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[Dear Madison] Is School Anxiety Normal?

Dear Madison,

I'm really hoping you guys can help me out with this :( Please forgive me if my post is a mess because I'm currently a mess as I'm typing this out too hahaha.

Anyway I was wondering whether it's normal to have intense bouts of anxiety regarding school? In my case, I really don't know why but every Sunday, when I think about the week of school ahead, I get hit with this intense bout of anxiety that gets so bad that I end up having trouble breathing. I really don't know why because I'm in Year 2 and I've gone through Year 1 with no issues or qualms, at least ones that have never been as bad as this one. I don't know if it's because I'm getting closer to graduating and still have to meet some graduation requirements to complete (CSP and internship, both of which I haven't started), or just that university is tough in the sense where it's hard to do extremely well in classes.

I've actually taken on the perspective that my GPA isn't everything (it's not bad, but it's not the best) and have been looking into avenues to expand my skillset and knowledge. But for some reason, these bouts of anxiety still spring up here and there, and we're only just getting to Week 4 T-T I really don't know the root cause of this either, but I'm thinking that it's somewhere along the lines of "not being good enough in university" and the fear of what that will entail post graduation. "Will I be okay?" and "Will I make it?" also cut close to pinpointing the reason I think. :(

I apologise if this seems like such a big load to put onto your shoulders but I'm hoping I can get other students' perspectives and hopefully I'm not alone in feeling this way? If I give my best and am consistent with my ventures, be it in school and in all other aspects, will I be okay?




Dear Anxious,

First of all, please don’t apologize! It’s not a burden at all. In fact, I wish I could give you a hug to let you know that things will be okay and to thank you for writing in to share your struggles. I’m sure you’ve helped someone else feel much less lonely.

I noticed that you kept wondering whether others were feeling as anxious and stressed as you are, and I understand that. It’s bad enough to feel stressed, much less alone on top of that. That said, and even though you are indeed really not alone, I think what would help you feel better even more would be to focus on managing your stress in the best way possible, regardless of whether or not your peers are stressing out too. Hopefully my two cents can help you with that.

I think we tend to stress over how we’re measuring up, especially upon entering university and this phase of transitioning into adulthood – not just in terms of where we stand amongst our peers, but even more so in terms of our personal growth and expectations. We engage in a lot of comparing, which in itself isn't exactly bad, but easily evolves into more negative and destructive thoughts and habits. We stress, envy, complain. We feel overwhelmed, lacking, unhappy. Nothing we do seems enough, and we become increasingly exhausted while feeling undeserving of and guilty to rest.

The good news is, that doesn't need to be bad news. Comparing only ends up making us feel so terrible about ourselves because we use it to cast darkness on what we have rather than shine light on paths to get what we want and can strive for. If you think about it, as long as we keep wanting to improve ourselves, our expectations of ourselves will keep going higher and higher. We'll always feel like we're just not there yet, and I hope you can start to see that that's okay and maybe even a good thing. Just because things/you can get better in the future, doesn’t mean they/you suck now. Maybe that’s why “way to go” is a congratulatory phrase – it’s amazing that you’ve come so far and that there’s still so much further (and no end to how far) you can go.

And so to answer your question, I’m sorry you’re feeling so much stress and anxiety, and I hope you feel better knowing that that doesn’t have to be the case. I really admire that you reflected on what your stress might’ve been telling you and I think you might be right – you’re not exactly at where you want to be and you’re worried about how far it seems compared to where you are now. I think the next step might be to try and view things in the way I mentioned earlier. You are good enough and you’ll keep getting better, and that’s great. Take one step at a time and don’t overwhelm yourself with thinking about how that might one day add up to a millions steps from where you are now. And surround yourself with people who can support you as you grow – the right words will hype you up or calm you down like no other.

On that note, the most important thing is to take care of yourself. If despite your efforts you find yourself struggling to feel better, it might be something deeper. Our counsellors and Peer Helper friends here at SMU are always around for a chat and there’s plenty of resources and organizations that help you take care of your mental health. For example, HOLA, The Linkage, Raintree Sanctuary, Aventis Counselling Practicum Clinic, SAMH, and the SomethingNew App all provide free counselling. (Disclaimer: I’ve never tried any of them but you could consider checking them out and seeing if they might be helpful for you). Most importantly, know that you are not alone and that you can always reach out to your family and friends for help. Of course, feel free to write to me whenever.

I hope you’ll feel better soon! And again, I’m so glad that you thought through things so logically and used your feelings as indicators of what matters to you – eg. grades don’t define you, while gaining new skills and knowledge is important. Hopefully my thoughts will help you to also feel less intimidated and overwhelmed by how much more you’re capable of. Way to go!

Thanks for sharing with me; you’ve really made me think. I hope I’ve helped you think through this too.




Dear Madison is for general informational and entertainment purposes only, and does not constitute or substitute medical, legal or professional advice. Always seek the advice of a professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or any situation that would so require such advice.

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