You know when you’ve got to do something like an exam or a job interview and you’re thinking about it or you get there and you become paralysed and you can’t move and all you’re thinking is “I can’t do this,” and then you start crying and it gets hard to breathe and – no? Well, you’re a lucky one.

According to Beyondblue, approximately 550,000 people aged between 16 and 24 are living with anxiety and/or depression, so that has to mean that at least a few of you out there have felt the same way as I have at least once in your life.

Anxiety is one of the most common disorders among young people, and one of the most difficult times for a young person with anxiety is the end of school – the exams, the major works, the looming future. There is pressure coming at you from all sides and sometimes you feel like you’re drowning but no one seems to see you’re struggling until it’s too late.

Youth anxiety, depression and mental illness have to be taken seriously so that sufferers can find the help they need. These are medical conditions. Anxiety is more than just stress, which usually passes once the situation does. With an anxiety disorder, the anxious feelings never go away, and they’re difficult to control. There is no ostensible cause.

My anxiety manifests physically – I pull my hair out. You can tell how stressed and panicked I am by the amount of hair on the floor. If you look at me and you see my hand poised at the top of my head, I’m worried. Apparently, it’s a kind of coping mechanism, or all my feelings are channelled into a compulsive behaviour. Believe me, it’s not by choice.

Others suffer in silence, with symptoms that can often fly under the radar like difficulty concentrating, sleeping and relaxing, excessive fears and avoiding situations that are deemed too scary.

I often have difficulty with new people, and for a long time I couldn’t even ask the waiter for a glass of water at a restaurant, let alone the bill. I can’t be late. Once I was almost late to a job interview, and when I realised I would only be able to get there 10 minutes after it began, I had a panic attack and broke down in my car. However, for me, actually sitting my HSC exams were something I felt I could handle.

But I know people that can’t. I know people that function on a quite normal level socially that are triggered to panic attacks by exams. I know people that have literally broken down in exams, and teachers have not even checked if they were okay, then afterwards had the audacity to suggest that it was caused by lack of preparation.

People shrug your problems off with a flick of a hand and an “Oh, it’s just exam stress, you’ll be fine.” But you know it’s more than that. I know there’s nothing more annoying or painful than someone saying “just calm down” or “just stop it.” Being stressed about exams is nothing to worry about. Panic attacks and struggling with everyday functioning is.

Sometimes Year 12 breaks you.

And sometimes it lasts long after. Anxiety can often lead to depression, which further decreases functioning ability. It can create urges to hurt yourself, much more painfully and permanently that pulling out strands of hair. It can hinder your transition into university, or life after the security and stability of high school. It could be holding you back now and in the future, and it might’ve been for years already.

This is why it’s so important to look after yourself. Even if you don’t have an anxiety disorder, exams are tough. Manage your studies and prepare as much as you can. Take time to relax and socialise. Make sure you’re getting the sleep you need.

I know it can be hard to tell someone you’re struggling, but it can really help. While pressure on students nowadays is much greater than when your parents did their leaver’s exams, if you talk to them about it, they will try to help you and be able to support you. Talk to a GP, talk to a psychologist, talk to the school counsellor, talk to Headspace.

I’ve not overcome my hair pulling – yet. I’ve come close a few times, but then I get stressed again and it’s back to square one. But I have been able to work on other areas of my anxiety, and I’ve worked through issues and struggles with a psychologist and that has helped me be finally able to shape my life into something I want it to be. And maybe one day I won’t have to use pain as a coping mechanism anymore.

So just make sure you’re okay. After all, when it comes down to it, there’s nothing and no one more important than yourself.

If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety or depression, do not hesitate to contact Lifeline on13 11 14.

photocred: maxbeck

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