Everyone is familiar with the frantic chaos and overwhelming stress that final season inevitably brings as each semester draws to a close. As finals come to an end, Emory students feel the immense weight of their various academic obligations finally lifted from their shoulders; they can breathe freely again. Indeed, winter break is a highly anticipated time of year, for not only do students have the opportunity to spend quality time with their friends and family, but they are finally freed from the suffocating academic pressures they must grapple with when classes are in session. In the midst of a strenuous semester, it is certainly difficult to achieve the kind of “peace of mind” we are privileged to enjoy every break. But what if it were possible to be that stress-free year-round? What if one could effectively manage stress and anxiety while managing the countless challenges that come with attending such a prestigious and academically demanding institution like Emory University?
Constantly feeling the burden of readings and assignments, we are expected (by not only ourselves, but also our parents and the broader society we live in) to consistently perform at our best and even to compete with our high-achieving peers for the best exam grade, GPA or job offer. Consequently, the perpetual pressure to excel ultimately promotes an intense and high-stress environment amongst Emory’s student body; on an individual basis, this negatively affects each and every student’s health – for 99% of all disease is related to stress, with anxiety being a major symptom.
Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental illnesses in the country, especially among college-aged students, a generation most commonly seeking professional help. Though psychiatrists and other M.D.s can certainly help patients to manage their anxiety, they often quickly resort prescribing antidepressants such as Prozac, Zoloft or Lexapro, or anti-anxiety medications known as benzodiazepines such as Klonopin, Ativan, and Xanax. These prescriptions come with a multitude of adverse side effects, ranging from nausea, headache, diarrhea, nervousness, restlessness, agitation, increased sweating, weight gain, insomnia and drowsiness, to more serious effects such as drug dependency, suicide or death.
As researchers continue to uncover additional risk factors associated with conventional prescription medications, a much healthier and more natural alternative to help treat anxiety and manage stress is gaining momentum and popularity. The emergence of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), which is defined as a “category of exclusion, preventive and therapeutic modalities that fall outside conventional U.S. medical practice” represents a greater “interest among the public in comprehensive (“holistic”) approaches to health care.” Alternative CAM treatments function independently from conventional medicine/bioscientific knowledge; they are instead grounded in professional systems such as naturopathy and homeopathy.
So, if you’re reluctant to take prescriptions, why not try out an alternative approach to treating anxiety first? After all, there are plenty of risk-free treatment options that don’t involve pharmaceutical drugs, but are equally (if not more) effective. Specifically, I would recommend scheduling an appointment with a naturopathic physician who can help guide you to choose the best natural products and botanicals available for treating anxiety – such as vitamins, minerals, or other dietary supplements.
In addition, I’ve compiled a brief list – based on recommendations from my very knowledgeable naturopathic doctor – of simple yet highly effective tactics to help alleviate school-related anxiety:
1. LEARN HOW TO COPE.
Unfortunately, with each semester comes an inevitable barricade of tests, papers, projects and presentations. This can definitely feel overwhelming – I think any college student would agree that these kinds of obligations can easily provoke anxiety. To help deal with such stress, the first thing to address is your actual mindset.
Here’s an article to help you get started:
Student health also offers an amazing opportunity for all Emory students: a free stress clinic.
*Dr. Weil’s Anti-inflammatory Food Pyramid
2. EAT A HEALTHY, BALANCED DIET.
This is vital for our mental health. Try not to overeat and incorporate foods that are rich in B-vitamins, omega 3 fatty acids, tryptophan and serotonin.
See the links below for more details on reducing anxiety through your diet.
If you have a passion for nutrition, I strongly recommend Professor Quave’s ANT 385: Food, Health and Society course. This semester, we completed group video projects analyzing the nutritional composition of various foods found on campus. To watch these videos, go to Dr. Quave’s Teach Ethnobotany website: [http://www.youtube.com/user/TeachEthnobotany/feed]
Also, check out award-winning writer Michael Pollan’s insightful books regarding our contemporary diet and food culture. His best-sellers include The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food, and my personal favorite, Food Rules, an “indispensable handbook lay[ing] out a set of straightforward, memorable rules for eating wisely, one per page accompanied by a concise explanation. It’s an easy-to-use guide that draws from a variety of traditions, suggesting how different cultures through the ages have arrived at the same enduring wisdom about food. Whether at the supermarket or an all-you-can-eat buffet, this is the perfect guide for anyone who ever wondered, ‘What should I eat?’”
You’ve probably heard this one before but seriously, it’s important. Aim for at least 8 hours a night.
“Studies are showing that sleep deprivation may actually be one of the primary contributors, if not one of the causes of anxiety problems, as well as depression and other psychiatric disorders. Sleep appears to be very important for emotional regulation and emotional processing.”
Having trouble sleeping? Check out these articles:
4. AVOID DRUGS.
This may seem counterintuitive, but study drugs such as caffeine and amphetamines are known to actually exacerbate anxiety – not alleviate it. Though seemingly beneficial in the short term, stimulants can also have dangerous, long term effects on the body (increases blood pressure, changes your brain’s neuro-chemical makeup and adversely affects your mood and emotions, etc.)
So, instead of cramming for that exam and bingeing on coffee, work on improving your time management skills. Trust me – your body and mind will thank you for it!
For me, yoga is my “go-to” type of exercise to alleviate anxiety. Taking a yoga class in the morning is a great way to start out your day, as the practice improves your concentration, promotes mental clarity and boosts your energy!
Though you could easily start practicing yoga from home (via Youtube or home DVD programs), I strongly encourage that you join a well-established yoga studio. This is definitely the safer approach, as the instructors can give you the assistance you need with learning new asanas. A great studio to get started at is Decatur Yoga and Pilates, conveniently located in downtown Decatur [http://decaturhotyoga.com/]. Your first month’s membership costs less than $40, and there is no limit to the amount of classes you can take! The studio offers an extensive array of beginner’s classes, both in hot and cold room settings. I suggest trying out a variety of classes so you can find which ones work best for your needs. I personally recommend beginning with a class taught by Astrid Santana, Douglas Johnson and Lana Vogestad – they are particularly amazing instructors!
In addition, there are some wonderful opportunities to do yoga on campus! Need to complete a PE requirement? Take one of Professor Ingalls’ fitness yoga classes! Both her PE 135: Intro. to Fitness Yoga and her PE 235: Fitness Yoga classes are incredible, and she will help you develop a strong mental, spiritual and philosophical practice along with improving your physical strength.
For suggestions on which asanas (poses) are especially helpful for anxiety, check out the article 9 Yoga Tips to Overcome Anxiety Disorder, along with the link below:
Of course, meditating can be difficult. Our over-stimulated brains rarely get the opportunity to rest, endlessly thinking about past and future tasks, appointments and other daily obligations. However, actively attempting to silence your mind is well worth the struggle; there are numerous health benefits of meditating (http://www.sedonameditation.com/meditation-research.html]).
Here are some simple instructions on how to begin meditating…
7. TAKE A HOLISTIC APPROACH.
So next semester, instead of trying to merely “survive” the often crippling stress related to your workload, or resorting to a “quick-fix” when finals come around, try a holistic approach to managing your anxiety. Make the effort to enjoy every day of college (because trust me, it goes by way too fast!) by committing to your health, living in moderation, and above all, respecting your mind and body: [http://www.steadyhealth.com/articles/Holistic_Approach_to_Anxiety__Naturopathic_Medicine_for_Nervousness__Fear__Apprehension___Worrying_a1431.html].
Additional articles on anxiety: