I never thought I would need to visit a counselor.
I always saw myself as a capable person, someone who could manage a lot of different responsibilities at once, a professional multi-tasker. I preferred being busy, so I would fill up my calendar and ensure I always had something to do with my time.
Overwhelmed and drowning
In my fourth year of university, I was completely overwhelmed, both with my current situation and with worrying about my future. I was stressed, anxious, overloaded with responsibilities, burdened by expectations, and uncertain of what was next for me.
I was striving to keep up good grades in my fourth-year courses, working part-time as a Teaching Assistant, tutoring for another class, serving on leadership with Power to Change, singing in an a capella group on campus, and maintaining a long-distance relationship. I also wanted to sleep, have a social life, eat well, and go to the gym if possible.
I began to wonder how I would keep up the momentum after I graduated university. How was I going to fill my time then? I could apply for jobs, but I still didn’t know what type of job I wanted with my degree in Communications. I could do more school, but then should I go to college for a post-grad program, or do a Master’s degree at university?
And what about the future with my boyfriend? How would my decisions for the following year impact that relationship? Some of my close friends were getting engaged and married, and I wondered if and when that would happen for us too.
I thought I was capable enough to manage all of this. I didn’t want to admit that I was legitimately anxious most days, and that I needed help. But the feelings of anxiety were building up and I was having a hard time not having answers or control over my future.
So I did something — three things actually — to help me deal with the stress and anxiety I was experiencing in my graduating year:
1. I got help
I didn’t think visiting a counselor was for me. I’d tell myself things like: “It’s not that bad,” “Just a few more months and it’ll be over,” “I can push through. I can handle this.” But once I was honest with myself, I saw this wasn’t the best way to take care of myself.
So I made an appointment with a counselor on my university campus. I explained my situation, my emotions, my fears, the things I would tell myself, and what I was really worried about. The counselor listened to me as I spoke and I cried. She consoled me and suggested some steps to take that would help me with what I was going through.
After a few sessions, I felt I had a better handle on things. It was helpful to talk about this stuff to someone who was external and neutral, who I had to fully explain myself to in order to draw out what was really going on.
There continues to be a stigma attached to having mental health issues and getting professional help. But I want you to know that there is no shame in visiting a counselor to talk about your mental health, whether your anxiety is minor or chronic. Take action and get help if you need it.
2. I prayed about it.
In university I was still learning how to commit to spiritual disciplines that would draw me closer to God. Whenever someone asked how my prayer life was I would respond with “It could be better” or “I want to work on it”. That said, prayer wasn’t my immediate response when I was facing tough times.
I remember telling the Power to Change staff on my campus about what was going on and she asked me if I had prayed about it. I realized that up until that point, I honestly hadn’t been praying. I was just worrying.
1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you”. What comfort that brings! I can talk to God openly and honestly about my emotions and my struggles. He hears me and cares for me. As I started praying about my situation, I felt much more at peace. God calmed my anxious heart. I needed that reminder of how loving God is and that he cares about my everyday stresses and worries.
3. I surrendered my future into God’s hands
Part of the reason why I felt so anxious was because I didn’t have clear answers about what was next. As I spoke with God and explored what his will for my life might be, I came to the conclusion that I could only plan so far ahead, and that I could not know exactly what my future would look like. But I did know that God is good, that he loves me, and that he has a plan for my life.
I had a moment (at P2C PLUS, actually) when I committed my future to God, along with all the decisions I had to make that would impact the following year. I prayed, “God, I don’t know what exactly is going to happen next year, but I trust you and your plans for me. Bless me wherever it is you want me to go next.”
Another verse that I clung to in these times was Proverbs 19:21 which reads, “Many are the plans in the man’s heart, but it is the purpose of the Lord that prevails”.
Having an open hand to my future after graduation changed something for me. It was this perspective that reminded me that I’m not always in control, but God has a plan for me. And that is something I can trust in.