The Anxiety of Academia, What You Can Do About It
At times, pursuing a graduate degree feels a lot like climbing the high dive ladder at an Olympic-size pool, then flinging yourself off the highest platform without knowing the depth of the water. The entire process begins with fear, compounded by anxiety and followed by the free fall of an impossibly packed schedule.
It doesn’t only feel this way because the academic pressure to keep scholarships, earn stipends, accumulate lab hours and write four times the amount of research papers is staggering, but because grad work leaves you little time for the parts of your life that afford the greatest emotional and physical health — things like cultivating relationships, making time for exercise, eating healthy and self-care.
The college-age anxieties that used to plague students — homesickness, roommate or romantic drama, academic indecision, etc. — often pale in comparison to the high emotional stress brought on by campus shootings, pledge hazing, campus sexual assaults and rapes, natural disasters and other non-academic stressors.
Mental Health in Graduate School
It’s no wonder that more and more graduate students need mental health counseling and care. According to a TIME Magazine feature, a study by the Collegiate Center for Mental Health found that between 2009 and 2015, when enrollment grew by only six percent, the number of students seeking help at college counseling centers increased by 30 percent.
In 2017, the American College Health Association reported a survey of 63,000 students at 92 schools revealed that nearly 40 percent of students suffered from depression severe enough to impact their ability to function. Sixty-one percent had felt “overwhelming anxiety.” The report appeared in TIME Magazine.
A more recent study in Nature Biotechnology reported that 39 percent of the grad students surveyed said they had experienced moderate to severe depression. Compare that with six percent of the general population.
Never has it been more important for grad students — and college students in general — to have easy access to the mental health care they need during this particularly vulnerable time in their lives. The good news is that colleges nationwide are working hard to meet the demand. College counseling centers are increasing the size of their staffs, enlisting other paraprofessionals to help and using case managers to connect students to mental healthcare providers off campus.
Yes, there may be some wait time involved, but if you’re struggling with anxiety or depression — or finding it difficult to achieve a healthy balance between your academic life and your real life — counseling is not an elective. It is an essential part of surviving college with your sanity intact. If need be, let some other spinning plate fall. Your mental health is more important.
You wouldn’t let a deep cut on your leg go unattended; you’d seek immediate treatment. Mental health care is no different. What might not seem like an emergency now, if left unaddressed, could become a more serious matter.
Self-Care in Graduate School
So, make that call to your campus counseling center. Should you have to wait to get an appointment, begin depressurizing your life by making self-care a priority:
- Spend time in nature every day.
- Practice deep breathing.
- Cultivate calm and quiet in your life with music, meditation or positive self-talk.
- Give attention to your body: good nutrition, massage, stretch, stay hydrated and exercise.
By all means, reach out and talk to a friend about your feelings before and after counseling, whether in person, via phone or even text. You’re certainly not alone. Being honest about what’s going on may well be the biggest achievement of your graduate career — a small, but essential step that, ultimately, makes finishing your degree and reclaiming your life possible.
By Melissa Riddle Chalos
A writer for Foundations Recovery Network
Foundations Recovery Network’s mission is to be the leader in evidence-based, integrated treatment for co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders through clinical services, education and research. Our vision is to be the best at delivering effective, lasting treatment and providing superb experiences across our continuum of care in all places.