Major life anxiety at 21, and have never experienced it before, help!

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    Hi, everyone!

    I have never posted on a forum before but I figured I might as well try it out. I am a 21 year old female, about to finish undergrad and start graduate school next fall. About 4 months ago, after finishing my grad school apps and beginning to figure out what I am doing next year, I pretty much felt like I was having a nervous breakdown. I am pretty involved at school and was dealing with a lot at once, so I thought I was just getting burnt out from doing it all for 4 years. I went to the doctor a bunch because I thought something was physiologically wrong with me. They tested for celiac, thyroid, etc. Everything was fine.

    Long story short, I am very frustrated because everything in my life is going well for me thus far. My boyfriend is long distance right now, which isn’t helping my anxiety/depression but he is still there for me emotionally. It was like out of no where I was questioning the existence of life, what my purpose was, and what I had been doing for the past 20 years. My therapist told me it’s a good thing that I have realized some of this because some people just go through life never really caring that much about it. It’s hard for me because I thought I always knew what my purpose was and definitely never thought I would have trouble with my mental health.

    Has anyone else ever felt this way? I never thought about death before feeling this way, and now I can’t stop thinking about it. I worry about what life means in the end. I have started reading a book about mindfulness and trying to meditate, and live in the moment, etc. I was always so happy and never really had a bad day before all of this started to happen. I am also nervous to take any type of medicine. I just feel like I am literally going crazy sometimes and it scares me so much.

    Thanks in advance. I will take any advice!


    Dear cahath,
    welcome to the club! :-)))
    Please know that you are not alone, and that you will very probably be just fine!
    This phase in your life feels very threatening: Many options have already closed, still there is no path carved out yet, and you have lots of things to decide about your life, and to reflect on the decisions you have already made…
    You said you never felt this way before – I would say that this is a very good sign! I have struggled with anxiety and depression all my life, but a friend of mine experienced just the same as you: At the end of our studies she fell into a deep dark hole, but did not know how to handle it, because she never felt that way. In her case – and maybe in yours, too – it was a part of growing up, of starting to take responsibility and taking care of herself… She is great now, but much wiser and less superficial.

    Be brave! Whatever you are feeling, it is there to teach you something and make you look at something! Bravery means to look at your feelings honestly and don’t surpress them.
    Take care of yourself! Your job in the world is not to be perfect or to fulfill expectations, but to become yourself and take care of the person you are as if you were your best friend…
    This is the part where you find out about yourself and about your weaknesses. If you accept them and are kind to yourself they will make you stronger!
    And remember that you are not alone. Get help if you need it!

    I wish you the very best!!!

    • This reply was modified 9 years, 3 months ago by Kath.

    Thanks so much, Kath! It comes and goes through phases. For example, I struggling when I was at school and then really started to feel better. Then I got home for spring break this week, and fell right back into the rut. It’s very frustrating because I do not yet know how to keep the balance. I get really excited because I start to feel better, and then feel very discouraged when I fall into the slump again. What are your favorite techniques that help you? Or what helped your friend the most? What worries me is that I have started to develop small phobias of certain things. When I feel really down, I get very scared of driving. I think it’s because I worry something bad will happen if I get too upset while driving. I know it sounds illogical, but to me it freaks me out! I usually just have to make myself do it and I usually feel better once I do. I have also always been very independent, (I go to school 8 hours from home) – and sometimes doing so many things alone gets really lonely (i.e, driving home, flying, etc). Thanks so much again for your help. -Caroline



    I know it must be very uncomfortable, but actually I would say in many ways you are very lucky. You are waking up! Most people are still sleep walking, if you don’t understand what I mean by this you probably will soon enough. It’s natural to react to such feelings as though they are bad and that something is wrong with you because this is what society has taught us to do, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. Emotions are there to tell you something and you’re making good progress from what I can see. Meditation is one of the best things you could be doing in my opinion right now. From my experience, life for you will become more meaningful and purposeful than you could have imagined if you continue what you’ve now started.

    Don’t worry about being happy all the time. Unhappiness is OK, in fact the real trick is to just accept it (fully). Emotions only really cause us to suffer if we resist them, stop fighting it, become OK with unhappiness and you won’t suffer so much, you will literally be OK with it. This might sound difficult but again meditation helps for this. Being scared is also OK and natural because you are experiencing feelings that are new and uncomfortable.

    You are at the start of a wonderful journey, it’s just that the first part of it is very bumpy – just persevere, that’s really all you need to do.

    Hope that helps,



    Hi Ben –

    Thank you for your insight. That makes a lot of sense. I think the hardest part is remembering to tell myself that a lot of people are going through the exact same thing, but express it in many different ways. I am learning to not be as critical with myself, which I never thought would be so difficult. I believe that I am just going through a very big change in my life and for the first time, I feel more alone then ever in it because I am carving my own path in life. I think I have been sleep walking the past 20 years. Yikes! It’s sad how our society downplays everything, making someone who is suffering from anxiety about life and other things feel so left out. It’s crazy. If anyone has any other advice about this very uncomfortable but interesting journey, I will gladly listen.



    Hey Caroline!

    I am 22, I graduated last year from college and experienced really similar feelings as you’ve described. I felt really overwhelmed with all the uncertainty I was facing, especially after having lived a very structured lifestyle in terms of academics and athletics. I chose to wait to apply to grad school because I want to explore a life without structure, and just freestyle my life!

    I can really relate to what you said about feeling very alone. A year later, I don’t have life “figured out” by any means, but what I have learned is that it truly is so important to be kind to yourself and be patient with the process. A friend once said to me: “you are so kind to me, why don’t you try treating yourself like you treat me?” Do you treat yourself how you treat your friends? Why should you be any less patient or understanding with yourself? If your friend or sister/brother/cousin were going through this struggle, what would you tell them to do?

    Sometimes I wonder, too, if when I’m 45 I’ll look back on this time and miss the days when I was anxious about graduating and figuring out what to do next. Sometimes I look back on college and say “man I wish I would’ve just relaxed a little!” and I think I’ll probably say that about this time in my life one day too.

    You’re right – this time in life is SO uncomfortable. And anxiety and fear is very real and can be so debilitating. What helps me sometimes is to think of it as growing pains. Growing up hurts and is uncomfortable, but often the most uncomfortable times are when we learn the most. Sometimes a situation feels like the worst thing in the world but when it’s over you realize it’s value and all of a sudden it becomes something positive.

    The fact that you are seeking answers shows that you are strong and wise. Much stronger and wiser than you know. Ben said it well, you ARE waking up! And waking up is painful but to be aware is the greatest skill we are capable of having.

    Breathe through this time and trust the process. You are loved!!



    Dear Caroline,

    I agree with Rose and Ben wholeheartedly. And I also completely understand what you’re going through. Upon my graduation of college I had tons of anxiety, like I was stepping off a cliff into a fog covered hole with no parachute. But I realized later that much of that was because my life had been so structured with school and family life that I had no idea how to navigate from that point on since I didn’t have to before! It was as if I had been on a conveyor belt for so long but now life would be all about my choice and I wasn’t going to have as much control over where things went from that point. And that would send my fear and anxiety through the roof. It was scary!

    You’re 20s are going to be full of mistakes and so is the rest of your life but guess what…it’s totally okay!! Your 20s will be full of ups and downs and more questions than answers. But no mistake will ever be so bad that you can’t survive it. You won’t die (unless you really do jump off a cliff without a parachute), you might fail but you might succeed, and the best part…you will be okay either way. Even at 30 I’m still trying to figure out life and trying to do the best I can, we all are! My parents who are in their late 50s are still trying to figure life out because there’s no manual. No one on earth has life all figured out and no one ever will. Take Ben’s advice and just embrace this crazy ride you’re about to go on. It will make many things you will face much easier.

    As for the anxiety and depression it sounds like much of it is stemming from your fear of graduating and the looming uncertainty of your path. I could be wrong, best to see a therapist or someone who can test to make sure you aren’t clinically depressed, but otherwise it sounds like it’s just stemming from fear. Just know that you’re capable, competent, and smart enough to navigate this. I know I don’t know you, but your post speaks of your intelligence so I gathered enough to make that assumption. Mistakes are inevitable, but you will always be okay in the end.

    Just breathe and learn to be comfortable in the uncomfortable.


    Thank you, everyone! I really appreciate the advice and also knowing that I am not the only one who has felt this way. It’s definitely the hardest thing I have dealt with in my life so far. I’m just praying for a positive outcome through all of this.



    You are not alone , but probably on a road less traveled . You are awakening ! Most sleep walk and never self discover . Keep plugging away it will get better!


    Hello sister,

    You are really at crucial moment of your life. And it is natural that you might feel very anxious about your future. If you are thinking about meaning and purpose of life then it is certain that you might feel much more depressed, because answer to this question varies from person to person and it also changes with time. Therefore, I will ask you to stop thinking about it, because it is possible that with your current level of knowledge you might not get required answer. But it is also possible that if you will keep on moving then one day you might realise your own definition of life.

    But I also know that it’s very difficult to tame the mind if it doesn’t get any satisfactory answer. Therefore we need a practical tool also along with theory to deal with this situation. Therfore I will advise you to look into “Vipassana” Insight meditation for your present problems. Only problem about Vipassana is that it’s very difficult and intense form of meditation in which we practice mindfullness of breath and bodily sensations in order to understand true nature of mind. Modern medical science really don’t understand true nature of mind and hence it’s solutions to psychological problems are far from perfect and produce many side-effects on the body.

    I will certainly ask you to give this technique a try.
    These courses are scheduled all around the year and have centres all around the world. Just find a suitable vipassana meditation course nearby your locality. You can get cenre info from website : “http://www.dhamma.org/en-US/index” . It’s the main website for course registration and they are completely free of cost with no hidden charges. The courses are purely run on donations by the volunteers and old vipassana meditators who have been benefited by the meditations.

    Following are some other important websites and links about Vipassana Meditation.
    1. http://livingvipassana.com/ (Blog on Vipassana by some vipassana meditators about their personal experience)
    2. http://www.pariyatti.org/ (You can find lots of resources and free ebooks about Vipassana here)

    Following are talks and documentaries on Vipassana

    I’m certain that with Vipassana you can have much better control over your mind and one day you might get answers to your questions about life and it’s meaning. Because it will clear your mind and will make your mind calm. And with calm, clear and equanimous mind you can handle all the situations in your life in a much better controlled manner.
    If you want any more info about vipassana then just search the web. You can also read my reply in the following post where I’ve again discussed about vipassana: “http://tinybuddha.com/topic/what-the-hell-am-i-supposed-to-do/”

    My Best Wishes to you.


    So much great advice! 😀
    Maybe I can add some insights how I tackled my anxiety…

    1. Read about it! Anxiety & panic attacks are a surprisingly common phenomenon, and there are really good books that explain how it works. This knowledge will help you to figure out what is behind your anxiety.
    Short form: Somehow your body has registered certain thoughts or experiences as life threatening – so whenever you think or experience something similar, it does everything it can to prepare you for fight or flight – which is not a nice feeling. Once you become afraid of that feeling, you start to look out for it, creating a cycle of anxiety that is triggered by your fear of fear…

    2. There are methods to break that cycle, they include breathing techniques, meditation & exercise. Doing Yoga with affirmations actually helped me a lot, as well as exercising in general.

    3. Maybe you are just generally scared because life feels threatening. Is it fear of making mistakes? That something could go wrong? To be honest, I am still having that, but I am getting better at facing those fears. I feel that they are closely linked with how much expectations vs. compassion I have for myself. I usually start to feel better when I give myself bravery talks: That also means I am brave enough to face the fear when I feel it coming up. It’s ok to be afraid, it’s a part of me, I don’t have to try to get rid of it or avoid it and it cannot actually hurt me. A car crash could hurt me, yes, but there is nothing I could do about it, so I just have to live with the risk.

    4. Try to remember that decisions are not as crucial as you might think they are. I really recommed this very funny and inspiring talk by Dan Gilbert about how our psychological immune systems allows us to be happy, whatever card life deals us or whatever decisions we make:

    5. My friend whom I wrote about had a hard time to accept that the world was not as fluffy-duffy as she thought – and that she was not the person her parents and friends expected her to be. So she (and I did that to, and probably most healthy people do at some point ;-)) withdrew and stewed in her feelings and fought with herself and others until she figured out and accepted who she actually was, what she wanted from life and what steps she could take… She ditched her studies, went to live in a different city, a different lifestyle… great things and mistakes happened, and now she has to make completely different decisions, but knows more about herself and that she is able to tackle them. I imagine it a bit like being stuck in a djungle where you lost the beaten path … you will just have to make your own path – and how cool is that!

    Caroline, you have tackled lots of stuff already, you are smart and it seems you have people around you who love you. Don’t let anxiety throw you off, it is a very normal thing, you are not alone with it and there are lots of things you can do against it! Just walk on, one foot in front of the other! *hugs*


    Thanks so much, again! I am going to try my best to use these techniques in my own life 🙂 I really appreciate the advice!


    Thank you all so much, you’ve helped me take my second first baby steps to where I decide to carve a path.

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