By Alice || Edited by Go Ask Alice Editorial Team || Last edited Nov 10, 2023
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Alice! Health Promotion. "Stressed out and anxious from schoolwork and everything." Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University, 10 Nov. 2023, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/stressed-out-and-anxious-schoolwork-and-everything. Accessed 23, May. 2024.

Alice! Health Promotion. (2023, November 10). Stressed out and anxious from schoolwork and everything. Go Ask Alice!, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/stressed-out-and-anxious-schoolwork-and-everything.

Dear 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. Whenever I do anything away from my desk during my designated "study time," I feel so guilty. 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. 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, 

Reaching out for help, as you’ve done by writing this letter, is a sign of strength. Learning about what may be going on in your body may help you figure out what next steps to take. Seeking out support provides you with the opportunity to explore new strategies for reducing your stress, minimizing your physical symptoms, and changing the way you perceive and talk with yourself! Part of managing your stress also means allowing yourself the time to partake in things that bring you joy. There are plenty of resources available between trying to manage stress on your own and seeing a psychiatrist that could help you feel more balanced. Read on to learn more. 

You mentioned that you often feel worried or panicked, to the point of having chest pains even while trying to sleep. Some people who share similar symptoms may describe these as anxiety or panic attacks, depending on the cause of the event. Panic attacks are sudden, brief episodes of fear and anxiety in response to non-threatening situations. On the other hand, anxiety attacks often elicit similar symptoms, but are generally caused by specific triggers, like school or work. Symptoms of these attacks may include difficulty breathing, excessive sweating, a rapid heartbeat, nausea, shaking, and even chest pain. Those who have panic attacks may also experience suicidal ideations. Symptoms of suicidal ideations may include extreme anxiety, rage, or agitation, hopelessness, mood swings, and feelings of guilt or shame. Having these thoughts can be scary and overwhelming. However, these thoughts are usually temporary, and solutions can often be found if you give yourself time for circumstances to change and for the negative emotions you’re experiencing to fade. 

Furthermore, you mentioned feeling guilty when you take time away from studying to enjoy your personal life. It’s been noted that individuals who share feelings similar to these also report having difficulty staying organized, don’t understand the benefits of resting or socializing, or may associate their identity with productivity due to a lack of rest. While making time to take breaks as a student may be difficult, resting your brain and body can be an important part of your academic journey, as it allows you to recharge your energy and solidify any knowledge you acquired! To help you navigate feelings of guilt, you may try strategies such as making a to-do list. It’s also helpful to acknowledge that the to-do list will most likely not be completed. You may also limit social media use and explore additional stress management techniques for more tips and tricks on how to manage your stress and improve your overall well-being! Although it seems counterintuitive, research shows that intentionally scheduling in time to take care of yourself can actually be beneficial to your academic journey. So, seeing that Broadway show you loved may be more beneficial than you thought! 

To identify what might be causing these feelings of guilt, it may be helpful to reflect on the following questions individually or with a mental health professional: What are some potential triggers you think might’ve played a role in causing you to feel guilty? Is it possible that the transfer played a part? What kind of negative thoughts or beliefs surfaced during that time? How have you been handling these emotions thus far and what do you think needs to change so that these strategies can be more effective? You mentioned that you don't want to see a psychiatrist. Are there specific concerns that are influencing this decision? There are many types of mental health professionals that that are trained to help you determine what may be going on and discuss treatment if necessary. 

You also mentioned moving into a single and not caring about making friends but feeling lonely at the same time. It may be interesting to you to know that research suggests that having a social network at school can actually be beneficial both academically and socially! Friends or roommates can offer emotional support, while fostering a community for shared learning experiences. 

If you believe you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, immediately seeking support from friends, family, or a mental health professional can help you navigate what you are feeling. In case you’re unable to reach anyone or feel uncomfortable doing so, there are a number of confidential online chat platforms or hotlines available 24 hours a day seven days a week that can provide you with immediate support. Some of these hotlines include: 

If you still feel uncertain about speaking with a mental health professional, there are other avenues you may choose to explore including: 

  • Speaking with a health care provider. Perhaps you can start by visiting with a health care provider to address your physical symptoms. They may be able to make treatment recommendations or connect you with more resources and information. 
  • Joining a support group. If you’re not comfortable speaking in a one-on-one visit format, consider looking into local support groups for students experiencing stress and anxiety around school. You’re not alone in experiencing these kinds of feelings, and there are likely other people on your campus experiencing similar thoughts and feelings. 
  • Reaching out to campus resources. Although you noted that the next stress reduction workshop isn’t until next semester, there may also be workshops offered through your campus’ health promotion or education office (often associated with the campus health services). They may be able to provide the same information to you in a one-on-one setting, rather than at a workshop! 

You’ve made a tremendous step forward in asking for help here. Wishing you the best as you continue to navigate your mental health journey. It can be difficult at times, and with proper and persistent stress management, emotional support, and self-care you can work towards a brighter, happier future. 

Additional Relevant Topics:

Mental and Emotional Health
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