Dear Kelly: I’ve never had panic attacks before, but I get them all the time now. I’m finishing up doing all my college apps and whenever I think about it or about not getting in somewhere or not going to a good college, I have what I think is a panic attack. My heart races, my body gets all sweaty and I feel like I could pass out or just fall down because I feel lightheaded. I’m having problems sleeping at night.
When people ask what my plans are for next year, I can barely talk about it because it makes me sick to think about it. There’s so much pressure, and I’m not really handling it very well.
I have some safe schools I’m applying to, but to be honest, I don’t really want to go to them.
Any suggestions? Advice?
– Scared Senior
Dear Senior: A few questions for you. Have you done your best? Will you be able to look back on high school with positive memories and know that you tried your hardest? Are you happy with how you have filled out your apps and the essays you have written?
If you can answer yes, then you need to change your mind-set from fear to peace.
You’ve done all you can. What more can you ask of yourself?
When you experience panic, it takes self-talk to work your way through it. Or try writing in a journal or exercising. Or all three. The goal is to change your thought process and tell yourself that it is now out of your hands and you did all you could to give yourself the options you have. Remind yourself that the pressure you feel is self-inflicted, and you have the power to relax and let go of the fears.
The college process is stressful. No arguing about that. And usually things stress us out because they matter to us. If we didn’t care, it wouldn’t cause us to worry. So the fact you care about your education and your future is a good sign and something to be admired.
There are two kinds of stress – positive and negative. Negative stress is the reaction to a situation or event that puts you under great pressure. Negative stress controls our thoughts and can wreak havoc on our bodies and our minds. Positive stress motivates us to do our best and provides emotions like excitement and exhilaration.
Instead of viewing the college process as negative stress, work on changing your mind to see it as a positive stress that will open doors and provide you with all kinds of great new life experiences.
Worrying about all the “what-if’s” right now is a waste of time and energy. Why worry about what you can’t control?
Try writing in a journal every night before you go to sleep. Just writing down your thoughts or fears or whatever is going on in your mind can be helpful with relaxing your mind and allowing you to fall asleep. The more you can write down on paper, the less you will process in your head as you try and wind down to sleep.
Exercise can also be a beneficial tool. By establishing a regular exercise routine, you can work through the stress as you do something physical and get a workout. Getting regular exercise helps us think better and feel better.
If you continue to struggle and have anxiety issues, consider going to a professional counselor to help you learn more tools on how to handle the stress you are feeling. I wish I could say the stress and pressure will go away once you hear from the colleges where you applied. Stress is a huge part of daily life, whether it be from social stress or classwork. Learning how to handle it in a way that is healthy and productive will help you as you get older and have to deal with other stresses life will throw at you.
There is a college for everyone. Trust that you will land where you are supposed to – even if it’s not your first pick of places to go. Don’t let all the worrying and fear stop you from enjoying your senior year. Reach out for professional help if you need to – no shame in that. If people ask you what your plans are, use a simple response such as, “I don’t know yet. We will just wait and see,” and don’t feel like you owe any more than that.
Don’t allow this process to cause you so much distress that you miss out on moments of fun and the reward of enjoying all your hard work over the past 12 years.
Kelly Richardson, a Folsom therapist, works with adolescents.