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Student blogs: Dealing with anxiety at university

It wasn’t until May 2017 that it finally clicked. I was attending a concert (The Vamps, I know…) in London with some friends. Our seats were up in the Gods, I literally thought I was going to need an oxygen mask, it was that high. We sat happily for a while and I was content and full of pasta. The support act came on and they seemed unbearably loud and the lights were blindingly bright; had concerts always been like this? I started to feel really nauseous to the point where I felt like I just needed to escape. I descended the vertical stairs and proceeded to have the worst panic attack of my life in the O2 Arena foyer. I’ve since been told to think ‘this will be over soon, they don’t last long’. Okay, they don’t, but on this particular occasion I was having one after another after another. I couldn’t stop crying, shaking, wanting to throw up and in all honesty, all I wanted in that moment was to be at home in bed. The scariest part was that I had no idea what was happening to me. Long story short, I have subsequently been suffering from panic attacks a lot and having done CBT, I have learnt that I have always been an extremely anxious person but always shrugged it off. I will often feel very sick and shaky when going to new places or doing new things, meaning I cancel plans a lot. I always thought it was because I just feel sick a lot and maybe I’m just a very unhealthy person, never realising that this is my main symptom of anxiety attacks.

Feeling anxious at university is something that most people will suffer from during their studies. Whether it’s a onetime nervous feeling before handing in your dissertation, or prolonged anxiety disorder and panic attacks that stop you from attending lectures or completing assignments. Honestly, I didn’t realise how common a problem it was until it became clear that almost everybody in my class had anxiety. But, the fact that it’s ‘common’ doesn’t make your mental wellbeing any less important. In fact, having friends who also suffer has been THE BIGGEST help for me. They completely understand how I’m feeling. If I say ‘I don’t feel up to coming to the lecture today’, they get it. In fact, just recently my friend asked me if I’d like to meet her new friends on a night out – literally my idea of hell. She ended her invite with ‘It’s okay if it’s going to be too anxiety-inducing’, to which I replied ‘Yeah, sorry but it’s not really my thing’. Ordinarily I would feel awful declining someone’s invite like that, but we understand each other’s anxiety so well that we even feel comfortable making jokes about what is ‘anxiety-inducing’ (almost everything).

I’m not saying my advice is to find like-minded anxious people and make friends with them. University is a place where you do honestly make life-long friends. And real friends will completely understand you, and respect how you’re feeling. Just make sure you tell them. And if they don’t respect how you feel, then they’re not your friends. Most people still don’t understand my anxiety, as I am very good at hiding it, if I do say so myself (thank you). Even some of my friends don’t know, but I am very lucky to have people who do get it. Because of this, I felt that university became a very homely and comfortable place to be and, although I’d had panic attacks there, I tried to disassociate it with anxiety and more with happiness and comfort.

Dealing with stress and anxiety whilst at university can be difficult. Sometimes moving away from home can be stress-inducing in itself and, although no one likes to admit it, missing parents and family is awful! I mean, these are the people that have supported

you for most of your life and now all of a sudden you’re left to your own devices. HOW DO I COOK AN EGG??? Families are an excellent stress-outlet, so who do you vent to now? Your new classmates that you barely know? If you’re a very anxious person, this is a huge step. One I didn’t actually take myself. I lived at home in Plymouth whilst studying at Plymouth Marjon University. But, honestly, I would be so proud of myself if I had moved away. For someone suffering from anxiety, moving away from home is probably the scariest thing you could do, so if you do it successfully, make friends and actually enjoy it then I applaud you. I couldn’t do it. If you don’t feel comfortable off-loading your anxious or stressy thoughts to your new classmates that you don’t want to scare off just yet, there is always student support.*

I work as a Teaching Assistant in a secondary school, with aspirations to work in student welfare. In my job now, I am as much involved in student wellbeing as I am in their education, if not more. School, sixth form and university can feel almost impossible for students with anxiety disorder, but there is always someone there to talk to, to vent to or to confide in. This is the message I like to get across in my work as a TA. Students should never feel drowned in work or overcome with worries when their priority should be their work and doing the best they can to get the best out of their education. This is also true with university students. You’ve chosen to be there for the experience, the education, your own future, you’re not paying to become an anxious mess by third year.

University was honestly some of the best years of my life, as well as some of the most ‘anxiety-inducing’, but it’s learning to deal with that stress and learning what works for you. And not waiting until 11:59 on the night of the deadline to submit assignments….

Emily has recently come to the end of a three-year degree in Creative Writing with English Literature at Plymouth Marjon University. She also writes a lifestyle blog:

Note: 'Student Blog' pieces highlight the student perspective on issues relating to ProtectED. Consequently, this article reflects the views of the author and not ProtectED.

*If you are struggling with your mental health at university, there are a number of support options; see this guide from student mental health charity, Student Minds.

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