College Mental Health

Mental Health Vs. Academic Achievement: Overcoming Anxiety in College

By: Shaunese Johnson

Heart beating. Mind racing. Body trembling. These are only a few of the many symptoms I felt as I laid in the hospital bed. How could this have even happened? I was feeling fine yesterday and the day before that. Well at least physically I felt okay, mentally I felt detached. One of the doctors walked in and asked me if I was going through any “stress induced activities?”

At the time I was a college freshman and of course I had informed her I was in college, juggling two majors, a few jobs, and frequently pulled all-nighters. What college student isn’t stressed and what did that have to do with anything? I had been doing this for months now and nothing had happened before! Even that day when she informed me I had actually fainted due to exhaustion and having an anxiety disorder, I was still in denial. Regardless I kept my work load and school load saying “this is only a one-time thing,” which proved to be one of the many false promises I made to myself throughout my college years.

For years I never knew I actually had an anxiety disorder. From freshman year (and even sometimes now as a senior) I often felt robotic and ran off of pure adrenaline as plenty of other college students. However, I enjoyed my busy and chaotic schedule. It took my mind off of my many worries such as my lack of friendships, non-existent love life, and even distracted me from my own well-being. All-nighters became a part of my routine as I would come home directly from class and study until I seen the sunset outside my window. As long as I received good grades, that was all that mattered. Unfortunately, my “lifestyle” had caught up to me.

Not only was I pulling all-nighters frequently but I was skipping meals and often feeling lethargic. I would quickly take some medicine and hoped I would feel better in a few hours. I never wanted to do anything or even go anywhere with the few friends I did have because I never had the energy.

Since I was so consumed with my work, I didn’t want any type of “distractions” in my way. Irritability was my common mood as I remember being randomly angry to bursting out crying. Those were the days I hated, as I tried, to avoid all human contact which was sometimes impossible. I had to wear a mask in order to cover what I really going through.

The first time I had ended up in the hospital freshman year I viewed it as a warning. I had falsely promised myself I wouldn’t let it happen again. Even after the first time I continued down my “destructive” behavior, thinking “all college students are stressed and this is just a normal part of being at college.” Throughout my freshman to junior year I ended up in the hospital from severe anxiety attacks. I had somehow forgotten  that I was a human being ad had became ignorant of my own health due to the fear of failure. I couldn’t disappoint my family or myself and I was willing to make all the sacrifices necessary.

As a senior, I regret the amount of denial I had in regards to my situation. For me I was blinded by the thought of success but in order to be successful, one has to be fully present and healthy physically, mentally, and spirituality. In society if a person has mental disorder and/or illness it’s often ignored because it’s not visible. Too many times I deemed myself as “being crazy” or told my self “I’ll pray about it,” but I actually needed more to help me overcome this hurdle.

Anybody who suffers from a mental disorder, depression, etc. will tell you it’s more than just something “inside your head”. Your thoughts become scattered, your body constantly aches, emotions constantly change, you have no energy, and ultimately your passions will become distant memories.

Growth begins with awareness and I knew I had to take the necessary steps in order to grow. Below are a few of the things I focused on and learned throughout my recovery process.


“Own who you are.” This is a Short but  very powerful statement. Gathering awareness of your body, mind, and feeding your soul are essential for growth. Denial can be a defense mechanism but can turn dangerous and deadly if you don’t become aware of your own body. Realize at one point or another that everybody becomes vulnerable. It may feel as if you’re alone but please understand others are fighting the same or similar battles as you.

Be aware of the energy around you.

In college and especially  during freshman year, friendships were more important especially being in an unfamiliar environment. After a while I realized changes within my body around certain people. It was almost as if when I was in their presence I had headaches, pain in my abdomen, and even my emotions would change.

I didn’t feel relaxed or even mellow but uptight and nervous. Once I had left their presence it was almost as if my energy became balanced again. Sometimes we forget how toxic friendships and relationships can affect our well-being. If a friend or partner is constantly belittling, this can be damaging to self-esteem and your overall human spirit.


Don’t resist the past.

Reminiscing on the past can be painful yet it can give many insightful answers as the current cause of pain. While we are social creatures and friends are nice and relationships can be fulling, not all company is healthy company. We often  find ourselves so distracted by the “what ifs” and “why couldn’t things turn out differently,” that we become stressed about the past and therefore can’t live in the present.

Once you find closure from your past you will start to appreciate the future. Whether it’s a former friend who betrayed you, a past lover that caused hurt, or even a family member who you had problems with, being able to forgive is mentally stimulating. It doesn’t mean forgetting or even forgiving the pain another person has caused you, but holding onto pain is like a curved blade. Learning to forgive is a good thing for you as it allows your mind to be free and for you to feel peace within.

Seek therapy if needed. 

Too many times in the African American community people tend to stress and overuse the “Strong Black woman” demeanor. Of course we mean it with good intentions, but we must be careful of how we use this phrase. Of course a woman is strong, however in life everybody has many obstacles. Even though we sometimes feel we may not need anybody or its “all in our head” actually we need someone to reach out too.

In the African-American community, I have heard common sayings such as “black people don’t need therapy,” “She/He just needs to pray about it,” or the dreaded “There’s nothing wrong with him/her. They’re just crazy.” If these statements are constantly embedded into our society, then over time we start to believe it until something actually happens.

I was ignorant to anxiety believing “that won’t happen to me” or “this is just a coincidence.” It usually takes a person becoming  seriously injured or causing severe self-harm to the point of suicide before people consider reaching out and getting help. I only wish I could’ve received therapy sooner. I didn’t know what to expect as a sat across from a stranger sharing my thoughts, feelings, and past. Yet it felt relieving as well. It’s rare to be able to cross paths with a therapist who doesn’t judge you, or because you too feel as if you’re alone. Don’t get me wrong trusted friends and family are great, but sometimes professional help is a must.

Limit Technology Use:

Nothing will steal your happiness and joy like comparing yourself too others. During my most intense anxiety attacks I found myself extremely emotional over small things. I’m not an extremely heavy social media user but scrolling through my timeline, it seems as if everybody else was enjoying life while I was feeling “stuck,” in a bubble.

Why couldn’t I be in a relationship? Why couldn’t I be out with friends instead of always by myself? Of course it’s beautiful to see your family and/or friends find love, happiness, and stability, but it always makes you question when it will happen to you? It made me lose sight of what I had. No, I’m not the prettiest girl in the world, I’ve never been in a relationship, and I haven’t exactly been the most extroverted person, but regardless I’ve become content with who I am while working on what I want to become. One of the things I had to learn was to have faith and patience. I may not be where I want to be now, but I’m working and creating my own path.


The old saying goes “don’t bite off more than you can chew” and that saying speaks volume. As women we often believe we are invincible and feel as if we can do anything and everything. By all means chase your dreams, educate yourself, work hard, but don’t neglect your physical health. Remember you only have one body, and if you’re not both physically and mentally healthy then achieving your goals becomes another struggle within itself. Keep yourself organized, nourished, and feed your soul with passions that interest you beyond the classroom.

Overall, any mental disorder can make life challenging than it already is. However, the key is to not look at it as a “disorder.” Of course that’s the proper word used throughout society, but you don’t have to be perceived that way. I always looked at my anxiety “disorder” as channeled energy that simply needs to be released. Therefore, I decided to write down the scattered thoughts in my head and allow all my pain, anger, frustration, and various emotions bleed onto the paper.

Finding your passions and your “outlet” is the key to having healthy mental stimulation. Get your education inside class, but also self-educate. If you enjoy a recreational activity by all means get involved and share your passions with others. Life is extremely unpredictable especially when it comes time to the human spirit. We face new challenges everyday rather they be visible or discreet. However, living in the moment instead of focusing on the past can open new doors for a better and brighter future.

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