Under Pressure: Internship Season and Anxiety

Collier Curran

I’ve felt restless and unsettled since I arrived on campus in January. For a while, I couldn’t place why I was feeling this way, but as I perused LinkedIn for the umpteenth time, I understood. The impending stress of internships was already getting to me, before it was even time to apply. I was spending significant time each day thinking about the process, making lists of where to apply while sitting in a lecture, pausing Netflix to make note of deadlines before I went to sleep. Even halfway through the semester, I am still behaving this way.

Anxiety affects every aspect of my life, and internships are no exception. It often feels as though the God or gods of this universe specially crafted the perfect storm to ensure I am an anxious mess for months on end: Create millions of potential internship options. Make 90% of them almost impossible to find. Once they are found, create strict and arbitrary deadlines. Emphasize proficiency in Excel. Test that proficiency in Excel. Have hundreds of people apply, and interview some of them within one week, but leave everyone else on read. Don’t even send a rejection because they’re not worth the time.

Much of my anxiety manifests in overthinking and overpreparing. Applying to internships only feeds into these tendencies, from obsessively checking for job postings to writing, rewriting, and re-rewriting my cover letter. To make matters worse, these anxious behaviors are rewarded. Those who check back most frequently can be the first applicants for a position. A well-written and edited cover letter is appealing to hiring managers who have read far too many typos. Anxiety translates to conscientiousness when applying for internships. “You have your shit together,” my friends say. When I’m in my room at night, quite literally pulling my hair out under the weight of kickstarting my career, their words couldn’t seem farther from the truth.

I have to wonder: Is it hopeless? Am I bound to spend my entire career in a cycle of rumination and obsession? I’d like to believe that’s not the case. On the most basic level, simply acknowledging that I have this problem has done wonders. I have confided in my closest family and friends that internships are a source of anxiety; therefore, they know to support and distract me when I get caught up in applications. I have also started journaling. I used to think that writing things down would only make me feel worse, but even a Word Doc on my computer feels like someone is silently listening. I tend to hide my failures from those around me; I experienced a full panic response when I sent a company the wrong cover letter, but felt too ashamed to tell anyone. I am working towards being comfortable enough with mistakes to freely share them—this article is a step!—but for now, writing them down lets me exhale.

I am slowly learning to accept both the failures and the victories. Where I would previously consider a day off from the job search a disservice to myself, I now see it as prioritizing mental health. I force myself to check my email less frequently, and to be fully present in class, in social settings, and on the weekends. I have begun viewing anything I receive back from a company as a positive. I recently received an invitation to complete a virtual interview. Instead of telling myself everyone with a halfway-decent resume gets offered those, I chose to congratulate myself and to accept the outcome no matter what it is. The best advice I can offer those who experience internship anxiety is to confide in those closest to you and also to confide in yourself; often the words of wisdom you give the people around you are the ones you need the most.