I am turning 23 this year and currently in the final year of my health science degree.
Lately, I’ve been feeling very down and easily irritable for no reason. Since my major involves seeing patients in the clinic, I’ve realised that I become anxious whenever I meet new patients. A few people have told me that I need to relax as I was overthinking things.
When placed in group settings to present an idea, my heart will start pounding, followed by a blank mind. Even approaching a professor after the lecture for questions makes me flush for no reason.
Knowing a number of friends in my class who have depression, I’ve started to question if I am also suffering from something I am not aware of. I try to be optimistic about my situation but thought it would be better to seek help before it’s too late.
I’ve been in a long-distance relationship (LDR) for four years. Our relationship has been going well and I am grateful to have someone so understanding.
However, there was a change last year when he was enlisted to serve for about two years of mandatory military service in South Korea. I do get to call him often, but it is harder to meet him in person.
Sometimes, I envy couples around me and wish I could be with him physically. I cry before sleeping at times because I miss him badly.
On the brighter side, we’ve discussed plans about our future, including marriage, after his military service. I am just concerned that my low moods these days are affecting our conversations. It isn’t fair to always sound sad as he must be having a hard time serving his country, too.
I wonder if my past of changing universities so frequently (four times) caused me to have low self-confidence. These changes were due to financial and family situations.
I feel even more insecure whenever I compare myself to friends who have completed their degrees. Yet, I do admit that such comparisons are not healthy.
Honestly, I was not excited when I had to move to a foreign country but only did so to be together with my family.
In my previous university, I was independent and had a close group of friends. Since the move, I’ve hardly gone out, and I lack close friends whom I can trust or talk to. The country where I am now is beautiful, but the sudden change was something I did not cope well with.
My studies are going well, but the sudden anxiety attacks are worrying me. This has been going on for a few months now. This year is even more stressful for me as I try to balance my LDR and studies. My family has been very supportive, but I dare not share these personal struggles with them.
Is there any way I can stop having these anxious feelings? What can I do to strengthen my LDR and be a supportive girlfriend?
There are lots of things going on here: A move to a new country, the loss of your independence and friendship circle, changing schools four times, a long-distance relationship, possible marriage and the shift in focus from studying books to meeting people and applying knowledge in real life situations.
Now that I have listed it all out, I hope you see that you have experienced an awful lot of changes recently.
You should understand that just moving country can trigger feelings of anxiety and depression, so when you add in all the other things, it’s not surprising you’re feeling the pressure.
As you have so much going on, the key is to put everything into context.
Find a mental health professional who works with relocation stress, depression and anxiety.
You need some basic guidance on how to cope with relocating countries as comfortably as possible, and you should be assessed for both anxiety and depression.
As you are in a new country, ask yourself if you are comfortable with the local culture.
If you are not, then look online for someone who matches your world view.
Do this by reading their blog. If they don’t write, the “About” section should give you a hint of their style.
Terms like therapist, psychologist and counsellor are pretty much interchangeable in many places, so it may be hard to suss out who’s who.
A rule of thumb is to work with a person who has at least a Masters degree in Psychology or Counselling, and whose degree included 300 hours of practical supervised training.
While you find someone to talk to, start by helping yourself.
First, make a list of your support network. That’s anyone who supports you in some way. Lean on them.
Second, start making friends actively. As you are still at school, join clubs.
Make an effort to meet as many people as possible – even though your depression and anxiety may try and talk you out of this, it’s vital you connect.
We are social beings and we don’t do well when we’re isolated.
Third, understand that depression and anxiety affect your emotions, effectively clouding your judgement.
By combining acknowledgement, breathing, acceptance and affirmations that appeal to your inner strength, you can learn to manage emotional spikes.
A good all-purpose one is – when you hear those panicky/negative thoughts in your head, take a deep breath, and say to yourself: “Oh, there it is again. That’s my fear speaking. Hello, fear.”
Then take another breath, and let the fear pass through you while affirming:
“Though these times are difficult, they will pass. I have lots of strength and blessings in my life.”
Then move on to do something cheerful, like watching a cartoon or singing along to your favourite (cheerful!) pop song.