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20th November 2017

Dealing with anxiety at university

Joe Whitfield speaks bravely about how he manages his anxiety and why it’s important that everyone expresses their feelings

In my first year, I suffered some severe anxiety and it distressed me greatly. Today I don’t suffer even half as much, and have found methods and coping mechanisms which have improved my quality of life greatly.

The first thing to remember when suffering anxiety, is that it is merely your bodies reaction to stress and fear — nothing more. Trivialising the problem helps immensely, as the more you think of your anxiety as an issue, the more anxious and panicky you will inevitably become!

The second thing to remember, is that whilst you are suffering, these feelings are temporary, and will pass! Whilst anxiety can be scary, and make you feel like life will never be the same again, I promise that things won’t always feel this horrible! What many people don’t seem to understand is that anxiety can be extremely physical, and does not necessarily mean the person is worried about anything in particular; it’s more of a constant sense of unease which will not go away. This means that sufferers of anxiety, who do not know what it is, will panic and overreact to the physical symptoms. This is the last thing your body and mind needs.

Therefore, as previously mentioned, recognising that you are simply anxious, and that your elevated heartbeat and tight gut does not mean that you are having a stroke, is of paramount importance! Hence I would recommend avoiding WebMD or googling your symptoms if you do feel anxious, as this can only cause you to consider the physical problems you’re experiencing in your body!

It’s important to shift the focus from your feelings towards your surroundings. When someone becomes too introspective, they begin to exacerbate their own symptoms enormously, which only panics the person more! Now the most general piece of advice is to stay active and busy, as distraction causes temporary relief from anxiety, you forget about your breathing and heartbeat when doing something that you enjoy, or that stimulates you.

The best activity in principle would be running. As you run, it is almost impossible to focus on anything apart from your breathing and movement. It is also a healthy activity, so an endorphin boost to boot! However, if you’re not the running sort, any form of sport is good. Other good activities include: video games, board games, going for a walk, yoga, and listening to music. Keeping yourself busy will decrease your anxiety.

For me, the key cognitive step to quelling my anxious thoughts, was recognising activities and things which caused me irrational anxiety, and trying to rationalise this myself. Once you rationalise the fact that nothing is going wrong inside your body, and that stepping out of the house puts you at no more risk than staying cooped up in does, your general anxiety will assuredly decrease.

Also, for me, I found gaining control of my breathing helped immensely. I would often find myself short of breath, or constantly having to manually breathe due to my anxiety, so finding certain breathing exercises to do when focusing on nothing but my own horrible feelings was greatly helpful. Taking a moment out of your day to simply breathe and focus on your breathing can really calm you down, and slows your mind down when having scary or irrational thought processes.

Of course, I do also recommend going to the doctors and speaking to them about your anxiety, as reassurance from a professional does count for a lot when trying to reassure yourself that everything is okay. Just taking time to discuss your feelings and mental health is greatly beneficial, as sadly, keeping your feelings bottled up does simply leave them to fester and evolve into greater issues.

I cannot stress the importance of simply discussing your feelings and worries with others, as suffering in silence and alone can be extremely overwhelming and awful. Even just a chat with your housemates or course mates about how you feel can be helpful.

To all males reading, please do not feel afraid so speak about how you feel, it does not make you any less of a man to seek help, and if anything it shows a real strength of character to admit that you do need some assistance.

I say this as males are often far more likely to bottle up their emotions and feelings, and hence have a far higher suicide rate than females.

To summarise my advice: remain logical and calm, remember that it is temporary and WILL get better, stay busy and motivated and get your feelings out!

Finally, remember that you do not suffer alone, a great many young people suffer with anxiety, and it’s invisible, so SPEAK UP! I sincerely hope whoever reads this takes some comfort in these words.

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