Opinion: Don't Cry Wolf with Anxiety

We all know the feeling, it is an unmistakable sensation when that heavy knot begins to form in the pit of your stomach. All of your obligations and responsibilities stand like a mountain before you and the reality of how much work you have ahead sinks in. Anxiety, motivates some and pushes them forward to overcome the mountain of stress they face. For others, it may not be so simple and they buckle under the pressure. However, a distinction needs to be made among those who are often losing the battle with anxiety. There are the students who truly have a disorder that need to be taken seriously, and those who may have simply bitten off a bit more than they can chew.

Anxiety is a growing problem for America’s students. It’s not surprising when you consider students are not only encouraged, but expected to take on more responsibilities than ever before. From challenging classes to service organizations, extracurricular obligations, sports and a social life, university has become an over-achiever’s paradise. This leaves many students feeling stressed and overworked in order to stay competitive in the never-ending version of “anything you can do I can do better.”

As students, we constantly hear about how much more difficult it is to be a college or high school student since our parent’s generation went through school, and it shows. The Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA) surveyed 83 schools selected from U.S. News & World Report's 2007 guide to the Best universities and liberal arts colleges. The study found that almost all schools surveyed reported an increased use of mental health services, with a 13% rise at national universities and a 23% increase at the liberal arts schools over the past three years. Clearly something has changed, and we can see the toll it takes on our peers.

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We have all seen that kid break down in tears at a table in Bapst because they have an econ midterm Monday, an eight-page paper due Tuesday, and 4boston meetings every night of the week. Part of us empathizes with that kid because, admittedly, sometimes the expectations we put on ourselves makes us all want to curl up in the fetal position, sob our eyes out and gorge ourselves with more Ben and Jerry’s than the entire state of Vermont goes through in a year.

However, the other half of our mind realizes that the anxiety we feel is primarily our own fault for taking on all of the responsibilities that we do. We want to do well and excel in all of our endeavors, and this anxiety is the helpful push behind all of the focus and motivation we need to power through the mountain of stress we have staring us in the face. While we may have more to deal with as students than the generations that came before us, there comes a point where our generation ought to accept anxiety not as not a detriment, but a challenge that will better prepare us for the ever-growing mountain of problems that face us after BC.

Psychologist Sigmund Freud asserted that the principle sensations of guilt and shame stem from anxiety produced in our unconscious when we have failed to live up to social norms or our Idealized Self. The anxiety a student feels before a test or as obligations start to stack up, stems from the idea that the student is concerned with a failure to meet these obligations or to live up to expectations.

In psychology, the notion of who you believe you can be and the expectations that come with it is called your Idealized Self. Imagining your Idealized Self is kind of like imagining the kind of person your dog thinks you are, and it is everything you want to be. As students at a top-tier university, Boston College’s students hold themselves to an extremely high standard, and when we cannot live up to our own standards it can cause anxiety. This anxiety is created by our minds to motivate us to be that person we desperately want to be, but for some it can be a crippling grip that hurts more than it helps.

While no clear line can be drawn between those that truly have an anxiety disorder, and those that do not, it is obvious that working through the stress is essential to living out a healthy life. A good student forms time management skills and learns their limits when it comes to activities to take on, all because of this anxiety.

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However there are those that are truly affected by an anxiety disorder. These individuals feel anxious, stressed and panicked even when there is nothing significant to cause these feelings. Anxiety disorders are not to be taken lightly and have very real symptoms and effects on the people living with them. These disorders can affect every aspect of life, and change the entire way people come to see the world.

It is imperative that those without real anxiety problems understand the reality of these disorders. Every time someone cries wolf and takes advantage of anxiety to reduce their workload, it hurts those actually suffering by adding a negative stigma to the disorder that is a very real problem in their lives.

At Boston College, the student body’s “work hard, play hard” mentality is obvious from the second you step onto campus as a freshman. Many BC students are perfect examples. You see them working until they pass out, drooling on a table in O’Neill just trying to understand the finer nuances of thermodynamics during the week in order to earn a worry-free night or two on the weekends to spend with their friends. And while this attitude may contribute to the increased anxiety that many people feel, most students on campus would tell you that they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Many students had the option to go to any of the top-tier schools “where fun goes to die” and not had to worry about all the social stress on top of their already full course loads. However, the reason they chose BC has to do just as much the experience out of the classroom as in it. Students come to BC for full college experience and though our “work hard, play hard” attitude adds stress into almost everyone’s lives, it creates an environment that people love to be a part of. For most students, the atmosphere is worth it as they learn to use it to their advantage, manage their time and actually enjoy the four, short years here at BC.

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Ian Patterson