Before college, Merrick Laughridge, a senior communications and religion major, was a game piece to a never-ending game of catch-up. Anxiety would serve as her alarm clock and self-doubt became second nature. Anxiety grew from constantly comparing herself to others.
“I feel anxiety anytime I’m not holding fast to truth and giving myself to my friends and to my relationships,” said Laughridge, “in the sense of being honest and vulnerable.”
People are worth the communication, support and love from their friends. Being vulnerable opens doors to both ends of the relationship. Laughridge doesn’t take away someone’s opportunity to rise to the occasion. It validates who she is. She opens up to friends whose character matches her beliefs.
“I have opened up to a friend who denied the way I felt. Don’t give those people full access to your heart. Don’t give them a place to speak into your life. Find someone who you can trust,” said Laughridge.
She contributes all of her personal growth to God. She writes her prayers and everything that she feels in a journal, not to look back on those moments, but just to get them down on paper.
“Anxiety or fear comes from trust being in the wrong place,” Laughridge says. “I fix my mind on things that are pure and lovely. I won’t trust in fear.”
Often times, people see things that they not only dislike, but truly hate about themselves. It comes from comparison. Laughridge says it helps her to look in the mirror and to speak love and life over those thinks. She does this for not only things that are visible in the mirror, but for any aspect in her life that she struggles with. Applying this tactic to school, relationships and career, gives her a sound mind knowing that giving her best each day with set boundaries is enough.
She practices taking her thoughts captive to ensure that she is not being ruled by her emotions. “I can feel so many emotions within just an hour. Knowing that I am not defined by depression or anxiety is what helps the most.”
A 10-year study by Benjamin Hankin, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at the University of South Carolina, shows that women, starting from the adolescent age, are twice as likely than men to suffer from anxiety or depression. The problem is that half of women who experience symptoms do not reach out or seek help. This is rooted from fear, self-doubt or low self-esteem.
Katherine Ehrlich, Ph.D., a psychologist specializing in behavioral and brain sciences, says that social experiences change the way the immune system operates and is a key player in causing inflammation, several types of cancers and strokes. “Our threats today are chronic stress through work, school or relationships, and these are stresses that don’t go away.”
Laughridge recognizes that being in school and striving to get the best grades is so contingent upon what other people are doing. Everything seems to be built in a way that convinces people that they need to be something more. She says that she sets boundaries around her school work and other aspects in her life. She holds firmly to the belief that rest is important. Productive rest, as opposed to, mindless, temporary distractions. She finds a certain peace in listening to praise and worship music, painting, playing sports, reading and spending intentional time with friends. She believes that working without taking time for herself is not loving herself. She finds time to allow her heart and mind to simply be.
Getting into nature and going for hikes helps improve and promote a sound mind. Many people are practicing mindfulness or yoga. Studies by Hankin show that meditation has real benefits for anxiety and depression. Dr. Ehrlich points out that it’s also important to do something that isn’t for yourself. A number of studies show physical as well as mental health benefits to volunteering and doing service based work.
None of the studies are based on the notion to only accept and receive happy thoughts. Dr. Ehrlich’s research in attachment theory has shown that all emotions should be accessible as opposed to ignoring the negative feelings. To tell people to just be happy is counterproductive and unfair to their situation and struggle.
This held to be true and applicable to Meaghan Kalafut, a senior communication sciences and disorders major. The depression hit her four months after her father passed away overseas. Every morning Kalafut would put on a full face of makeup and push a smile through to mask her pain. Bit by bit she began to discover little things that would change the way she lived her everyday life. She could no longer call her dad after taking a test or to tell him something to hear his laugh.
“No one had any idea of what I was feeling. I let it eat away at every aspect of my life,” Kalafut said.
By then, she had stopped caring for her physical health. Her energy was depleted from a nonexistent appetite. She became numb to small, trivial things that used to bother her. Twice she found herself in a hospital unable to go to class. After this, she realized the importance of seeking support through people and talking to others about her experience.
Practicing self-care is a practical way to combat and prevent anxiety and depression. Dr. Ehrlich suggests to make it a priority to eat a balanced diet and to implement healthy sleep habits. For many people that struggle with anxiety, those care practices are the first to go. When sleep, diet and exercise are made a priority, dealing with everyday situations become less of a battle. Waiting to deal with a tough situation after caring for personal needs first is better than trying to fix or address it when running on half-empty. It’s better to take a step back and return to it later.
Today, Kalafut, who surrounds herself with positivity and healthy relationships, says, “Everyone is struggling with something and we all just need support and love,” Kalafut says. “No one wants someone to struggle alone.”