Building a support network is crucial. Your therapist and/or psychiatrist make good additions to your support network, but you need more people. Make friends on campus. Build relationships with your professors. Make friends with the people in your classes. If you run into hard times, your support network will help you cope. If you have good relationships with your professors, they will be more likely to work with you.
- Pick a major that you’re passionate about.
A major you love will motivate you to get to class regularly and study. That’s partly why I’m an English major. I love to read and write, so it’s easier to go to class and study. This helps when my anxiety drains my motivation.
- Take the course load that you need, even if it’s not considered full time.
It might be a good idea to take fewer hours per semester, especially if you’re trying to stabilize your anxiety. For me, my anxiety gets triggered if I’m too busy. As a result, I typically take about 12 hours each semester. This is what works for me. If you need to stay busy in order to control your anxiety, consider taking more hours. If you need to go slower, take fewer hours. Don’t feel like you have to graduate at a certain time. Go at your own pace, and you’ll graduate eventually.
- Make your schedule the way you need it to be.
One of the perks of college is that you can have your pick of class times. If your anxiety makes it difficult to sleep, choose afternoon or evening classes. If your anxiety makes it hard to concentrate, take early morning classes. These classes tend to be lighter, because few people want to take them, and quieter, because people are still trying to wake up.
- Take care of yourself.
This is absolutely crucial for every college student, not just ones with anxiety. Find what fills you up, and incorporate these things into your schedule. Find a hobby that you enjoy, and incorporate it into your schedule. This will give you a much needed break. If finances are an issue, seek out free or low-cost hobbies, such as an exercise class/group on campus, reading library books, juggling, writing, and drawing.
Also, don’t be afraid to reward yourself. You have more work than a typical college student; you deserve to treat yourself. For me, one of my favorite TV shows is Full House. On Fridays, as my reward, I get to watch an episode. Rewards can motivate you to do what needs to be done.
If you have an anxiety disorder, you can do well in college. It may take more work, and you may have to do things differently from everyone else, but you can do it!