University is one of the biggest transitions in a person’s life. Time for personal growth, new experiences and opportunity. However, for some it can also be one of the most terrifying, isolating and difficult hurdles to jump, triggering or intensifying a range of mental health problems, including anxiety. This is not how it has to be!
As a sufferer of anxiety myself, I know that the need for Universities to have a good support system is vital, especially at the beginning and end of the academic year, which are the most stressful.
Although there has been an increase in the awareness and acceptance of mental health in Universities and across the UK, there is still a stigma attached. Sadly, this means that vulnerable students usually too embarrassed or apprehensive to ask for help – only a mere 1 in 10 students actually go and seek guidance when suffering from Anxiety or any other form of mental health disorder (statistic from the National Union of Students (NUS)). Although this number is higher than it has been in previous years, something drastic still needs to be done to eliminate the negativity related to mental illness.
If you are a sufferer of anxiety it is important to speak to someone who can help, ASAP. The longer you wait to tell someone, the worse the problem is likely to become. As difficult as it may be, having the courage voice your worries, (no matter how trivial they may seem) is vital, and be rest assured, you are not alone!
What most people are unaware of is that one in three people in the UK alone suffer from a mental health disorder, and one of the most common is anxiety! As we all know, anxiety experienced at a reasonable level in short bursts can motivate us and enhance performance, but when anxiety becomes severe or chronic, it can become debilitating and has the ability to ruin someone’s life.
Many different situations can trigger anxiety which can range from the feeling of uneasiness and worry to severe panic or a panic attack. You may get anxious about:
- Apprehension about entering new situations
- Having to deal with people in a high authority
- Worry about whether you have chosen the right University course or job
- Revising for exams, sitting exams or making a presentation
- Worrying about social acceptance and approval, failure, criticism or rejection from others
- Fear about health.
There are many symptoms that you can look out for, if you think you are experiencing a period of anxiety:
- Emotional components, such as fear or nervousness.
- Physiological components, such as fast breathing, trembling, dry mouth, heart racing, stomach churning etc.
- Cognitive components, such as frightening or negative thoughts, e.g. I’m going to fail/make a fool of myself/lose control.
These can then affect our behaviour, by putting us off or stopping work, avoiding people or situations, not sleeping, drinking too much or taking illicit substances.
If you think you may be suffering from anxiety, then there are five easy steps you can follow, which will help appease any tension and worry.
Students Survival Guide
SURVIVAL TIP ONE – Step back and review the stressful circumstances in your life.
Think about what may be causing you stress, and then think of ways to help reduce these sources of pressure. For example;
- Say NO to things you don’t want to do. If you don’t want to go out every Friday night, then don’t. Stay at home and get a little bit of work done, watch your favourite TV show or just relax! Everyone needs some time to just chill out. It doesn’t make you boring.
- Give up any activities or responsibilities that are time-consuming which are causing you unnecessary hassle. Don’t keep washing your roommate’s smelly socks, just because you are a ‘good friend’ and they don’t ‘have time’. Would you ask someone to do that for you?
- Talk to a tutor/supervisor/manager about work problems. They aren’t all as scary as you may think, I promise! They want you to well too!
- Set realistic targets. You can’t write that 5000 word essay in a few hours, even if you did win the ‘speediest typing’ contest. Spread work out and make it manageable for yourself. It’s not a race to see who can submit everything the quickest.
SURVIVAL TIP TWO – Rationalise any negative thoughts. Our thoughts can be distorted by negative energy or emotions. When you feel calm, take a while to evaluate the situation rationally and logically. Ask yourself these questions:
- Are you judging yourself too harshly? It’s cliché, but trust me, no-one is perfect!
- Are you worrying about the future? Everyone worries about the future, and most of the things you are worried about may not even happen!
- Are you constantly comparing yourself to others? Chances are they are comparing themselves to you too! Everyone is different; they don’t know how you’re doing either. Just focus on what you’re doing, your friends’ grade won’t affect yours.
- Are you being dramatic? – In the chance you don’t do as well as you hoped, will it really be life shattering? The answer is (pretty much) always ‘no’.
SURVIVAL TIP THREE – Distract yourself. If you are feeling particularly anxious, tell yourself it will all be fine (which it will). Watch some TV, have a chat with someone (even if it’s your parents), do a crossword, write a poem, ANYTHING! It’ll all soon pass. Note: this is not avoiding a situation, which is bad. It is purely taking time to calm down before continuing on with whatever you are doing.
SURVIVAL TIP FOUR – Be brave, face the situation! I know it is difficult, but more often than not, facing the situation eventually makes the anxiety lessen and will dissipate over time. You don’t have to completely immerse yourself in the fear, but if you gradually build up to whatever makes you anxious, then the tension will lower, and chances are, the scary situation won’t be as scary as it first seemed.
SURVIVAL TIP FIVE – RELAX! Take deep breaths, tense your muscles then relax them, listen to soothing music, treat yourself to a massage, or attend a relaxation class.
Remember, help is out there. I can speak from a first-hand experience when I say, IT WILL GET BETTER! With guidance from loved ones and a little bit of courage, you can overcome anxiety! You just need confidence to speak to someone about problems or worries; a problem shared is a problem halved!
Raise awareness of mental health and don’t let yourself (or anyone), suffer in silence. You are not alone! Whether you speak to friends, family, tutors, a GP or a councillor. Chances are, at some point, they have felt the same way too!