Lead Faculty Behavioral Science, Clinician, Northeastern University, Author, Speaker and Activist
Living with anxiety and depression

Kristen’s anxiety and depression have come with their own share of problems, but in them she found the passion to dedicate herself to solving the college mental health crisis. “My students inspire me,” she says. “It gives me a global perspective that helps me remain grateful and tuned in to our shared humanity.”

Kristen’s Story

How has your condition impacted your life?

Since an early age, I have been in a love-hate, “frenemy” relationship with my anxiety and depression. They have both been teachers that have guided my life’s work, but there have also been several junctures that have been excruciating. Often time they have involved a perfect storm of conditions like life transitions, losses, overwork, poor sleep and isolation.

What does success/living well look like for you?

For me, success is about avoiding the trappings of the definitions of “success” that are being sold writ large, the ones that tell us we must jump through every hoop imaginable and be airbrushed in order to feel worthy. For me, success is instead about embracing my messy narrative—that I am both strong and vulnerable and that I don’t have to disintegrate or hide those parts of myself that I’d previously experienced shame around.

What specific strategies helped you to get well and move to stability?

I especially love reading recovery stories, or anything related to brain science and functioning. The blend of science and story is powerful in feeling more connected to the human condition and knowing that progress is always possible. My work at the University inspires me—many of my students, despite their own struggles, bring incredible insights into ways to flourish and move beyond even in light of challenging circumstances.

How do you manage your condition and stay healthy on an ongoing basis?

I rely heavily on self-compassion, self-care, cognitive behavioral treatment and lifestyle medicine strategies to stay on track. I exercise at least five times a week. I practice good sleep hygiene. I avoid alcohol except for special occasions.

The hardest part to deal with is the mental chatter—the work to overcome the perfectionistic thoughts and tendencies. This is where supportive friends, family and my therapist give me needed reminders to avoid the self-sabotage in favor of self-compassion.

What words of encouragement would you give to someone struggling with a condition similar to yours?

It may seem trite and simple, but anyone who is struggling is never, ever alone. It is critical to understand that mood and emotional dysregulation are part of being human, and when we fall into times when we are experiencing clinically significant symptoms, it is vital to take action and get help. Prevention is less costly than repair, so you don’t have to think that you’ve “totally lost it” to need help. If you think you need help, it’s better to seek it than to wait until you feel like you are at a breaking point.