Stressed out and anxious from schoolwork and everything

Originally Published: December 2, 1994 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: March 13, 2014
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Alice,

I think I just had my breaking point. I don't know how much more stress I can take. I tried to check out stress-reduction workshops, but the next one is next semester. I don't really want to see a psychiatrist. I don't know what to do. Basically, I think a lot of my stress is because it is just so difficult for me to focus or concentrate on anything. My thoughts are running everywhere. I try, I really do. I even moved into a single for it. I feel so incompetent. I don't give a damn about making friends. I'm always feeling lonely. And worst of all, there is always something that makes me so worried, panicked, to the point of just wanting to die to relieve me of it. I have chest pains when I sleep sometimes. When I stand up to do something, I always forget what to do... always. This letter that I'm writing has taken me an hour to write because I have to pause so many times to think about my classes. Whenever I do anything away from my desk during my designated "study time," I feel so guilty. Last weekend, I couldn't eat because I didn't want to leave my room to go to the kitchen to eat anything. Yet I am always behind in my schoolwork. Since transferring here this semester, I have never felt confident, relaxed, or satisfied about anything. Everything annoys me. I annoy me. This letter probably sounds really unorganized, but I can't organize my thoughts. I went to see a Broadway play and loved it, but just really hated myself for seeing it when there was so much work I had to do. When I would read my texts, I would try to read faster so I could get all of it done, and a lot of times, just out of nowhere I would get so upset and start crying over my book and myself and my life. I've decided I don't want to live like this anymore. I'm tired of not being able to breathe and get chest pains when I get stressed. Please help me.

-Feelingsuffocatedandconfused

Dear Feelingsuffocatedandconfused,

You need to talk with someone about what's happening in your life and about how you are feeling. Reaching out for help, as you have done by writing to this website, is a sign of strength. You deserve credit for saying that you no longer want to experience the kind of anxiety you describe in your letter. You definitely DON'T have to feel the way you do any longer.

Although you say you don't want to see a counselor, you can see either your primary care provider or the health care provider at your school's health service. Since you have physical symptoms, that's an appropriate place to start. Students at Columbia can make an appointment at Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC).

Your physician or nurse practitioner will talk with you and ask questions to better understand what you are experiencing. Afterwards, you'll have a medical examination. Based on the information gathered, s/he will make recommendations, including, perhaps, seeing a mental health counselor or therapist, and/or taking one of the many kinds of medications available. You also can and need to express any concerns you have about seeing a counselor and/or about taking medication.

Talking with a counselor doesn't mean that anything is "wrong" with you. It means that you need assistance in reducing your stress, minimizing your physical symptoms, and changing the way you see and/or talk with yourself. A counselor or therapist has training and experience in working with others who have similar feelings and/or symptoms. You can be active in these decisions; for example, about whether you want to see a man or a woman. Students at Columbia can make an appointment at Counseling and Psychological Services (Morningside) or the Mental Health Service (CUMC).

If you choose to see a counselor or therapist at the suggestion of your medical provider, you can ask for a one-session consultation, a "sneak preview," or a "test drive" with him/her to determine if that person is someone you can learn from. You need to feel reasonably comfortable and safe with whomever you choose to work with. If, after the initial meeting, you don't feel fairly comfortable and/or safe, or believe that you are in incompetent hands, you can ask your health care provider for the name of another person to see.

Whatever you do, don't place getting help for yourself on the back burner. A medical exam, therapy, and/or medication are recommendations to help you take better care of yourself. And based on what you've described, relief could probably be gotten quickly by continuing to reach out for help.

Alice