Student shares struggles with anxiety

Sam Welch, sophomore in secondary education, discusses how he copes with anxiety and loneliness. (Jessica Robbins | The Collegian)

Sam Welch, sophomore in secondary education, said he was ready to take on his sophomore year, but shortly after the start of his second year of college, he realized something was wrong and he needed help.

“It was the beginning of sophomore year,” Welch said. “I had just come back from the summer, and I was really highly motivated, ready to take on the semester. Then, some of the symptoms I started experiencing and started dismissing were that I was barely sleeping at all, three to four hours a night.”

Welch said it began to affect other areas of his life.

“Then I noticed it in my classes,” Welch said. “I went but I just wasn’t there. Next it was my grades; they started OK but then they started to fall and that got me really down. I wasn’t sleeping, I was just trying to grind, get a lot of work done and keep myself busy. I didn’t realize until later I was just digging myself into a hole.”

According to Welch, he did not know how to explain what he was experiencing, and started to slowly isolate himself and continue with habits he knew were not healthy and only accentuated his problems.

“I didn’t know what I was dealing with,” Welch said. “My mind was always racing so I thought maybe I had ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). So I went to a doctor, fully expecting that I would just be diagnosed with ADHD or not, and if not, then I would be out of luck.”

Welch said his psychiatrist asked questions he hadn’t expected to be asked. One question was if Welch had gone through any traumatic experiences in the past, which lead to realization that his feelings of loneliness and anxiety were caused by the brain tumor Welch had survived in high school.

The tumor was discovered after Welch was in a near-fatal car accident in high school, he said. He and his psychiatrist decided that much of what Welch was feeling at the start of his sophomore year of college was due to the rehabilitation and health issues that stemmed from his tumor and the accident. Welch said the feelings of anxiety and loneliness were suppressed during his recovery, but the pressure continued through the rest of high school and into college.

Welch is joined by 100,736 students across 139 universities and colleges who decided to reach out and get help from the counseling services on their campuses, according to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health’s 2015 annual report. According to the report, some of the most common reasons for students seeking counseling are anxiety, stress, depression, family and relationship problems, academic performance, interpersonal functioning and self-esteem or confidence issues.

“Students are so conscientious to do well and meet others’ expectations, that they get into a self-critical and self-demanding view of themselves,” Dorinda Lambert, director of K-State Counseling Services, said. “Doing that can be so draining, emotionally, and truly tie up a person’s ability to move forward. It may sound odd, but sometimes trying too hard at something can keep you from achieving what you want.”

Being able to be in tune with one’s self is an lifelong developmental process that for many students is a struggle to find out what exactly it is that they want in life and to discover the most efficient way to think and act on those goals, Lambert said.

“I don’t think that it’s too surprising that depression is at this age,” Sherri Massey, licensed marriage and family therapist at Cornerstone Family Counseling Center, said. “There are a lot of transitions with students moving into this world, trying to make new friends and being away from family. From trying to make your own decisions on eating habits to how you spend your time, there are just too many choices and decisions that can make students overwhelmed.”

Students are facing more hurdles today than they ever have, and have to keep themselves reminded of reality when they begin to feel overwhelmed, Massey said. Learning to make simple lifestyle changes can make all the difference.

“There are different treatments where you can work on cognitive behavior, getting our thoughts in order,” Massey said. “Sometimes we deal with lies and just need to get back to what is true.”

There are different self-help tools available for students for specific areas of stress such as academic anxiety and stress management, Lambert said.

Medication should only be used as a secondary method for coping with stress and depression, Massey said.

“There is a chemical component which could help with imbalances, but I would always start with God and the spiritual component first, then the personal counseling, talking things out, then consider supplements and exercise, then medication last,” Massey said.

Balancing his mental and spiritual life with his medications have helped significantly with his feelings of anxiety and loneliness, Welch said.

“It helped me see when symptoms were coming on and how to deal with it, like when I wasn’t sleeping as much or pushing myself too hard with school, closing myself off from friends,” Welch said. “It was really good. Knowing those things helped me to be alert; to know when they were coming and figure out ways I could combat it.”

According to Welch, the greatest sources of strength he has experienced are his faith and relationships with others, which he stated helped move him out of isolation and into community that wanted to help him. One of his favorite verses from the Bible helps remind him of what he believes.

“First Peter talks about casting all my anxieties on God because he cares,” Welch said. “That’s exactly what I have and that’s exactly what I need. When I see symptoms coming that I might hit a valley or a period of anxiety, relying on God for me is crucial in combating it.”

In addition to focusing on his spiritual health, placing himself around people he loves and cares about was a key for success, Welch said. He realized his condition made it easy for him to isolate himself, so he took proactive steps to place himself around positive influences and close friends by opening up to them about what he was dealing with, and sought professional help from a psychiatrist at Lafene Health Center.

“Don’t close yourself off from people,” Welch said. “Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, that can’t help you. You can’t just shut yourself off from people. If nobody knows about it and you’re wallowing in that, it is so detrimental to every area of your life, even from a spiritual standpoint if you’re in a dark time.”

Welch said he appreciates the people in his life.

“For me, it is absolutely crucial that I have people in my life to know what to look for in my attitude and my behavior so that I know how to fight that, and it’s been really effective,” Welch said. “I’m really grateful for the friends that I have that know.”