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. 

 

 

When God doesn’t directly answer questions

Preachers are notorious for saying “God will answer your question if you continue praying about it.” I don’t completely agree with this statement. While God does answer prayer, there are things that humans cannot fully understand because we are finite beings. He doesn’t always answer questions like “Why did my best friend die from cancer?” or “Why did a shooter kill several innocent children at a school?” or “Why did God allow Hitler to massacre several Jews?” The list goes on, but you get the idea.

Although God doesn’t always fully answer our question, he may provide a satisfactory answer or some insight. God didn’t answer Job’s questions about his suffering, yet Job was satisfied.  Why? Job knew that no man could prevent God’s plan from unfolding and that, as a human, he couldn’t fully understand the way God works.

The great and powerful God

Job asked God questions like “Why was I born?,” “Will a man live again if he dies?,” and “Can a man be just with God?” The Lord never answered these outright, but he responded to Job’s inquiries with more questions––about 77 of them.

Reading his responses to Job reminds me that our God is the Almighty God and, as Third Day sings,”Lord of all creation, of water earth and sky.” He rules over literally everything––not just the earth, but also the universe. Realizing this humbles me when God doesn’t answer my questions. After all, what kind of God would we believe in if he answered all our questions? That would go against his sovereignty. In addition, not knowing the solution to all our problems helps us trust in God when times get tough and helps us mature as disciples of Christ because we learn to listen for his voice instead of our own.

Lessons learned from school

When I have trouble with this idea, I think back to high school, when my teachers wouldn’t answer my questions. Although I received A’s in every other course, math was a very difficult subject for me and I hardly passed any course with a B minus.  I’d ask my Algebra 2 teacher for help on specific problems––and he’d guide me in the right direction–– but then he told me, “You have all the tools you need to solve the problem. I can only help you, but I need you to solve the problem yourself so you learn how to find the answers yourself.”

Naturally, I was very frustrated. It took me an average of 10 minutes per problem. Multiply that by about 15 problems per night, in addition to other classes. Math homework alone took me about two hours a night. I just wanted to get it over with already and hated how much time things took. But I persisted, and the results were amazing. Even though it took forever, I eventually caught up with my classmates and figured out how to find the answers myself, without help from my teacher.

In the same way, we may become frustrated when God guides us in a specific direction, yet doesn’t give us a straight answer. But we’ll never mature as Christians or learn to solve problems ourselves if everything’s smooth sailing. The best sailors learn how to navigate difficult storms and adjust to varying weather. We must trust God in all seasons, learn how find the answers to our questions using the tools he’s given us, and keep pressing on amid confusion.

Mark 11:24: Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

Anxiety vs. worry

Anxiety disorders are one of the most common health problems on college campuses, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. The organization states that 85 percent of college students felt overwhelmed by something they had to do in the past year.  In addition, About 40 million adults suffer from an anxiety disorder and 75 percent of them experience their first episode of anxiety by age 22.

College students often throw around the phrase “I’m so anxious about the future” in everyday conversation. “I really hope I get that internship,” or “I hope I did well on that test,” students say. What distinguishes healthy concern from true anxiety? Everyone has their respective worries, but many people do not truly have anxiety. Healthy concern about something is okay––if nobody worries about anything, parts of their life can fall apart.  However, anxiety occurs when someone internalizes these worries and lets them consume their mind.

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Academic performance: a common source of anxiety

Let’s take a typical college scenario––grades. A student who worries about their grades in a healthy manner will most likely check them a couple times a week and will not panic if they receive a lower grade than expected. They realize they only did their best and that they can improve. They’ll look at that grade, and then go on with their day.

The anxious student, however, will repeatedly check their grades––probably several times a day–– and beat themselves up if they see anything less than an A. This student’s heart may start racing and they may even shed tears. When they’re hanging out with friends later that night, they think, “I’m a failure. I put several hours into that assignment and I only got a B. I can’t do anything right.” They’ll scrutinize the paper or project they turned in and beat themselves up for every little error they made. This thought won’t leave their head, and some of their friends will notice that they’re not themselves. In the future, this person may even turn down opportunities with friends, stay up late, and skip meals in exchange for extra time on assignments. I’ll define this type of anxiety––performance anxiety––in a later post.  That’s only a mild scenario.

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The dilemma

Anxiety usually morphs into something much worse and can lead to other illnesses, including depression. Around 50 percent of college students received no prior information about mental illnesses before their collegiate career, Psychology Today states. One in four students report suicidal thoughts and one in three report prolonged depression.

This is a huge problem. Let’s put this into perspective using the population at my school, Biola University. We have about 4,225 undergraduates. That means about 1,394 students suffer from depression and 1,056 have experienced suicidal thoughts. That’s a lot of students navigating these difficult emotions alone. I’m hoping this entry provides some information and decreases that statistic.

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Differences between worry and anxiety

Psychology Today also lists 10 crucial differences between anxiety and worry:

  1. Anxiety usually occurs in the body, worry occurs in the mind.
  2. Worry is specific, anxiety is diffuse.
  3. Worry is verbally focused, anxiety includes both verbal thoughts and mental imagery.
  4. Worry often triggers problem solving, anxiety doesn’t.
  5. Worry creates mild distress, anxiety creates severe emotional distress.
  6. Worry is caused by more realistic concerns than anxiety.
  7. Worry is controllable, anxiety is less controllable.
  8. Worry is usually temporary, while anxiety lingers.
  9. Worry doesn’t affect a person’s normal psychological state and personal functioning, while anxiety does.
  10. Worry is considered a normal psychological state, while anxiety isn’t.

Those 10 points generally fit into one of two categories: rational vs. irrational. Anxiety symptoms align with irrational, while worry aligns with rational. That’s because anxiety triggers your fight or flight response, creating a rise of adrenaline and hyper alertness., according to anxiety.org.

Identifying anxiety

Anxietycentre states that 30 percent of the 40 million adults with anxiety don’t even know they have it, were misdiagnosed with something else, or don’t seek help. So, how can you tell if you have anxiety? I had no idea I suffered from it until I experienced my first panic attack (which I will describe in the next post about navigating panic attacks).  Warning signs generally appear. Bestcolleges lists some of these symptoms: stress, irritability, fearfulness, sweating, irregular heartbeat, muscle pain and tension, frequent upset stomach or diarrhea, headaches, shortness of breath, and dizziness.

anxiety-symptoms

My personal experience

I have all of these symptoms when my anxiety kicks in. It usually starts with a cold sweat and racing heartbeat, then I’ll feel a tightness in my abdomen and have difficulty breathing (much like an asthma attack). A headache comes a bit later and I’ll start feeling foggy. I usually avoid people during these moments because I can’t look them in the eye and I just want to curl up in a ball because my mind is so foggy. If I actually do talk to someone during an anxiety attack, forming words becomes quite the struggle and I’ll jumble over sentences or I’ll say the opposite of what I actually meant and have to go back and correct myself.  My mind feels like it races a thousand miles an hour and I can’t focus on one single thing. I’ll become very restless and will often tap my foot, rub my arms, or fiddle with my fingers if I’m in class. I have to fight the urge to walk around during longer lectures. My limbs become numb and  I’ll get really sleepy because the symptoms wear my body down. I’ll avoid friends because I’m ashamed of my feelings and I often walked straight past my roommate when I got back from class instead of saying hello.  I frequently napped during time I set aside for homework this semester because I was so worn out that I couldn’t even bring myself to work on projects for my publication design class (my favorite class this past semester).  I was so tired one time that I actually skipped class (which I’d never done before this past semester) and also had to leave wind ensemble rehearsal early one day to go to the emergency room because I couldn’t breathe.  It felt like I was going crazy at times and I wished I weren’t alive because I couldn’t handle the way I felt (suicidal thoughts are a clear  warning sign you might have anxiety and should seek help––it’s actually what made me find help).

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When to seek help

It’s important to find help if you suffer from anxiety (I’ll list specific resources in my third post of this series). How do you know if you might have anxiety? Please note, this post is designed to help you identify if you might have anxiety, but it is not designed for self diagnosis. Please consult your primary care physician or a psychiatrist. BU Today suggests that students should become concerned about feelings of anxiety for the following reasons:

  • skipping classes
  • isolation
  • difficulty concentrating
  • prolonged feelings of sadness or despair
  • withdrawal from daily activities
  • excessive panic
  • giving away possessions
  • changes in personal hygiene
  • excessive use of alcohol or drugs (as a way to self-medicate)
  • Any emotions or behaviors that significantly deviate from your daily routine
  • insomnia

Why many college students don’t seek help

Many students hesitate to find support because they don’t have time, wanted to deal with it themselves, or because of negative stigmas, according an NCBI study.   I didn’t seek help at first for all of these reasons. I thought I just became overly stressed about assignments and could deal with my emotions on my own. I didn’t want people to think I was crazy or mentally ill. I balanced 18 units, two jobs, an unpaid internship, and wind ensemble, so I believed I didn’t have time for doctors appointments. Furthermore, I didn’t want to pay medical expenses on top of tuition and other expenses.

Feel no shame

Don’t hesitate to seek help if you need it. Waiting only prolongs the anxiety, making it difficult to recover. Catching it in the bud makes it easier to manage and treat, but recovery from panic attacks and severe anxiety is a long road. It’s taken me over three months to get my anxiety at a manageable level. The majority of people will develop some sort of health condition at some point in their lives, its only a matter of what condition that is.

You don’t have to feel ashamed about having a mental illness––it’s an effect of living in a sinful world.  Others may not openly share that they suffer with anxiety, but they do As much as we want to deal with things on our own, but you’re also not the only student dealing with a mental illness. In addition, we all have blind spots, so it’s hard to think rationally when anxiety makes us think irrationally. Other people we trust (parents, friends, professors, family doctors, church leaders) can help us identify what makes us anxious and calm us down during distress.  Most colleges have resources available (I’ll share these in another post) as a starting place if you’re not ready to talk to anyone yet about anxiety. I encourage you to at least talk with one person if you think you might have anxiety. It’ll become one of the best decisions you’ve made.

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This is the first article in a series about anxiety. Please follow my blog if you’d like to receive updates. 

 

God is our refuge

Psalms is a book of the Bible many find comfort in –– it contains both hope and lament. God particularly placed Psalm 91 on my heart last fall and has brought me back to it every couple of weeks. It’s pretty much tattooed on my heart––I actually bought a sticker that says “under his wings you will find refuge” for my old laptop. I’ll eventually get one for my new Mac.

I pray and reflect over this verse quite frequently. My soul feels at rest each time I read it because I imagine God literally covering me with wings of protection. It reminds me that, like Job, God has his hand over my life at all times and will not let destruction rule over it.  Joy comes in the morning, even when the darkest nights drag on.

Psalm 91 New International Version (NIV)

Psalm 91

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.[a]
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you
    from the fowler’s snare
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
    nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
    ten thousand at your right hand,
    but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
    and see the punishment of the wicked.

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
    and you make the Most High your dwelling,
10 no harm will overtake you,
    no disaster will come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
    you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

14 “Because he[b] loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
    I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
15 He will call on me, and I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble,
    I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
    and show him my salvation.”

I believe God especially drew me to this verse because I’ve struggled with immense fear due to my illness. My health became so critical at one point that I barely ate anything and I actually thought I would die.  Instead of finding refuge in God, I became a victim of depression and anxiety, which devastated my emotional health. Once I started letting go of fear and giving it to God, I realized that I felt his peace. I didn’t feel it before because I tried to deal with things on my own instead of trusting in his power.

Verse one taught me that those who find refuge in God will receive peace and protection. I suffered greatly from anxiety attacks this past semester, to the point where I went to the emergency room twice. Thankfully, I am learning strategies to deal with that and have discovered the power of fear. The birdlike imagery of him covering his children with wings in verses four and five comforts my soul. It’s what I think of anytime I experience anxiety attacks. I just think of feathers wrapping around me.

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How I imagine God covers us with his wings.

Verses 11-12 brought me to tears the first time I read through them. God’s angels literally protect us. That’s incredible. God is truly omniscient and constantly watches over us. Have you ever thought about the fact that you may have personally encountered an angel? Now, if you don’t believe me, remember what Hebrews 13:2 says:

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I’ve heard incredible stories about angel encounters––people stopping their car while driving, meeting a random stranger at a gas station who leaves only a few minutes later, etc;. Don’t disregard their presence because secular society discounts the supernatural.

This psalm also reminds us that God rescues us because he’s a good Father and loves us. He doesn’t require anything else except our love. That may sound odd at first, but consider when you were little and your parents asked you if you wanted help with something.  You probably said no at one point because you wanted to prove you could take care of yourself, then later went up to them and actually asked for help. God’s the same way––he doesn’t force love and respects the free will he gave us.

Notice verse 15 –– God will answer those who call on him. Yes he will answer, but remember we may not receive the answer we want. I constantly asked God why he wouldn’t heal me. He told me, “rest, child.” And yet I didn’t truly rest until a couple months ago. I simply didn’t want the answer he gave me. Our pride sometimes gets in the way of us realizing that God actually responded.

God protects those who find refuge in him and he honors them. Think of Joseph, Daniel, David, Esther, all people whom God protected because they sought the Lord’s guidance and acknowledged his sovereignty.  That’s how I knew that illness would not completely overtake my body. Although I experience sickness as a result of living in a broken world, God has preserved my life. In addition, those who seek his refuge will experience his overwhelming peace and no longer remain a slave of fear.

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God protected Joseph in Genesis.

 

As the closing verse states, God blesses people who call him Lord with a long life. He is the only thing that truly satisfies us.

Overall, this verse has helped me understand that God is on our side, even when things crash and burn around us. He is the only constant in a world of chaos. He is in control and we have to relinquish our innate desire for control over our lives. God knows what’s best, even if we can’t understand that at first, and his light defends us from darkness.

Reflection: How have you experienced God’s protection? Where do you usually flee for refuge?