It is no secret that students carry enormous amounts of stress in our modern world—a truth only exacerbated by the abrupt turn of events in which we find ourselves in the past few weeks. Recent studies show that anxiety is now the leading mental health issue affecting American youths and that it is still on the rise (Nutt, 2018). For younger generations in particular, social media and our constant access to news are major sources of stress. Facing increasing rates of anxiety among students, many educational institutions elect to send out guides enumerating tips for managing anxiety and relieving stress. These recommendations, however, are far from the magical panacea they appear be. As a lifelong worrywart, I have tried enough breathing exercises, stress balls, meditation routines—activities hailed by dorm posters with cheery fonts and cartoon figures practicing Tai Chi—to know that they yield little effect on my intermittent, yet stubborn bouts of anxiety. Every variation of the search phrase, “how to manage stress”, seems to generate the same strategies. What to do, then, when none seem to work?
Personally, my school-induced stress is indifferent to the amount of time I optimistically allot to endorphin-releasing exercise or for quiet reflection—the stress often persists until that test is written or that assignment submitted or that presentation given. My intention, however, is not to vilify the education system—for I acknowledge life-induced stress is worse and infinitely more unyielding—but to offer solace to those undergoing similar struggles. Anxiety, like many facets of health, does not always appear in the same form and consequently, does not have a solution that works for everyone.
Where does that leave us, then? One of my favourite depictions of anxiety is on the cover of the 2017 novel, Turtles All the Way Down, in which author John Green analogizes anxious thoughts to spirals that “if you follow inward, never actually ends. It just keeps tightening, infinitely” (Green). I highlight this quote because Green is making an attempt to express exactly how he feels out loud. Perhaps what we need and what I have been searching for, instead of a practical cure-all to anxiety, is simply something to keep in mind until the anxiety fades: the knowledge that other people go through it too and that we are resilient. While there is some hypocrisy in my advocating for communication when it is something that I myself do not practice enough, one should never underestimate the power of human connection, as the cliché goes. If you are looking for a space to express your spiralling thoughts, consider starting with the people around you or an online community to which you belong. Alternatively, YouTube offers videos of other people’s experiences with anxiety, including from John Green himself, that may promote reassurance and a personal connection with someone undergoing similar struggles. Finally, for those who are more private, a journal is a great anonymous place to release any restrained emotions and to achieve catharsis without the discomfort. Communication, regardless of the medium, plays an undeniably important role in battling anxiety.