Going to Counseling
A couple weeks ago I started going to Elon’s counseling services for my anxiety. I made this decision after I realized that although my anxiety was mostly manageable, there were instances where it was overwhelming. I felt that I was operating at 70-80% and wanted to improve on that. So far, I have had a positive experience with my counselor, Tumi, and look forward to our bi-weekly meetings. I wanted to use this space to record and share my experience with counseling services at Elon.
First, I want to acknowledge that everyone will have a different experience with counseling staff. I tried counselling for the first-time last year and that counselor was not who I needed in that moment. It also took place online which is always a strange dynamic. I got lucky this second time, but I know this won’t be everyone’s experience.
The biggest thing that has stuck with me from our meetings is not a specific thing that Tumi has said, but the way that she approaches what I am anxious about. She first validates my worry and then helps me come up with a method that might reduce the stress. One simple example has been how I often worry about missing deadlines or events. After finding out that I did not frequently use a calendar (something I, until recently, refused to do out of pride) she suggested that I start using one more often for all my events and assignments. Was I stressed because I didn’t have a calendar? No. But, using one would reduce the amount of stress I have in that specific area of my life. I anticipate that this will be useful in times of high stress such as finals, where I can be less worried about forgetting a meeting and can just focus on finals. It also showed me that combating stress doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” thing and it is okay to focus on little stressors.
Part of the reason Tumi is so helpful in identifying things like this is because she isn’t me. I can feel that there is a problem but, especially with anxiety, it can be difficult to pinpoint where it is coming from when it is happening to you. It is also easy to think that what I am feeling is “normal” (whatever that means) when my feelings are the only feelings that I have direct access to.
This is like how before I got glasses, I used to think that everyone couldn’t read the board when they sat in the back of class. However, mental health is even more difficult to self-asses because it doesn’t have a “20/20”.
There isn’t a version of “perfect” mental health. Someone with an outside perspective and professional training can be useful in the process of identifying areas for improvement.
Talking to a counselor has also been helpful because it provides the opportunity for me to take my stress seriously. When I discuss my stress to my friends it is easy for it to turn into a competition for who has experienced the most stress recently. One person will share that they have two tests to study for the next day, then someone else will follow that with how they stayed up all night because they procrastinated on a paper, etc. While it is good to normalize feeling stressed this can have the accidental result of glorifying self-sabotaging behavior. Seeking help and living in a healthier manner should be what is normalized and celebrated. Another benefit of talking to a professional rather than a friend or family member is that I can tell them about certain things because they are someone outside of my life. While I do rely on my friends and family, their proximity means they cannot be as removed and unbiased as a counselor can. Also, family or friends can often be the source of stress and talking it through first with a counselor can be helpful.
Three meetings in, I am far from being “all good” or free from anxiety, but I have seen improvements. I have gotten better at calming myself down and started incorporating some stress reducing tools into my daily life. I am not at 100%, nor will I ever be, but I have started to recognize some of the areas where I tend to make things harder for myself. Being human is already difficult on its own without me creating more problems. It was nice to realize that I do not have to “just deal” with my anxiety, and I intend to keep improving. I would encourage anyone who can, to see a counselor and if not, taking time to identify small changes is a good place to start and can make a bigger impact in your life than you might think.
For urgent mental health needs, crisis assistance resources are available 24/7:
Crisis Counselor-on-Call at (336) 278-2222. Counselor-on-Call will complete a brief risk assessment of the situation, recommend crisis management interventions, and identify additional supports or follow-up to ensure safety. This may include a referral to the hospital for an in-person assessment and may include the involvement of University administrative staff.
For general information about Counseling Services at Elon University click here.