Stress, Anxiety, and Graduate School

First off, this post was inspired by a fellow library student I follow on Tumblr, the common librarian. She studies in the UK where a library degree is a one year program! I can’t even imagine. Anyway back to the point, I was inspired by her frankness about her struggles with anxiety including seeing a therapist, and I find it incredibly brave, lovely, and honest.  So here I am trying to emulate her. Hi everyone, I’m Sara a MLIS student in her second year and I suffer from anxiety (or as my medical chart says – General Anxiety Disorder).

During orientation we were warned about stress. Who goes into a graduate program without expecting stress? We all feel that surge of worry when a due date gets closer and you are balancing three other due dates along with it. However, stress goes away when the paper is turned in. Stress turns into a feeling of accomplishment. Stress is ephemeral. Anxiety is not.

I can not explain the shame I felt my first term when anxiety settled on me (like a fog, a wet blanket, something heavy that I could not dislodge). I tried to play it off as just stress (but I was only enrolled in one class how could one class produce this much stress when I balanced five classes and a job in undergrad just last year?). I couldn’t easily fall asleep. I worried about everything (including ironically my health). I didn’t find joy in cooking anymore. Every morning I awoke with a stiff back and headache and I went to bed with that stiff back and headache. I felt like a pressure was on my chest all the time. I was scared to be alone so I would go out to the library or coffee shop and feel alone in a crowd. However, I couldn’t figure out a way to communicate this to my fellow classmates in a way that I felt still made me sound sane. I just wanted to believe it was normal stress. Admitting something more serious was going on was an admission of failure, of weakness.

It wasn’t until after seeing my family over the holidays and admitting that I still didn’t feel like myself (I wasn’t even looking forward to my new classes. I always get excited about new classes) that I decided to see my doctor. I sat in the waiting room and filled out a mental health survey. It was one of those moments that reality just crashes in on you.  I saw my symptoms quoted back to me almost to a tee. How? How had I waited so long? How didn’t I realize it? Why did I allow my pride get in the way of treating myself?

So why am I sharing all of this now?  Well this is the time when we are all feeling the push. We see the deadlines.  We feel the strain. However, sometimes it isn’t just stress. Sometimes the feeling is more intense and doesn’t go away when the due date passes. Sometimes a good song, a walk in the park, an hour of yoga, or a well baked cake doesn’t do a damn to alleviate the pressure on your chest.

If that is you out there dear reader, please speak up. There is no shame in mental illness. There is no shame in going to your doctor to seek help. I do not want any other person to go through the hell I put myself. This issue needs to be loudly spoken  about  in the academy. In stead of talking about “stress” during orientation lets talk about the difference between stress and anxiety disorder. Lets talk about the warning signs and how to know when you cross the line between normal stress and anxiety.

Because dear reader, you (we) are not alone. This issue is more common than you think. Suffering from anxiety is bad enough, but feeling like you are the only one and therefore weaker, weirder, and unworthy of your program is even worse. Anxiety shouldn’t been seen as a taboo subject. Overcoming anxiety during your years in grad school should be viewed as an example of strength not weakness. You overcame this obstacle because becoming a librarian means that much to you. If that does not show determination I don’t know what does.

Questions, Comments, Concerns? Let’s have a chat in the comments.

P.S. My anxiety is under control right now and I go in for regular mental health checkups.



Filed under Library School

16 responses to “Stress, Anxiety, and Graduate School

  1. Brava, Sarah! Yes, we are not alone. I don’t generally suffer from chronic anxiety, but I battle depression and occasional seasonal anxiety. (Mine usually comes about in the summer – it’s a less-recognized form of Seasonal Affective Disorder that seems to result from too much light as opposed to too little. I know, whoever heard of someone who can’t handle too much sunshine, right? :-> ) My husband is bipolar and does suffer from chronic anxiety disorders. It’s REALLY IMPORTANT that we all talk about these things, that we come out and show each other that we don’t have to suffer alone, or in silence, and that what we deal with doesn’t make us weird or broken. It’s much more common than most people think, and in the end, it’s an illness like any other chronic illness: a pain in the butt, but something we can learn to manage and live with as part of our otherwise-wonderful lives. I feel a rant coming on about the essentially medieval state of mental health understanding and treatment in this country, but I’ll curb it. :-> Suffice to say, at this point we need to help ourselves and each other, because the world isn’t ready to handle us yet! But yes, thank you for being there for yourself and the rest of us, and please be proud of your own courage in taking on this program’s challenges and in speaking up about your own truth.

    • Thank you Marty! Yes I rather not suffer in silence or alone anymore. I was starting to hate my self censorship about my anxiety like not explaining why I was going to the doctor (hooray for bi-annual mental health check ups). I’d rather start being open and honest about it. Maybe that can start creating some awareness at least among fellow graduate students,

  2. What an awesome honest post! I’m really happy that you brought up this topic. I’m going to apologize in advance for my super long post:

    I also have a diagnosed anxiety disorder. I’ve had it since I was pretty young – basically for as long as I can remember. I’ve worked on it on and off and can now do so many things I used to be completely unable to do: talk to a waiter, use the telephone, spend the night by myself, etc. But there are still a ton of things that are really hard. I still spend way too much of my time feeling anxious/worrying about everything from the state of the planet (and how little I’m doing about it) to whether my discussion posts are ‘smart’ enough to prevent everyone from finding out I’m a failure. I still get panic attacks. And I still let social anxiety keep me from more social situations than it should.

    When I’m feeling anxious it’s easy to feel isolated and like I’m THE ONLY person who’s ever felt this way (and why am I so screwed up) which makes me immeasurably grateful to you, Sara, for discussing your personal experience. It’s really comforting to know you’re not alone!

    I agree that it’s also very important to promote and talk about mental health in graduate programs. Maybe it’s because I’m a distance student or because graduate students are supposed to be more self-directed, but I feel as though there has been a gap in the information about health issues and mental health in particular that didn’t exist when I was an undergrad. Have any of you experienced the same thing?

    • As far as graduate versus undergraduate difference in info about mental health information – I guess I would say there is one at the beginning of the program. I remember being told about mental health options on campus as a freshmen at my undergraduate university, However, I did not have any anxiety problems in undergrad until I was a junior (which went untreated) and by then I had forgotten all that info. I really do think it would be a good idea to add a mental health component to iSchool orientation,

      I’m glad I have made you feel less alone. That was part of my hope of writing this. I was very comforted when my doctor ( who is relatively young) told me she also suffered from (with?) anxiety when she was finishing med school.

  3. Oh yeah – I forgot to add in the social anxiety! it’s one of the reasons I tried to get into the online cohort, having to think about facing classrooms full of strangers. It causes me to have a near-crippling aversion to talking on the phone to anyone for any reason, has created real problems with making friends when I was too afraid to do normal things like have dinner with a new friend or ask them if they want to see a movie. It even causes me trouble in things like being terrified a group project group will want to meet up for coffee to work on a project for class! (There, that’s something I have real trouble coming out about, because it makes me seem like I hate everyone, or that I’m a snob. I don’t even talk to most of my real-life friends about it. But if you can be brave, I’ll try to be too! :-> )

    • While I don’t suffer from social anxiety now, I can see my high school self in what you are talking about. My friends never really understood why I needed an ending time to most of our activities. I just needed a time when things would end. For example I couldn’t sleep over at a friend’s house without a time to leave the next morning. If they didn’t give me a time I would start to feel the anxiety. So I would tell my mom an artificial time & then make up some excuse to my friends as to why I needed to leave at 10 am. >.<
      Oddly enough this part of my anxiety went away or became dormant when I started dating my husband. Suddenly I could do open ended engagements! I really think we use each other as social anxiety safety blankets.

  4. S

    Thank you for sharing your experience, reading this has made me comfortable by knowing that there are other people who have felt the same way I have.

  5. (P.S. – I’m REALLY sorry I put an H on the end of your name above. Maybe it’s not a big deal, but that’s the kind of thing I worry about inadvertently offending people over. But I also know I hate when people end my name with an I. :->)

  6. Good, honest post. I think that one of the biggest problems with mental illness is the hesitancy so talk about it and seek help. Sharing stories that might help others is empowering! Good job!

  7. Thank you, Sarah. This is great. There is no better way to conquer that feeling of isolation than letting your voice be heard, and starting a conversation. It can be pretty empowering to find out you’re not alone in a battle that can be so incredibly paralyzing. The more we talk, the more we find out, right? Thanks again.

  8. Great job, Sara. I too suffer from anxiety. I have a little pill bottle on my desk I have to bust out occasionally when the panic attacks take over. It used to be mostly just social anxiety, but now it’s a little more generalized. It’s great to know that we’re not alone, isn’t it? Any time you need someone to talk to, hit me up, okay? I’ll be around for you. :)

  9. Craig Fitzgerald

    Very impressive post. I think you described many people’s anxiety. Congratulations on your bravery. I hope your post helps with any remaining issues. Again great post.


    Can I just say what a reduction to search out someone who actually knows what theyre talking about on the internet. You positively know the way to bring an issue to light and make it important. More people need to read this and understand this facet of the story. I cant believe youre no more well-liked since you undoubtedly have the gift.

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