Exams are one of the most stressful aspects of college. Here are a few of my tips when buckling down to prepare for an exam:
1) Take study breaks! Studies show that taking breaks can improve your focus and attention.
2) Get enough sleep! When you get more sleep, you consolidate memories more, especially exam material. There is loads of research on this, it is pretty fascinating.
3) Space out your learning. Although it may be difficult to start studying early for an exam, it is extremely helpful. This way you can stress less and form memories (of class material in this case) that will last much longer.
4) Study with other people. It is always helpful to say things out loud and work through problems with other people. You can bounce ideas off of each other and work together in a team environment. Studying is a lot more fun this way too!
5) Take five minutes to relax right before your exam. Don't cram minutes before the exam, it only stresses you out further. You won't learn concepts immediately before an exam, so just relax and be confident! Remembering to do these things helps me keep my mind healthy, especially throughout finals week. Your mental health is of the utmost importance!
Music has always played a role in my life. I would find my experiences and myself in the lyrics and would get lost in the melodies. As I got older, I realized how much of an impact music truly had on me. Music was the one thing that understood how I felt when no one else did. We all know struggling with mental illness can be hard as it is, but for me, music aided in relieving the pain. So for this post, in hopes of helping those who need an escape from their mind, I made a list of songs that relate to what many of us are feeling in the darkness and in healing.
Also, I’d love to hear what you guys listen to or if you have any recommendations! Enjoy.
In My Blood –Shaun Mendes
Fight Song –Rachel Platten
Unwell –Matchbox Twenty
Move Along –All American Rejects
Car Radio –Twenty One Pilots Holding On To You –Twenty One Pilots
Learn To Let Go –Kesha
1-800-273-8255 –Logic/Alessia Cara/Khalid
Soundtrack 2 My Life –Kid Cudi
Pursuit of Happiness –Kid Cudi
Breathe Me –Sia
Warrior –Demi Lovato
Skyscraper –Demi Lovato
The Middle –Jimmy Eat World
Demons –Imagine Dragons
Superheroes –The Script
Oh My Soul –Casting Crowns
Monster –Eminem and Rihanna
Fix You –Coldplay
Be Still –The Fray
Rise Up –Andra Day
Death And All His Friends –Coldplay
The Cure –Lady Gaga
Brave –Sara Bareilles
Scars To Your Beautiful –Alessia Cara
Human –Christina Perri
Who Says –Selena Gomez
Unsteady –X Ambassadors
*Note: I made this playlist on Spotify so you can find it by searching “Natalie Hammer” and/or “NAMI Blog Post Playlist”
By Kelly Weldon, NAMI-UW WiChat Coordinator
The pharmaceutical companies would have you believe that anti-depressants and anti-anxiolytics are magic pills that will instantly cure your mental ailments (my frustration with Big Pharma is shining through). As great as that would be, it’s generally a much more complicated story. My current medication offers me emotional stability and allows me to productively challenge my irrational thoughts, but before any big improvement in my mental health I walked a long and winding road littered with various prescription receipts. I share my experiences with SSRIs and SNRIs to be real about how difficult it can be to find a medication that works, but also that it can be worth the perseverance.
Escitalopram (Lexapro): I started seeing a counselor at the beginning of my junior year of high school and was quickly diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. I went to therapy for a few months without any mention of medication, but it soon became a topic of conversation. I was hesitant of a prescription because that would have somehow confirmed I was sick or broken (not an accurate thought, but another blog post for another time). After deliberation about the pros and cons with my parents and my partner, I was prescribed my first medication for GAD. At first, it was everything Big Pharma would have you believe about SSRIs: I noticed stability in my mood and success when working on my CBT assignments. I was on this medication for about a year before the side effects became too much to ignore (right before college, yay!). The weirdest side effect I experienced was throwing up after meals, which was frustrating for someone who gets hungry easily.
Venlafaxine (Effexor): My doctor decided to switch me to venlafaxine right before I left for Madison. To be honest, I don’t really remember how it affected my anxiety, but I don’t think it was effective. I probably didn’t think much of it at the time because moving away was such a huge and stressful transition in my life. I was on it for about a month before the hives set in, where one morning I woke up at 6 am to a body covered in giant red blotches. I called my mom, who told me to call a nurse, who told me if my throat wasn’t swelling shut I should just pop some Benadryl. Which is what I did. For two months. I don’t know why it didn’t dawn on me earlier that I was having an allergic reaction to my medication, but it probably didn’t help that all the doctors I went to said it was probably mold or laundry detergent. Finally, I went to an allergist who immediately told me to get off my medication. In those previous two months, however, I lived with blotchy, itchy skin, painful joints, and constant aches.
Fluoxetine (Prozac): I tried this prescription at the end of winter break and I didn’t notice any change for a couple of weeks. Eventually, I seemed to be stabilizing and was adjusting to school. I had even gotten a babysitting job 30 minutes away via bus! This is also when I started to notice how nauseous I was getting on the rides to and from my dorm, and then sick I would feel after elevator rides. Just little movements could make me sick for an hour afterwards and I do not deal with nausea well, so it was back to the drawing board again.
Buspirone (Buspar): By the time I got around to buspirone, I was frustrated and nervous. My doctor emailed me that I was running out of options, so something had to work soon. I did not want to hear that I might have to deal without medication, because this meant full-blown GAD again. Instead, I dutifully tried this medication as well. It did not work. I had never experienced depression before, but boy did I get a full taste of it this go around. With all my medications, I never noticed the side effects right away, as it always took time for me to come to the realization that I was inducing these side effects. I realized it this time around when having a conversation with my partner in his dorm room about how I was feeling so depressed that I wanted to die. Vocalizing this freaked us both out, and we concluded that I needed to stop this medication, which also meant I was going to have to send another email to my doctor.
Citalopram (Celexa): Low and behold, I finally found a medication that worked! My doctor was hesitant to prescribe citalopram to me because it has the same active chemical as escitalopram (my first medication). I love organic chemistry (I know, unpopular opinion), so I’ll just give a short overview. Citalopram is a mixture of two stereoisomers (R-citalopram and S-citalopram), while escitalopram only contains one stereoisomer (S-citalopram), which is the active molecule in both drugs. As enantiomers, S-citalopram and R-citalopram have the same chemical structure, but the spatial arrangement of the atoms is different. This can affect how the chemical interacts with different receptors in the brain, like a key fits into a lock. I have no idea why one had a ton of side effects and the other was my solution. It’s crazy and it’s weird, but the body is cool and complicated, so there are probably many interactions in the brain.
I have been on citalopram since the very end of my freshman year of college and it has allowed me to gain control over my anxiety. I know I painted a grim picture of doctor’s visits, new prescriptions, and side effects, but it was to get to this point! I finally can put in the work to combat my GAD and feel stable. I know that finding something that works can be incredibly frustrating, especially when advertisements tell us that medication offers a quick fix, but there is probably something out there for you. Furthermore, I know medication isn’t for everyone and I wouldn’t be where I am today without other coping strategies as well. One of my biggest regrets was trying to figure out medication without actively going to therapy. I probably could have dealt with my side effects and my anxiety more effectively if I had attempted multiple strategies at once. Regardless, wherever you are in your journey to recovery and whatever you are doing, you are not alone in your struggles and perseverance can pay off. There is hope.
By Maddie Noreika, NAMI-UW Volunteer Coordinator
Just Relax. You need to lighten up. Learn to have some fun…Over time, these sentences became some of the worst things people could say to me, and unfortunately I heard them often and no one realized how much they affected me. My freshmen year of college I attended UW-Milwaukee. At first I was so excited and I was ready to take on the world. Things changed quickly and throughout the entire semester I did not make a single valuable friendship, I struggled to get involved on campus, and I only buried myself in my school work. I just figured it was the freshmen jitters and that I would eventually fall into my place. I pulled out straight As, which was a first for me, but I still felt unsatisfied. During winter break, the thought of going back to Milwaukee made me want to hurl, so I did what I thought was best and moved back home. I transferred to the two year college in my town which only made me feel more unsatisfied and extremely embarrassed. Once again, I didn’t make a single friend, and I only buried myself in school work and work. I made the dean’s list that semester, but I felt zero satisfaction in what I was doing. The only thing during my second semester that kept me going was that I stood a chance of getting accepted into UW-Madison.
Throughout my entire freshmen year of college I was going through what I thought was just a bad spell of major anxiety and depression, but I thought it was just something I would get over and that my problems were not significant enough to reach out for help. My family constantly told me that coming back home was not a good choice for me, and that I was not the most pleasant to be around because of my mood swings, and that I had very selfish tendencies. Those tendencies came from not knowing how to process my feelings, and not having anyone to talk to that could completely understand. I was completely lost in my own world, and I struggled with showing empathy toward others. I couldn’t wrap my head around this idea that my mental health was not in a good place, and I didn’t have any coping mechanisms to handle what I was going through. I kept telling myself that everything would be better when I got to UW and that all of my problems regarding my mental health would just suddenly vanish into thin air.
I got accepted and I couldn’t wait to embark on my new journey. The journey that would solve all of my problems. I was going to come to UW, get perfect grades, make lots of friends and get into the business school to pursue a business degree. I instantly made a bunch of friends, I got involved in campus orgs, I had a job, and I was starting to establish myself. It happened so quickly and I thought that all the moves I was making were the right ones in order to live the “average college life”. Then I got my first midterm grades back and I was not happy with the outcome and realized that UW was much harder academically than where I came from. This was a trigger for me and I instantly felt too stupid to be at such a wonderful school. It would keep me up at night, and I became so wrapped up in wanting to be the best, that I wasn’t even studying properly or concentrating in a productive way. As the semester went on, I realized I hated my classes, and that my grades weren’t going to be perfect. As I struggled with this, I had long in-depth conversations with my mom about it. She had to remind me repeatedly that my GPA did not define me, and that this one semester would not define my overall success at UW. Although she was a great supporter in getting through my struggles, nothing she said made me feel better.
During the spring semester I realized that business was not for me and that I needed to make a change. I changed my major to pursue a double major in Political Science and Social Welfare. I loved my classes and I instantly saw my grades improve. I made fewer commitments with campus involvement which allowed me to study hard, and spend time with my friends without feeling guilty about it. I was content for the first time since I had started university. As things started to look up for me, I unfortunately started to feel anxious that what I was doing was not enough. I would obsess over what I needed to accomplish to get into good graduate schools, and I was only a SOPHOMORE. I thought that if I did not have the exact plans in place I would never succeed. Again, I would sit up at night and research schools and universities and “plan my life.” It never made me feel better, just tired. It eventually got so bad that I couldn’t go a day without calling myself a failure, or thinking about how other people were so much further ahead in life than me. I found that my relationships with the new friends that I had made during the year were becoming a bit strained and that I was feeling irritable almost 24/7. Eventually I hit a point and had a panic attack. That was my lowest point and I only went back up from there.
During the summer I went through the same intense anxiety and depression that I was clearly facing during my first two years of college and I had another panic attack. I was so exhausted and my family really tried to simplify my feelings by telling me “to relax” and to “think positive.” This only made it worse because I found that I couldn’t do those things easily and I thought that I would be stuck this way forever. Something that was clearly continuing to heighten my anxiety. I then did something that completely changed my life. I spent a portion of the summer working with highschoolers that struggled with severe mental illnesses. It put so much into perspective for me. It made me realize that if these kids are brave enough to face their feelings and challenges and openly talk about their mental health, then I was capable of that too. Until that moment, I would have never guessed that having a simple conversation with my doctor about my mental health would open up a whole new approach to how I think about my mental health.
This journey has come with plenty of challenges such as crippling anxiety, severe insomnia, keeping up with my personal hygiene, and suicidal thoughts. BUT it has also come with plenty of rewards such as my huge list of coping mechanisms, a stronger relationships with my friends, a safety plan for when/if I have suicidal thoughts. I've given a lot more attention to my self care and realized that I am not always able to take on every opportunity that may come my way. I've realized I can openly talk about my experiences, I can express my needs to others in a clear precise manner, and I can also recognize when I need to step away from reality to take care of myself. I have recognized that just because I am on medication, and see a therapist, and do other things to cope with my mental health, not every day is going to be a good day and that some days are going to be harder than others. I’ve also learned to not let people invalidate my feelings, because no matter how absurd my reasoning behind it is, I am allowed to feel how I feel, at least for a short period of time. Overall, this journey has taught me that I am capable of self-love and that no matter how hard it might be to see sometimes, I can love who I am and I will only continue to love who I am. I am beautiful, I am smart, I deserve my dreams, and I deserve to feel strong and be free of self-doubt.
By Natalie Hammer, NAMI-UW Ambassador
To anyone struggling with mental illness:
You will have good and bad days. Even on your worst days, please know there are better days ahead. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel. You are capable of conquering this. Keep holding on. This does NOT define who you are. You are not crazy. You are strong. You are a fighter. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Especially your mind—don’t believe everything you think. And if all you did today was hold yourself together, I am proud of you. Take each day one step at a time. You will be okay.
Above all else, please know this: you are loved and you are cared for.
Author’s Note: Although this post is short, it has incredible significance. Every now and then, we need a reminder of these words of encouragement, as we go through the ups and downs mental illness and life have to throw our way. Stay strong and keep the faith in your healing.
By Laura Klatt, NAMI-UW Ambassador
Hey all! I’d like to apologize for my radio silence. The reason therefore? I’ve been in treatment out West in Denver, Colorado since late February. I struggle with an eating disorder, anxiety, OCD, depression, and panic disorder. I’d like to dedicate this post to the experience(s) I’ve had over the course of my UW career with treatment, medical leaves of absence, mental health, and putting your own well-being first.
I’ve had to take a medical leave of absence every year for the past three years...for at least one semester of each academic calendar, sometimes two. It’s been a challenging pattern: I usually arrive in the fall ready to go, with a support team of therapist, psychiatrist, and general practitioner in place (not to mention support groups- HEY WiChat!)...and then I deteriorate over the course of the semester to the point at which I physically and mentally cannot. I just cannot….cannot take care of myself, cannot feed myself, cannot maintain relationships, cannot control my panic attacks, cannot keep up with extracurricular commitments, cannot do anything but panic, write A-level papers, and panic some more. How in the world I manage to function academically in the face of serious physical and mental debilitation is a stunning enigma. However, my concentration and memory were suffering as my body and the rest of my mind lost stamina, and eventually, the forecast for my academic record was beginning to teeter on precarious footing...nothing had happened yet, but I was definitely in the danger zone, which pushed me into some safety danger zones as well.
Medical and mental health treatment has saved my life several times over the past eight years. I felt a ton of shame and a mountain of shock the first time I was asked to leave UW-Madison during my freshman year. I had left high school for periods in the past, but that was different. College was supposed to be the promised land- the answer to my illness, the cure, the safety zone. College was not supposed to be the place where I got sicker and where my mental health became more unstable. I was supposed to thrive, not die! I was supposed to love my life, not want to kill myself! Needless to say, I was confused. But my confusion had no bearing on the situation- reality was as reality was, and rehabilitation was necessary. The next two times I left, including this last one, were less of a shock. My life had become, as I said before, a pattern of arrive, decline, withdraw, seek treatment. But my mental space was different each time. I’m writing this post not to glorify my illness or prove how “good” I was at being sick, but to show that growth can happen even in the most unexpected and unideal of circumstances.
I have learned so much more from my life experiences than I have in the lecture halls and discussion classrooms of UW-Madison. Just being a human, having a very human experience, has taught me about compassion, resilience, love, connection, and confronting fear. Most of all, it has taught me that putting emphasis on one’s physical and mental wellbeing is far from selfish. I learned that I cannot help others, I cannot connect with others, I cannot be involved in anything that matters or makes a difference, unless I take care of myself first. And that’s what I’ve been learning to do these past years. That’s what I’m learning to do now!
Bottom line: taking time off to heal is not a failure. Taking time off REPEATEDLY is not a failure. Healing is a blessing. Taking time to heal is a success, a truly mature and responsible action. There is no selfishness here, only proper self-love and self-care.
Suicide is not selfish. It is not a choice. It is not a coward’s way out. It is not the answer.
Suicide is preventable.
Growing up, I had a silent struggle with mental illness that deepened into suicidal thoughts when I came to college. I tried to deal with it by myself, but that was only making things worse. It wasn’t until I opened up about what I was going through that I found the support I needed. I was lucky to receive treatment and learn how to manage my anxiety and depression.
One of the most important things I learned in all of this is that mental illness is much more common than I thought. It wasn’t a burden I had to carry on my own.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students. However, many misconceptions still exist about these issues. As college students, it’s not always easy to prioritize our own mental health. That’s why it’s so important to break the stigma around suicide and mental illness to show everyone that no one is alone in their struggles. At UW, Ask.Listen.Save. is here to support you.
Ask.Listen.Save. is UW-Madison’s suicide prevention organization. It encourages people to ASK how their friends are doing, LISTEN and pay attention to possible warning signs, and potentially SAVE a life.
Joining Ask.Listen.Save. was one of the best decisions of my college career. I found a community of people who understood and empowered me to advocate for others.
The organization provides resources around the community for students who may be afraid to ask for help.
I must also encourage all of you to come to our annual Out of the Darkness Walk on April 22nd to raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and walk for loss and life!
It is important to remember that suicide does not discriminate. People of all genders, ages, and identities can be at risk. As fellow peers, it’s important to look out for changes in friends’ behavior that may be warning signs of suicide.
For resources or more information about Ask.Listen.Save., go to www.asklistensave.org.
If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You matter!
By Mackenzie Cowles, NAMI-UW Ambassador
My personal experience with mental illness began the spring semester of my freshman year, however, I was in denial that I have been experiencing a mental illness my entire life. When things began to fall apart with my roommate and my living situation, I felt uncomfortable and unwelcome in my own room. This is when my very high levels of anxiety began. She was extremely manipulative, she made me feel like everything was my fault and she made me think that I did not deserve to feel happiness. I fell into a state of depression. I was incredibly sad and lonely, I had given up trying in my classes and I even had to drop a class because I was doing so poorly. I was on the phone with my parents, younger sister and my best friend from home every single day. All I wanted to do was drop out of school and come home permanently. My lowest point was when I stayed in bed all day and did not even get up to eat or go to the bathroom. I paralyzed and incredibly numb.
After hitting my lowest point, I decided something needed to change in my life because I did not want to go another day with feeling like this. That was when I reached out to the student mental health services at University Health Services (UHS) on campus. I started regularly seeing someone there. In addition, I went home during spring break and talked to both a psychologist and psychiatrist. I was prescribed antidepressants and took them for about six months until I felt like I no longer needed them. Admitting to myself that I needed professional help and finally going to seek help changed my life in every way.
I look back on my life and I realize that I have been experiencing anxiety since I was a little girl. I think in many ways our society tells us to just “be strong” or “don’t be sad” or “get it together”. I will spend the rest of my life encouraging people who think that they might be experiencing a mental illness to seek support from professionals, from people who have been through similar experiences, and from people like NAMI club members who are extremely supportive and understanding. To this day I still struggle with my anxiety, but I am happy to say I have not experienced any more episodes of depression. While this was a terrible time in my life, it also helped me find a new passion for dispelling the stigma that surrounds mental health.
By Natalie Hammer, NAMI-UW Ambassador
Something I continue to learn is that it is okay to ask for help, as there is always someone there to help you. Whether you talk to a friend, a roommate, your CA, a parent, a teacher, a counselor, people are willing to help you get the help you need in fighting your battle against mental illness. Luckily here at UW, we have amazing opportunities to help with your mental illness.
Recently, I decided to take further steps in my healing and I made a mental health consultation at UHS. What I really like about this is you can either talk to someone over the phone or in person for your appointment. During this 30-45 minute consultation, you are asked about your previous experiences with mental health and the reason you came. From your information, you work with someone to create an individualized plan of action. Services at UHS range from individual and group therapy to workshops for specific topics. Also, they offer outside sources if needed in order to get what works best for you. Personally, I wish I ‘d taken advantage of these services earlier on in the year because there are many things offered that could aid you in your healing!
Also, since I’m apart of NAMI, I would like to give a shameless plug to WiChat on Mondays from 7-8pm on the 3rd floor of the SAC! I haven’t gone YET because of work scheduling, but I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about this. It’s a peer support group that is there every week to talk about anything and everything you have going on.
My biggest tip to you all is to utilize your resources and know that it’s okay to ask for help. There are SO many people that are more than happy to help you, myself included!
By Teresa Turco, NAMI-UW Treasurer
Whenever I ask my friends how they’re doing, I notice a pattern in their responses: they are always “stressed,” “busy,” “tired.” Their responses don’t change based on the lack of sunlight in the week or the overwhelming onslaught of midterms or a poorly planned weekend bender. Collectively, we’ve come to evaluate our mood based on our to-do list and because of this, we’ve zeroed in on the negative. By learning to fixate on our stressors, we condition ourselves to constantly worry. We feel busy during syllabus week and stressed during spring break.
College life is challenging—we’re confronted with student loans, paper deadlines, exams, and the pressure of knowing this is supposed to be the time of our lives. It is normal to feel stress and to experience negative emotions. But it is not adaptive or healthy to chronically feel stressed, and it’s particularly maladaptive to create a social narrative on commiserating constant stress.
Chronic stress can cause a variety of health problems: prolonged tension in the muscles, pain in the neck and upper back, increased risk for hypertension and stroke, high levels of stress hormones, etc. Beyond the health risks, our rumination on the stressors in our lives sets up counterproductive styles of thinking which can perpetuate our feelings of anxiety.
College life is stressful, but there will always have another exam to take or group project to struggle through. And after college, there will be stress from work deadlines and inept managers and relationship problems. Stressors are a constant part of life, but stress doesn’t have to be.
For me, NAMI has emphasized the importance of mental health. Even those with subclinical levels of anxiety could benefit from taking care of themselves. Everyone experiences mental health problems, the same way we all occasionally get colds. Individuals with anxiety are taught to focus on breathing, to doodle, picture their worries falling like leaves from a tree. They are taught to cope with their anxiety, to care for themselves, and to say no when things are too much. In the same way, everyone should feel comfortable to take steps in managing their own stress.
I’ve come to understand and validate mental health concerns in everyday interactions, to notice how the response to “how’s it going?” can reveal a pattern in stress levels. Listening to my stressed, busy, tired classmates recount the horror of their schedules day after day, I vowed to myself to always answer “how are you?” with a new answer, to come up with something to say about my day other than how hard it was, to stop training myself to focus on the stressors in my life. No matter how busy and stressful it gets, life is good.