Hannah Maier: Coping with GAD

Wednesday, January 13, 2016 - 12:38am

On an average day, I leave my apartment at 8 a.m. and walk to my 9 a.m. class that is located roughly 10 minutes away from where I live, 15 if I’m walking slowly. More often than not, when I reach the halfway point to my destination, I start to worry if I forgot class materials or if I locked the door. I shrug my backpack off my shoulder and dig through it to see if I have everything. I do. I always do, because I always pack my backpack the night before to make sure that I don’t forget anything. Even though I know I have everything that I could possibly need, I check anyways. Ok, phew, I have everything.

But did I lock the door?

I then backtrack to my apartment to make sure I remembered to lock the door — and I did, because I always do. I rustle the bronze knob of the door a few times to reassure myself that I had, in fact, locked it. I restart my journey to class, but still arrive more than 20 minutes early, which is my version of being on time. I am constantly worried about arriving late to class.  

There are days when I am expected to contribute to group discussion in class. When it is my turn to speak, my heart races and my skin blotches. Words fall out of my mouth at 100 miles a minute. I know that no one is judging me, but I become frustrated because it’s impossible for me to slow down and collect my thoughts. Creating coherent responses seems impossible. The nervousness never ends, and I have accepted it as a part of my life and my identity. Generalized anxiety disorder impacts my daily routine and my everyday life.

Students across campus are affected by generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). While some students are all too familiar with generalized anxiety, I have noticed that others may have misconceptions about generalized anxiety, or may have not been exposed to the concept of generalized anxiety before college. I hope that my perspective on GAD can prove to be helpful to those who may be affected by GAD, and interesting to those who are curious about generalized anxiety.

Expressing a small amount of anxiety isn’t a bad thing, and experiencing anxiety is common when faced with a critical or stressful situation.  As described by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, people with GAD display excessive worry about everyday things, such as health, family or work. Individuals with GAD may not be able to perform their normal routine. For example, some people may be unable to rest or accomplish daily tasks because their anxiety is so severe. There are diverse treatment plans for GAD; some plans include medication and some do not. People express anxiety differently, so it is important to understand that not everyone shares the same symptoms for GAD.

I would like to address a misconception about generalized anxiety that I have encountered on campus. A common piece of advice that I have overheard being given to someone who is affected by GAD goes as follows: “Your schedule is causing your anxiety.” It is true that anxiety is a heavy weight tethered to a student, and it is true that it may hold a student back from performing his or her best in social or academic situations, but academics and social situations are not the cause of GAD, even though they may accentuate expressed symptoms. GAD is caused by brain chemistry or genetics.

Initially, I was discouraged from seeking treatment. In my experience, because my mental illness wasn’t a visible ailment, it wasn’t taken seriously. I was told to put my big girl pants on, to push through it. The second semester of my freshman year, I pushed myself to the point where I couldn’t perform everyday activities. So, I scheduled an appointment with my primary care physician. The appointment proved to be helpful, and I feel that my condition has improved with treatment.

I feel that anxiety has been so normalized across the nation that it is hard for students to seek the right treatment or to tell the difference between a normal amount of anxiety and general anxiety disorder. It often takes a long time for someone with GAD to come to the point where he or she is comfortable seeking help, and even then the quality of help that he or she can receive is very limited to the type of insurance that he or she possesses.  

I would like to commend the University Counseling and Psychological Services for its services and commitment to helping students. In the future, I hope CAPS will work on providing more available psychiatric services to students as anxiety on campus is a pressing issue.

While I encourage students to visit CAPS for an initial consultation, I recommend they find a primary care physician in Ann Arbor if at all possible. CAPS services are in high demand, and, in my experience, students will be able to receive help more quickly if they visit a therapist, psychiatrist or other specialist that is recommended to them by a primary care doctor.  

It is never too early to ask for help if you feel overwhelmed with school, work or anything in general. I think the most important thing to remember is that everyone exhibits different symptoms of mental illnesses, and every student should feel comfortable asking for help no matter the severity of his or her symptoms. I hope mental health services will start to become more widely available as more people acknowledge the reciprocal relationship between mental and physical wellness — which both have equal influence on a person’s overall well-being.

Hannah Maier can be reached at hannamai@umich.edu