The Most Important Thing in My Life Right Now Is Also the Leading Cause of My Stress

As of this moment in my life right now school is the leading cause for my mental health to be all over the place, but unfortunately during this time, it is the most important thing I need to focus on. So even if I want to take a deep breath and focus on myself, I always have a voice in the back of my head telling me to study more or complete an upcoming assignment. 

Throughout all the years I have attended school, the second semester of my freshman year has been the most challenging so far and I have experienced severe exhaustion, uncontrollable thoughts, and restlessness. I never admitted to myself I am struggling with my mental health, till this semester.  

Before this time, my mental health was never a huge concern of mine. However, by my senior year of high school. I became fixated on performing well and started to care about my grades. It all started at the end of my junior year when I suffered from a concussion that affected me harder than I expected. I was advised to stay away from the screen, but was constantly on them to do my work. I was instructed to go at my own pace and if I needed to finish my course work in the summer I can have an extension to do so. Rather than listening and telling my teachers I needed help, I decided to persevere through the pain and get my work done and be on schedule with the rest of my classmates. At a certain point, I wasn’t healing my concussion but rather I was making it worse. I began to not be able to go to school or stare at a screen which made me give up on completing my school work or preparing for exams. But because I kept trying to keep up with the pressure of school and not get far behind, I spent hours staring at screens even when I stayed home. I was causing more harm in my life, than I knew then. 

We all experience a slight amount of stress when we fall behind on a task but never did I think at this time, the pain from my concussion, the ability to not keep up and the pressure of getting my work done at the end of my junior year was setting me up to experience some severe anxiety and stress later in life. I was not happy with the grades at the end of my junior year and knew that I could perform better than what was shown on my transcript. It wasn’t until the start of my senior year when my grades were getting sent to universities, I began to try harder than I have ever before. 

After the first marking period in high school (which is half of a semester), I excelled in school. I was getting grades that I have never gotten before, but I was pushing myself to an extreme especially after recovering from a concussion. I wanted to show these universities that my grades from the year prior did not fully encompass my academic ability so I worked hard. After the first marking period, I started to feel even more motivated to get good grades. I loved walking away feeling happy with myself rather than walking away knowing I could have performed better than I did. 

I was never a good test taker; I had bad test anxiety going into it so it would always affect my performance no matter how hard I tried. So when I started to perform well, I didn’t want to stop. The feeling of accomplishment created an ongoing cycle of pressure that I could not contain. I kept studying hard in my classes and doing well, but then I wasn’t able to stop studying. As bizarre as that may sound, I felt that if I didn’t study, I shouldn’t reward myself. So in order for me to have fun with my friends, I needed to spend time reading my books.  

It became toxic as it sounds. 

So because of this, I would spend hours studying and experience mental breakdowns because I was burying my face in my textbooks. I was not taking breaks, I was not eating food, I was only worried about doing well.

I remember being told my first semester of my freshman year by another student on campus, “You only have four exams. That makes up your whole grade in the class so you need to study and not bomb the exams because then you risk failing the class.”

The test anxiety that I have always experienced became more of an apparent issue in my life and I felt like it was never going away. 

Out of all the things I was told in preparation for college, this stuck with me. And unfortunately, whenever I am studying I think back to this and my anxiety begins to skyrocket. My thought process was something like: if I don't do well on this exam, then I won't do well in the class and if I don't do well in the class then it will affect my GPA which will then affect my transcript and etc. Thinking like this is unbelievably tiring so there have been times where I just break down and cry. I am pushing my mind and body way too hard, which there is nothing to do but cry.

I have had people tell me “stop stressing out”, “you're such a worrier”, “you will do fine.” But for me, these phrases cause my anxiety about school to become more heightened than before so trying to calm myself down was even more challenging. 

I have realized how unhealthy this behavior is so I have started to come up with some new practices to relieve my anxiety when it comes to school. 

  1. 1. Create a schedule:

    A daily planner

     I like to write down and write down an allotted time for me to get work done. By creating a schedule I will feel less overwhelmed than before when it comes to getting work done. Checking something off of a piece of paper is a simple task, that has a big reward because I feel like I am accomplishing something.

  2. 2. Walk away frequently from what you are doing

    I try to stand up for a bit, scroll on social media, get a snack, talk to someone, call my parents. Honestly, I try to do anything for a short period of time just to get me distracted from whatever school work I was working on.

  3. 3. Prioritize some of your uninteresting work:

    woman student doing homework

    We all have those classes and assignments that fascinate us more than the others but I try not to push off the work that I don't want to do at the last minute. I have felt like the less motivated I am to do something because I do not enjoy it will cause more stress because I am cramming it at the last minute. 

  4. 4. Listen to music:

    airpods and phone on laptop

    For some music can be distracting but when I listen to music, I feel like I am allowing my mind to escape and get into a positive headspace. Even if I listen to one song, I start to feel in a better mood than I was before.

  5. 5. Don’t beat yourself up:

    neon quote saying "go up and never stop" on a black background with an arrow underneath the words

    Lastly and most importantly, I can’t dwell on my mistakes or failures but rather learn from them and move on. Holding on to the past and fixating on what went wrong will cause more harm than help because I will always want to know what I could have done differently.

For me at least, I can tell you for sure I am nowhere close to limiting my stress when it comes to school. I still call my parents and have them talk me down when I feel anxious but I have learned that I am the only person who is able to fix MY mental health. And in order to do that, I need to focus on myself and what is best for me. The tips I listed above do help me, but they might not help everyone. Pick and choose what helps, alter some but ultimately do what is the best for you. 

Your mental health is the most important thing in your life. School, a social life, a job, a sport are all important but your mental health surpasses them all.

*Mental health is not talked about as much as it should be and there is a huge stigma around admitting you are struggling. I have never felt like mental health was something I needed to worry about until I had to. I am sharing my story to show you that mental health matters and it is something that should not be an uncomfortable topic. 

With love, 

Sierra