Anxiety and University
University is fun and exciting at first, but once the excitment of something new wears off, it can often feel quite lonely and stressful, particularly if you already suffer from a mental health issue. Now, I don’t mean to sound pessimistic, university was exaclty what I needed, you learn so much, not just academically, so much more about life than you could have ever expected. But, as someone who has always suffered with anxiety, this change was triggering, it doesn’t just go away when you leave home, you have to manage yourself and learn to look after yourself.
As term three is well underway and I’m in the middle of my first ever university exam season, the pressure is on. But university is about balancing so many different things so you don’t just have exams, you have friendhsips to maintian, exericise, societies – there’s a lot. One moment you feel you’re on top of it all, and the next you feel buried in it all. My anxiety has definitely increased while I was away from home, the comfort that you take for granted – like a mum hug. Growing up, I guess, is harder than I thought, it’s a lot quicker than I thought. I panic about being left behind, I panic that I’m not doing it right, that everyone knows what they’re doing and somehow i missed the page with the instructions on it. But in reality, everyone feels the same. Everyone feels they’re pretending. We just don’t talk about it.
Anxiety is a protection mechanism, to allow us to be ready for fight or flight in a potentially dangerous situation. Now, sometimes, it can be overly reactive because, Brain, I’m not going to die if I become distant from old friends! Or if I don’t go out drinking. Or if someones voice is slightly different in tone!I can end up spiralling into a worst case scenario world where everyone is out to get me and that is not going to help my studies. So here are a few ways I deal with my anxiety at university:
- Firstly, accept it. The more you run from it, or pretend you’re not feeling it and bury it down, or even contrastingly panic every time you feel anxious, you’re not going to help yourself. Try sitting with the feeling. Tell yourself it will pass, it has before. Breathe slowly. Place your hand on your stomach and feel the breathe go in and out. Ground yourself by paying attention to your senses and let the feeling wash over you. You’ve got a 100% success rate so far, so why would this time be different?
- Write it down. Whatever little thoughts come in to your head, no matter if they are real or fictional, get them out on paper so they’re not stuck inside. I know some people who even burn what they’re writing so it is physically destroyed. I find just by having it out on paper it doesn’t seem as big of a deal. I imagine that if my best friend came to me with the same problem, how would I react. Would I actually think it’s a big deal, or is it something thats been blown up catastrophically? My mum always says to put my thoughts on trial, do I have any evidence to support my claims, if not ‘tell the thoughts in your head to shut up and sit down!’
- Exercise. I never thought I would be a gym person, but when I moved to uni I signed up and now its the one place I can go, out of my room, that’s an excuse to stop studying, and be in touch with my body. Stick on your favourite music, put on a netflix show, or sometimes I don’t have earphones in and am just part of the community so I feel less on my own and in my head. Don’t beat yourself if you don’t go though, sometimes we just need rest to rejuviante. Anxiety can be very physical some times and just like after a long run, our bodies needs to recooperate.
- Talk. Whether this be to a friend at uni, or a phone call to family, try find someone you trust to talk to. Another perspective is always useful. But I do find it best when I’ve calmed down a bit because sometimes wth heightened emotions, no one can say the right thing. If you don’t feel like you have someone to talk to, think about maybe going to someone professional. Warwick’s wellbeing services are always welcoming, or your GP. But if you want something anonymous, try Kooth, an online counselling service.
- Prioritsie yourself. No matter who else is in your life, you are what matters. Don’t let anyone take you for granted or beat you down, you are strong and worthy of love. You got this.
Anxiety is a real thing. It’s painful. It’s confusing and it’s a lot when you’re thrown into this new environment. But univeristy is probably exaclty what you need. Don’t be scared, it’s a new adventure of self-discovery. But don’t pretend it’s not there. My number one advice over eveything – listen to your body. It’s usually right. Just because it seems to be over reacting, it’s not reacting to nothing. Learn to control it and look after yourself. It’s not you. Anxiety doesn’t define you at university, it’s just an illness. Heal yourself like you would heal any illness.