Demystifying anxiety triggers through Myers Briggs Personality Types (MBTI)

“I honestly can’t tell you what makes me anxious,” I told my therapist this summer. I knew certain things made my heart race––handling too many customers by myself at Subway during a 10 a.m. rush this summer, fiery gastrointestinal pain, fear that I just wasn’t good enough, and anything related to performance.

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After a conversation with my friend about Myers Briggs personalities a couple weeks ago, I realized that our personality types can help identify anxiety triggers.

Let’s take my personality, INFJ (Introverted, Intuition, Feeling, Judging), for example. Weaknesses and workplace habits best indicate anxiety triggers. Read more about how the test works and what each letter means here.

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Weaknesses:

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Sensitive: INFJ’s don’t deal with criticism and conflict well.  Confrontation easily makes me anxious. Someone actually asked me this week, “So, you’d rather not address conflict and let it get worse than deal with it?” My answer? “Yes.” It’s a bad habit I’m trying to break, but even small conflicts like saying “no” to extra work hours stresses me out sometimes.

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Along with this, my biggest fear is disappointing others. I can become very anxious when other people criticize me because I think, “This person is so disappointed with me. I screwed up. I’m a failure.”

Extremely private: I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone say, “Wow. I had no idea you were going through that.” But how could they know? After all, I don’t tell anyone anything unless I know them well enough (it’s a good sign if an INFJ tells you personal things because that means they really trust you!).  Due to this, I often bottle up emotions and hide them even from my closest friends because I’m very independent and don’t want to admit that I can’t handle everything myself.

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Since I juggle so many things, I often don’t tell people when I need a break or about what I’m really feeling. Instead, I put on a confident front. And it comes back to bite me later when I fall asleep for 14 hours straight (I’m not joking––that really happened two weeks ago). For the longest time, I didn’t even tell my parents that I was dealing with intense gastrointestinal pain. That leads to anxiety because I feel pressured  to uphold the strong image I’ve created, yet I physically can’t.

Perfectionistic: This is an INFJ’s Kryptonite and an anxiety nightmare. Each INFJ has their own perfectionistic tendencies, but mine manifests in performance situations. Whether that’s needing to practice 10 hours a week, earn perfect scores on assignments, or rewrite articles several times through, I am innately perfectionistic.

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My workaholism combined with perfectionism results in a very deadly combo. I’ll work on assignments for six hours straight and then find myself in tears at the end of the night because I can’t make it the way I want.  I’ve developed strategies with my therapist this summer to diminish perfectionism and stay content when I earn a B in a class or don’t have as much time for certain assignments due to a full week of work. Yes, I’m still a perfectionist. But I’m learning that we live in an imperfect world with imperfect people. Perfection is unattainable.

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Striving for growth is a great thing, but you can’t rush progress. Stay patient and remind yourself that mistakes are okay. I’ll find myself focusing on that order I messed up at work that wasn’t supposed to have cheese, or that doctors appointment I missed because I forgot to write it in my calendar. Mistakes happen and we must move on instead of letting the past haunt us. More often than not, my panic attacks come when I focus on my mess-ups.

Always need to have a cause: What does that mean? Well, I’ll explain it in layman’s terms. It means we get frustrated when obstacles come between us and our goal, even if they’re typical things. For example, I have a goal of practicing at least seven hours a week on flute. I usually do that and more, but some weeks I can only practice five hours because I’m working on big projects or cover shifts at work. At the end of the week, I find myself upset because I didn’t practice enough. However, I learned that unexpected things come up and I can’t obsess over what went wrong.

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Can burn out easily: This is by far an INFJ’s biggest weakness. I have yet to meet an INFJ that doesn’t suffer from burnout. We’re naturally driven people-pleasers. We’ll try our best to help others and pour lots of time into things we’re passionate about. Most of us are also workaholics.

As a result, we’ll spend a whole day on something without taking breaks or we’ll work 30 hours a week while balancing school and other activities. The end result? We’re laying in bed pretty much the entire next day or we’ll isolate ourselves from people for an entire week.  Burnout increases anxiety because we lose the energy needed to do literally anything––even simple things like eating. We then get overly concerned that we can’t finish everything on our to-do lists or sad that we have to cancel coffee with friends because we don’t even have the strength to move.

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Another thing I’ll add to this that my personality page didn’t note as a weakness is emotional burnout. The majority of INFJ’s are empaths, so we absorb others’ emotions and it exhausts us emotionally. It’s okay to remove yourself from these situations and ask others for help if needed.

Workplace habits

An INFJ only works in a place they feel comfortable in as well as express their creativity. Therefore, any environment that discourages creativity or feels uncomfortable can make our heart race and minds scream, “retreat!”

Power dynamics also make us anxious. Some of us love leading, while others don’t. Those of us who enjoy serving as leaders, however, often take a backseat approach as mentors instead of commanding leaders. We see people as equals and trust that they’re responsible enough to follow our guidance. However, some people take advantage of our kindness and completely ignore our leadership. This becomes an anxiety-inducing environment because the conflict makes us anxious.

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A huge anxiety trigger is attacks on morales and values. INFJ’s stick very closely to their values and, although we don’t usually confront people, we’ll tell others off when they attack our beliefs instead of agreeing to disagree. We see it as an attack on who we are. Some people, however, are cynical and criticize everything. You have to compromise and learn coping strategies.

One of my biggest triggers is working with managers that always criticize and don’t encourage. INFJ’s need encouragement because they’re perfectionistic and need someone to tell them if they’re doing their job well. Managers that constantly give negative feedback can make an INFJ feel undervalued and lead them to quit that job. I’ve learned that a lot of managers will listen if you tell them, “Hey, I really could use some encouragement when you give critique.” They’ll usually listen and change their feedback.  The result? Less anxiety for both you and them.

The end result

So, what can we make of all this?

I’d encourage you to take the Myers Briggs Personality Indicator (MBTI) test if you haven’t. Although you might not resonate with some statements on the personality profiles, chances are most of descriptions will fit you.

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Learning about weaknesses, in general and in the workplace, can help us avoid anxiety-inducing situations, find ways to deal with unexpected circumstances, and develop coping strategies so we don’t lose our sanity.

I encourage you to read about your personality type, grab a pen and journal, and go through each of your weaknesses. Identify what particularly makes you anxious and then develop an action plan to combat those weaknesses.

 

 

 

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Simple strategies for college students dealing with ADHD

People that know me well understand that I’m a workaholic and ask me how in the world I juggle so many responsibilities as a student. What they’re unaware of is that I struggle with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I didn’t even know I did until earlier this month, but as I reflect on the past few years, certain signs appeared. The dots finally connected: reading over textbooks and not remembering a single thing, having difficulty working on homework for long periods of time, struggling with distracting thoughts, forgetting simple things like appointments, losing my phone or car keys…

You get the idea. the list goes on. But I never once thought these habits had a medical explanation until I found out more about my family’s medical history and a doctor told me that I have (albeit milder than a lot of people) ADHD.

Even though I take medication, I still manage my ADHD naturally. As a result of this new knowledge, I’ve developed strategies that help me stay successful as a student.

1. Break up school work

Yes, sometimes you only have one solid block of time in the day for homework. Although some students can pound out two straight hours of studying, we’re not wired that way. We need those small breaks and even a 10 minute break can give us the recharge time necessary for optimal academic performance. I’d even suggest breaking up what you work on. For example, work on a paper for one class for a half hour, then read 30 minutes for a different one, and finish with a quick, 15-minute study session for a quiz. I’ve found that I finish work faster with this method instead of working on the same paper for two hours.

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2. Have a designated spot for items and don’t change it

I can’t count the number of times I’ve lost my phone, glasses, and even my swimsuit because I just throw them on my desk or dresser. I now have a designated spot for each thing. My phone goes either on my desk or in my bag. Nowhere else. My swimsuit always hangs in the same place.  It’s tempting to toss things around, but you’ll thank me later.

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3. Find something that helps clear your mind

Most doctors will tell you that exercise helps with everything. And it’s true.  According to Scientific American, the exact reason isn’t clear, but it probably comes from increased blood flow to the brain, which results in more oxygen and energy. Plus, if you’re like me and find solace in exercise, it becomes an escape. Thoughts often bombard my head like little bullets, but the battlefield clears after dive into a swimming pool. It’s like magic. The key is finding the activity that works for you. Some prefer running, while others like stretching or dance. Try out a couple different things and stick with an exercise method that transports you to another world.

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4. Get a stress ball, fidget spinner, pen, or other item to channel restlessness 

It’s easy to spot a student with ADHD because they’re usually tapping their foot, shaking their leg, or drumming their fingers on a table. I’m no exception and will often circle my ankles or shift positions throughout even short lectures. And I’ve noticed my professors aren’t sure why I’m always moving. Pens are my item of choice. I’ll usually hold a pen in my hand and spin it. Doing this actually sometimes helps me focus because I’m not distracted by jitteriness. I sometimes even doodle when I take notes because it helps me concentrate.

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5. Put appointments and important meetings on a calendar or in a planner

As much as you think you’ll remember that doctor’s appointment, chances are you won’t.  I’ve actually double booked a cardiology appointment and a gastrointestinal appointment at the same exact time. Oops. It was really awkward when I missed one of those. Avoid this embarrassing situation and plug important dates into your phone or a written calendar. If you choose a Google calendar, you can also set reminders.

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6. Don’t do homework or any sustained mental task right before bed

Guilty as charged. As a workaholic, I literally work right up until I sleep, but I’ve tried to break that habit this semester. Finishing assignments late at night makes it difficult to fall asleep because your already hyperactive mind races with thoughts. Try to finish all schoolwork an hour before bed if you can. I find I finish assignments  best during the morning, right after I wake up. It’s when my mind is most at ease and when I focus best.

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7. Speak slower in conversations

I work at a cafe on campus and customers often ask me to repeat something because I said it too fast. I’ve also noticed confused looks on my classmates’ faces when I give presentations because I didn’t give them enough processing time. Hyperactive brains accelerate speech, so even if you don’t think you’re talking too fast, it’s a good idea to speak at a slower pace.

 

 

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8. Take advantage of class breaks and walk around 

“Alright, let’s take a 10 minute break,” your professor says. Most students will either sit on their phones or go grab a snack. I, on the other hand, walk around campus. It relaxes my mind and relieves all that pent-up energy. Plus, it’s extra exercise. Overall, walks are a win-win routine.

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9. Push invasive thoughts aside

My to-do list or situations that happen at work always appear at the forefront of my mind during the worst times, such as when I’m in class and trying to listen. I’ll think about how I messed up someone’s order at work or about that chapter I need to read for my literature class. Tell your mind “no” and listen during lectures. It sounds hard, but try and focus on what the person is saying.

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10. Take detailed notes during class

There’s always those students who can remember everything from class without jotting down a single stroke on paper. People with ADHD are jealous because we usually can’t remember half of what our professors said during class. That’s why I take detailed notes. It keeps my hand moving, so I’m not fighting my body’s constant energy, and I also review the lecture material later.

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11. Keep the phone or other distracting things away

I’m infamous for not checking my phone at important times, but I’m always on my phone if it’s right next to me. For example, I’ll check my Instagram after practicing flute scales because I’m using a metronome on my phone.  People will find a way to reach you if they really need you. If you’re worried about missing an important call, keep the phone far enough away, such as in your bag, so you can’t easily grab it.

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12. Reward yourself with a social media break after you finish projects

Completing tasks become momentous occasions for people with ADHD because we often start something and take a while to finish, or work on multiple things at a time. It’s okay to check Pinterest or Facebook after you’ve worked on a paper for an hour, but make sure it doesn’t become an hour long session. I give myself five minutes for browsing Pinterest and then start studying again. These little distractions can actually improve focus because they satisfy the impulse to check social media.

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Stretching as therapy

I never understood why my dancer friends loved sitting in second position while they completed homework in high school, or even why they spent at least an hour stretching each day. I knew stretching was important for flexibility, yet I wondered why people wanted to feel pain all day. Then I realized that the initial pain from low flexibility doesn’t last long and that the benefits increase with prolonged stretching.

I used to stretch at least 15 minutes a day for color guard, but that habit stopped once I started college because I told myself I didn’t have time. I later started stretching so I could improve my swimming, but even then, I would only stretch the bare minimum amount.

This summer, I decided that I needed more flexibility to improve as a swimmer. Stretching helped me develop shoulder and leg flexibility, but I later realized that it relaxed my mind in a way I didn’t know was possible. I realized I felt more at peace after stretching, especially if I listened to one of my favorite music playlists or instrumental music at the same time.

As a result, I increased my stretching time each week and now stretch at least a half hour a day. Why does stretching work so well? Well, here’s the answer.

Stress comes from built up tension. My color guard coach in high school always told me I looked tense and would often relax my shoulders. Since then, I’ve become conscious of tension in my body. Even though I’ve relaxed my shoulders, I realize I internalize stress through other muscles. For example, I often clench my teeth, grasp my wrist, or feel cramps in my neck when I’m anxious or stressed.  Stress also activates adrenaline, which adds to the  tension and restricts blood flow.

Stretching counteracts these negative effects because it relaxes the muscles and releases tension––but only when people perform them right. You need to hold stretches for a minimum of 15 seconds (I recommend 30 seconds to a minute depending on what stretch and how much flexibility you want to build in a certain muscle group). It also counteracts shortness of breath from anxiety and helps establish normal breathing patterns. I never actually realized I hold my breath until I started stretching.

Although yoga can carry new age implications, people can still engage in this exercise without spiritualizing it by adapting the stretching techniques. These stretches are the best because they ease the mind and allow people to decompress, both physically and mentally.

I enrolled in a strength and stretch physical education class this semester after discovering how stretching helped relieve my anxiety. I’m almost always anxious when I start the class because it’s early in the morning, which  is the time when my anxiety level skyrockets. However, I feel energized during the class and at peace whenever I leave. In addition, my instructor shouts encouraging messages like “You can do it!” and “You ladies are quick learners.”

Furthermore, community stretching can increase relaxation because other people can help distract you from your worries and motivate you to follow through with your stretches.

It still shocks me how much tension builds up throughout my body in a day, but thankfully I’ve found a great way to release all that negative energy. There’s nothing more satisfying than bending over and touching my toes, sitting in second position and leaning over, or laying on my back as I (attempt to) lift my leg towards to ceiling. I instantly loosen up feel all the negativity leave my body.

Getting into a stretch routine takes some discipline, but it’s worth it. Grab some friends, create a motivating Spotify playlist, grab a yoga mat, and start! You don’t have to be a dancer or have a lot of flexibility. Just start easy and go for it.

If you’re not sure what type of stretch routine to begin, check out my Pinterest board.

Why the model-thin life isn’t so glamorous after all

It’s almost every girl’s dream to fit in size zero jeans or have a flat belly, but let’s be honest––that’s nearly impossible unless you have a naturally petite build. Even then, you’ll still have belly fat and other things that you don’t normally see on models because someone photoshopped them out.  I’ve seen countless photos of girls on Instagram bragging that they’re losing weight and are now only 105 lbs at 5’4. Well, let me tell you that they’ll face health problems later on in life, just like I did after losing over 20 pounds from gastritis.

Here’s what the underweight life feels like.

Today’s Dietician states that being underweight leads to osteoporosis, increased illness, amenorrhea (for women), low muscle mass, hair loss, nutritional deficiencies, anemia, and more.

My emotions were all over the place when I was underweight. The smallest thing that went wrong,––such as the time when I tripped going up the stairs to one of my classes and spilled coffee literally all over myself and was nearly late to class––will make me cry.  I’d also cry anytime my stomach pain flared up. I had days where I was so emotionally unstable that I no longer wanted to be alive, which is clearly not normal. Random things, such as the sound of someone chewing, would annoy me. I often felt groggy and isolated myself from people because I feared that’d I’d snap at someone. I’d feel happy at one moment and distraught the next. My emotions got so out of control that my anxiety became extreme and I also developed some depression.

That’s just one problem.

I had other physical problems in addition to my emotional imbalance. I’d shed hair like a dog and frequently pulled out clumps of hair. My chocolate brown hair later turned dark umber and then grey on the top layers. My eyes always hurt and I felt lightheaded due to extreme fatigue. My bones were so brittle that I felt like I was always walking on stilts.  And now that I’ve gained back 20 pounds, I have to wear an ankle brace because my ankles are literally too weak to support the additional weight, plus I have to go through PT for the damage Due to my restricted eating from my gastritis pain, I became nauseous whenever I ate. When I tried to eat normally again, I developed Gastrophic Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), which is essentially chronic acid reflux, because my stomach treated everything like an invasive species. My heart rate became so low that I had to see a cardiologist.

All this happened because I lost so much weight. I’m ashamed to say I used to be one of those girls who wanted to stay super thin (but I never intentionally tried to lose weight, I just wished for a thinner build), but after this experience, I’m content with a healthy weight.

So, please, don’t freak out if you’re 5’5 and 120 pounds. That’s completely normal, plus you need to account for muscle weight, especially if you’re an athlete. You weigh a certain amount because your body cannot perform key functions without that extra muscle or fat. It’s important to make sure you don’t become overweight, but there’s nothing to worry about as long as you’re within a healthy weight range. If you’re naturally underweight, find some healthy ways to gain a little extra padding, such as dipping apples in peanut butter or pouring olive oil on salads.  If you have an eating disorder, please find someone you can confide in and get the help you need. Being underweight comes with significant health risks, and I’d like to spare as many people from going down that road as possible.

Underweight does not equal anorexic

“Are you sure you don’t have an eating disorder?,” a doctor asked me back in October. “Are they crazy?” I thought. My friends know I love to eat––I’m adventurous and love creating or trying new things. I could eat certain foods I love––yogurt, cheesecake, ice cream, any kind of fruit, salads, acai bowls, etc;–– all the time if my stomach let me. However, I was under 100 pounds from October to June (I reached 100 in June and am currently around 112, thankfully). I saw four different doctors in the last year. Two out of four jumped to the conclusion that I had an eating disorder, and one entertained the possibility that I restricted my eating. Thankfully, one doctor recognized that I didn’t eat simply because I was always in so much pain.

I was so frustrated. For a while, I actually considered that I might have developed an eating disorder because I never wanted to eat. I later realized that my appetite only changed in relation to my pain and that I wanted to eat, but my body literally rejected any kind of food, and sometimes even water.

After my experience, I realized that many people equate underweight people with anorexia. I know people I went to school with did the same–– someone usually whispered “anorexic” anytime a very skinny person walked by, even if they just had a small build. They’d watch skinny people eat, and if they ate light, they’d suggest that they eat more.

It’s important to realize that many people who are underweight do not struggle with an eating disorder or negative body image. Instead, they suffer from medical conditions that cause them to lose weight. Intense gastric pain caused my weight loss, but other people lose weight from cancer, Addison’s disease, depression, COPD, Crohn’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, ulcers, Tuberculosis, substance abuse, and other illnesses. This weight loss usually results from malnutrition, muscle loss, organ failure, or changes in appetite.

 

Reserve your judgements the next time you see someone who looks too thin. Who knows if they have a naturally small frame, suffer from a thyroid condition, or struggle with depression? Although eating disorders are prominent, it’s all too possible that many people who seem anorexic actually aren’t. Read the book before you judge it by its cover––you never know what story you’ll uncover if you take some time to read between the lines and step into someone else’s shoes.

 

Is it really all in your head?

Anyone with an autoimmune disease or mental illness has probably heard a doctor tell them “you’re just imagining symptoms––there’s really nothing wrong with you.” I was one of those people.

I had at least five different blood tests done, which tested for over 20 different conditions. I tested negative for ulcers, pancreatitis, gall bladder problems, kidney problems, liver problems, potassium deficiency, thyroid conditions, and more. Yet there was clearly something wrong with me––I was 94 pounds in April and could hardly eat anything because I’d double over in pain. I went to the emergency room twice and left with a completely clean bill of health (I’d later learn they can’t test anything in the upper stomach region, which was where my pain came from, so that wasn’t completely true). Even after I had an endoscopy that showed erosions on my stomach and evidence of erosive esophagitis, the gastroenterologist I saw couldn’t explain how those erosions occurred.

An NPR article describes psychosomatic disorders, true conditions where people bear physical symptoms but don’t have a clear illness.  So, are these people crazy? Is it possible you’re just imagining things? It’s possible, but I’d say the answer is both yes and no for anyone with an autoimmune condition.

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In my case, I clearly had physical symptoms that prevented me from eating and resulted in fatigue, extreme weight loss, osteoporosis, and more. However, I later learned that I also suffer from an anxiety disorder called panic disorder, which causes panic attacks in certain situations. For example, my panic attacks usually come from financial, performance, and academic situations. Otherwise, I navigate through life normally.

I also learned that I’m an empath, which means I’m very sensitive to emotions and can literally feel them, even if I haven’t experienced them––I once could feel the sadness of a breakup my friend went through, even though I haven’t dated anyone. Because I’m an introvert and an empath, I often internalize emotions. As a result, I assembled the puzzle pieces and realized my gastritis was a direct result of stress. There wasn’t really any other explanation since I didn’t have an ulcer.

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After this realization, I charted my stomach flare-ups with my stomach symptoms. And I was correct. My stomach turned sour whenever I became anxious or stressed about something. Although research on this specific condition isn’t conclusive, I believe I developed stress-induced gastritis (also known as nervous stomach), which causes severe stomach pain and possibly stomach erosions in people under severe psychological stress.

I hadn’t faced the death of a loved one, but I went through other stresses. During the semester my gastritis first developed, I started my first job, left my position as a staff writer for the college newspaper in search of better opportunities, and didn’t return to the summer camp I worked at before because my application was lost. All in all, I had a lot of stressors, which makes a perfectionist like me crazy. Getting little sleep and dealing with the camp counselor life over the summer didn’t help things. The icing on the cake was when I dropped an oven tile on my foot during work at the beginning of November, had to hobble around on crutches for two weeks, dealt with my stomach pain on top of that, and was also working on a stressful class project. Other than February and March this year, November was the time when I had both the most panic attacks and highest amount of gastric pain.

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So, in a sense, it is in my mind. My physical symptoms came directly from my anxiety. But, in another way, it’s not all in my mind––I do suffer from physical symptoms as a result of my mental illness. There is some truth to the cliche statement, after all. If you think you suffer from an autoimmune illness, try and identify if you struggle from a mental illness like depression or anxiety––your condition may intertwine with one––and fight with your doctor to keep pressing on for a conclusive diagnosis if they tell you that there’s nothing wrong with you.

Painting: the Best Therapy

*The cover photo for this post is the most recent picture I painted, based on a photo I took this summer at Parnell Ranch in Sandpoint, Idaho.

Fun comes after homework. It’s the first priority. At least, it should be. But this semester, I learned that’s not always the case. Yes, you need to complete homework, but you’re also a human being with physical needs. Our minds can only take so much before they’re worn down and need some recharge. That recharge comes from something we find joy in or consider fun––sports, working out, playing music, or any other hobby.

I experience the greatest recharge from painting, but I never let myself paint this semester. I spent every last minute of my time working, writing, or completing schoolwork. And that poor choice made me tired which in turn made me become an emotional wreck by the end of the academic year.

I’m doing things differently now and have often painted after difficult days of work this summer. Painting frees me from stress as I brush color across the page. You just can’t paint tensely. It’s pretty much impossible.

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A painting of a boot on a chair, based on a magazine ad, that I completed last May.

There’s also something about creativity that gives people purpose. Some people may wonder how hobbies can dramatically change someone’s outlook, yet it’s not actually as mysterious as it seems. Creativity helps people feel productive and like they can use their abilities for a greater purpose. It also helps distract them from the negative things in their life, clear their mind, and escape to a happier place outside of their present reality. I know I go into my own little world when I put on a Tchaikovsky Spotify playlist and watch colors come together as I stroke my brush across the paper. It calms my hyperactive mind and forces me to slow down.

The more I’ve painted this summer, the more I’ve seen my anxiety decrease and don’t feel as scatter brained or tense. There’s more to life than work, even if you enjoy your job. I encourage you to find something you enjoy and pursue that activity when life becomes too difficult to bear. Forget about what’s bothering you for at least a couple hours a day and escape to a whole different world.

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A painting of a dog in a truck that I finished in December.

When your best isn’t good enough

“I can’t believe I screwed up again” plays like a broken record in your head. Maybe you lashed out at someone, missed a deadline, or were simply too tired to follow through with something.

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These are some thoughts people have when they feel worthless.

My biggest fear always surprises people. “Heights? Public Speaking? Death?,” they ask. “No” is the answer for all of the above. My biggest fear is actually disappointing others. I’m not afraid to die (I’ll address that later), university courses broke me of my public speaking fear (mostly), and I’ve faced my fear of heights a couple times. However, if someone says something like “that’s unacceptable,” “you could have done better,” or “I’m disappointed in you,” it will wreck me for days. I’ll hibernate in my room, lay down, and think about what I could have done differently. I’ll avoid the person who’s disappointed in me and isolate myself from my best friends because I’m so ashamed.

Illness hasn’t helped that at all. Fatigue sucked the life out of me and forced me to lay down several afternoons. As a result, I didn’t complete some school assignments to the best of my ability, skipped a couple classes, called in sick to work, declined invitations to hang out with friends, and didn’t practice my instruments as much this semester because I had to use that time for the things I didn’t finish earlier.

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Illness heightens my fear of disappointing others.

Due to my choices, negative thoughts penetrated my head. “You’re a failure.” “They need you at work.” “You paid for those classes and it’s your responsibility to show up.” “You’re a non-music major and need to practice for wind ensemble.” “You’re an editor and can proof read much better than that assignment you just turned in.”

Most people would say, given the circumstances, I actually did pretty well academically this semester. I still don’t have any grade lower than a B on my academic record. Although I knew most of my shortcomings stemmed from illness, I still punished myself. I believed God couldn’t possibly be happy with someone like me when I didn’t fully use the capabilities he gave me.

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Chronic illness creates limitations, but there’s always something you can do.

Talking to friends, family, and counselors has helped me realize that I believed a lie. God knew I wanted to do my best but I was physically and mentally too weak to accomplish what I could when I was healthy.

Also, remember Paul? He actually said to rejoice in our weaknesses:

2 Corinthians 12: 9-10

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

God meets you where you’re at and loves you because he created you. He doesn’t love you based on what you do. He knows you’re not a superhuman and that you have limitations. Although we shouldn’t let those limitations stop us from living out our calling, they also shouldn’t make us disregard our identity in Christ.  Even if you can’t use the skills you want, God’s happy if you love/serve him and other people. He didn’t create the high standards you think you have to live up to.  Remember that next time you feel worthless.

Matthew 11:28-30:  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

How far He’s carried me

Bethel’s song, “Faithful to the End,” makes me cry tears of joy when I listen to it. I remember singing it in church back in August without concentrating on the lyrics. It became just another of many worship songs I sang,unfortunately, because my heart wasn’t in a healthy place at that time.

What changed? I finally realized how faithful God’s been to me. I hate to admit I was a complainer before––I hated how I couldn’t eat anything and was always in pain. I hated dealing with my anxiety disorder and depression. I was jealous of all my friends who didn’t have to deal with physical and emotional health problems. I didn’t think I did anything to “deserve” what I went through at the time. It felt like God had abandoned me, in a way.

My mistakes began with these thoughts.  God didn’t punish me––rather, I asked for a challenge and He answered my request.  Furthermore, He was with me through it all. Yes, I faced pain and other struggles, but I always got through them thanks to Him. Better yet, I’m still alive when I should have been hospitalized in March after I dropped to 23 pounds below the baseline for what my doctor considers a healthy weight (115-125 pounds).  Furthermore, my friends have their own struggles. Everyone deals with something, we just don’t always see that something because we’re so good at covering everything up.  It’s a great thing to remember next time you think someone has it all together.

Take a minute and read through these lyrics:

“Faithful To The End”– Bethel Music

We’re heaven-spun creations
His pride and adoration
Treasures woven by his love

His careful hands they hold us
Safe within His promise
Of calling and of destiny

I will sing of all You’ve done
I’ll remember how far You carried me
From beginning until the end
You are faithful, faithful to the end

A Father’s heart that’s for me
A never ending story
Of love that’s always chasing me

His kindness overwhelming
And hope for me unending
He’s never given up on me

I will sing of all You’ve done
I’ll remember how far You carried me
From beginning until the end
You are faithful, faithful to the end

There wasn’t a day
That You weren’t by my side
There wasn’t a day
That You let me fall
All of my life
Your love has been true
All of my life
I will worship You

Here’s what God showed me after I listened to this song again a couple weeks ago:

 

  1. God treasures each person He created, even if they think they’re worthless. God sees the beauty in each individual. 

My autoimmune illness gave me gray hair and I became a bit upset over it. I also felt a bit worthless since I couldn’t do a lot of things I used to, but God reminded me that He’s proud that I at least try to do the things I can.

2. I can find refuge in God and He protects me.  He has a unique plan for my life and won’t let the darkness in this world oppose that calling.

I wondered for a while why this amount of suffering became part of God’s plan for me. After reading through the stories of Jonah, Joseph, Daniel, and Job in the Bible, God showed me that some of the most righteous and blessed people also lived with the most hardships. Food for thought. There truly isn’t a day where He’s not by our side.

3.  He always has been and always will be faithful.

A lot of people criticize the “God of the Old Testament” and say He’s harsh and judgmental. When I read it, however, I realize that He’s always been faithful to his people and any judgement occurred because of their unfaithfulness to him.  God’s our biggest cheerleader and He’s always rooting for us when we fail and fall flat on our face.

4. You can’t escape God’s love

Deny it all you want, but God’s grace washes over us and He won’t stop loving us, despite sins we consider unforgivable or our negative self-talk.

5. We should continually worship God

I sometimes feel guilty because I proceed with my busy life and don’t take the time some days to even pray.  The Bible calls us to a continual life of worship and we should rejoice in all God has done for us.  He’s certainly done a lot of things I’m thankful for.

Overall, Bethel’s song helped me see that God has carried me so far this year. I’m at 112 pounds right now and only need to gain three more to reach the bottom of the healthy weight range my doctor recommends. I’m now eating three solid meals a day, which I haven’t done in a year and a half. I’m swimming five days a week, lifting weights twice a week, and running once a week, even though I gave up any kind of workout for four months because I lost too much weight. I feel more physically and emotionally healthy than I have in the last year. I can usually concentrate on things now and started enjoying the things I love again, such as playing guitar or painting. I only nap about a half hour twice a week now instead of two hours every day, and I also sleep better at night. I no longer have to see a GI doctor or cardiologist. I’ve gone through cognitive behavioral therapy and understand how to manage my anxiety. I stayed in school for the entire academic year, even though I almost took a medical withdrawal this past semester. I no longer suffer from GERD and have minimal acid reflux.  My friends and family have provided incredible support. I’m recovering from it all in Sandpoint, a beautiful place in the Idaho Panhandle.

God’s placed hand over my life. It’s time I thanked him for all the incredible things He’s done.

Resources for college students struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental illnesses

Stress is like a leech––it plagues college students and eats many alive. Even optimists can’t escape at least a couple negative effects. Unmanaged stress can lead to severe health problems, including mental illnesses like anxiety and depression. Although some students may have developed a mental illness early-on in life, stress can also make it worse.

It’s one thing to admit you struggle with a mental illness, but it’s an entirely different thing to willingly seek help and know where to find it.  Most college campuses provide resources for their students, but many aren’t aware of them because they’re either hard to find or students become too prideful to look for them.

According to a survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, more than 62 percent of students with mental health problems withdrew from college due to their illness.  I almost became one of those people when panic attacks overtook my life this past semester and went to the emergency room two different times because I could barely breathe. I literally thought I was going crazy and school was too much to handle at the time. Although I took advantage of some resources, such as counseling, I didn’t fully exhaust the resources I had around me and wish I would have learned more about the mental illness (panic disorder) I struggle with.

There’s many different mental illnesses––anxiety disorders, mood disorders, eating disorders, Schizophrenia and psychotic disorders, and dementia. Subcategories exist within these major categories (at least five major anxiety disorders and nine types of depression, for example).

On-campus resources:

  • Support groups or clubs that deal with mental illnesses
  • Other peers who struggle with mental illnesses
  • Talking with friends
  • Academic accommodations (extra time for test-taking, etc;) through your school’s disability resource center
  • Pastoral care (at Christian Colleges), church pastors and counselors near campus,
  • On-campus therapists, your school’s (or a nearby campus’) counseling center, student health center
  • Your school’s list of community resources (see this example from Biola University)
  • Resident advisors and directors

Academic anxiety resources:

  • -Oregon State University blog–– strategies for managing test anxiety
  • Learn Psychology–– stress quiz, signs and symptoms of chronic stress, resources for dealing with stress (relaxation techniques, stress don’ts, ways to avoid stress, etc;), types of good and bad stress, generic information about anxiety, how stress relates to anxiety, list of common stressors.
  • Anxiety and Depression Association of America––list of test anxiety resources
  • Best Colleges–– student’s guide to managing stress
  • Anxiety Resource Center

Organizations:

Films:

Books (found on Amazon.com):

A note on finding local resources:

  • Google therapy near me, eating disorder association near me/ (insert city name here), psychiatrist near me, etc;.
  • Google (insert name of mental illness) resources

Note: this is not an exhaustive list of resources, but my goal is that it will provide a starting point for you to find resources, understand more about the condition you face, and find stories of people who have faced similar struggles.