Befriend your admissions anxiety

college admissions mental health strategy
By Anna TW

So, you’re applying to the school of your dreams! How does that feel? It’s probably a much more complex answer than you would have initially anticipated. Perhaps you feel a burst of elation, followed by a flood of fear, combatted with justifications, affirmations, strategizing and eventually a settling down into acceptance. Perhaps you just feel numb. Each facet of your emotional response to the dream of your future is valid and important and worth the time it takes to investigate and get to know it. I have always found that the most direct route to any internal destination is a scenic one. We have to take the time to get to know all of the whys behind our experience and our behavior in order to know enough to make any lasting or impactful change. So, as you encounter your multi-dimensional experience of anticipation, readiness, and uncertainty surrounding application, test-taking, essay-writing, acceptance, rejection, new friends, and a new career, start with questions. Why do you feel this particular joy, and where do you feel it? What are the images you see when you imagine your future self and how diverse or singular are those images? Why? Where do you feel pangs of doubt, and what thoughts are triggering those feelings? Can you identify the words that form that thought? Whose voice is speaking those words? What colors, smells, sounds, do you associate with that uncertainty? What are you afraid of?  Though there is certainly no simple step by step recipe for coping with this intense, exciting, sometimes excruciating process, there absolutely are some simple and effective tools for managing and perhaps even thriving.

Here are my top five tips for handling your admissions anxiety:

1. Take care of your body.

This is your vessel, the instrument through which you accomplish all of your achievements, your dreams, your passions. Take care of it. Your body also regulates your emotions and anxiety, give it the best shot it has, to be balanced and resilient for you. This means, sleep enough, eat well, drink more water than you are used to, and exercise. Go for walks, do yoga, play a game of basketball with friends, race your nephew, get out of the house and breath some fresh air.  

2. Meditate and journal.

Give yourself time to be with what is, to be alone and to express it. Cultivate a practice of private contemplation and reflection, in whatever form best suits your particular neuro-expressivity. This could be drawing, singing, sewing, swimming, flower-arranging, doing push-ups, even playing video games. Give yourself a chance to connect with who you are alone. 

3. Imagine satisfying alternatives to your dream future.

What are alternative ways that everything you are wanting from this one path, could be met by a multitude of others. Ask yourself why you want what you want, and continue to deeply investigate that. Perhaps you might find that your core need can be satisfied in a wide and exciting array of previously unthought of ways.

4. Connect.

Talk to your friends and family, your mentors, and that extra-friendly barista at the coffee shop down the road. Our relationships are the scaffolding of our lives. They remind us of what is really important at the end of the day. They are the true source of our joy and our reason for being. Those relationships will not change no matter what school we go to or don’t go to. At the end of our lives, the things that we remember and value are always to do with people, with love, with each other. Your last thought is not going to be your school ranking. So, take some time to remind yourself of the things that won’t change, no matter what the outcome of this process happens to be. 

5. Identify your thoughts.

What is the verbal and linguistic structure of your thought? What does it actually feel like in your body? Are the words actually true? Can you question and poke holes in the argument of your negative thoughts? Can you make room in your body for the physical experience of your emotions—positive and negative? Can you accept both thought and sensation exactly where they are? Can you not only accept those thoughts and feelings but, in fact, befriend them? 

Your anxiety means that you care.

Your nerves and doubts are so very human. Anxiety can be managed and softened, but it is not in itself a bad thing. Discomfort is a precursor for growth, so if you are feeling scared, anxious, longing, it’s okay and it might even be a sign of your personal development. And that is a good thing. So, remember that no matter how exciting the opportunity, no matter how prestigious the school, no matter how incredible the alumni list, this one outcome cannot define you. Your gifts, your talents, your worth is unfathomably bigger. Your life will go on, you will have other chances, better ones in fact, you will meet people you never could have met had your life took a different turn, whether that is toward your dream school, or away from it. You will grow from rejection as much as you will grow from the affirmation of acceptance, in fact, possibly more. The things that you love—creative writing, painting, math, biology, horseback riding, acting, scuba diving, soccer, history, doctoring, watching TV, spending time with family, spoiling your pet—they will all be there for you on the other side of this, no matter what the outcome. Your worthiness is immutable. And if that is true, then maybe, just maybe, your anxiety can in fact be your friend. 

Anna holds an MFA in Acting from the Shakespeare Theatre Company/George Washington University and an MA in Acting from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Previously, she earned her BA in Creative Writing from Stanford University.

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