We’re now almost halfway into the semester… already! I’ve seen a few stressed faces walking around UCB this week, most likely due to deadline clouds lingering in the air. It was also World Mental Health Day last Saturday, which got me thinking about anxiety (one of the prominent mental health issues in the population), and how it affects us as students.
There’s been a certain stigma surrounding mental health for a long time, but lately more people have started to open up about various mental health issues. Unlike illnesses that you can see, mental health problems work in a way that aren’t often visible from the outside. We’re all human, we all have fears and general anxieties, but sometimes they can accumulate into a vicious circle of constant worry, which can affect you both psychologically and physically. I’m talking lack of sleep, racing heart, not being able to concentrate and feeling like everyone has their eyes on you – just to name a few.
I’ve struggled with anxiety and panic attacks ever since I was 14 years old. For years I felt alone while everyone around me carried on with their apparent “happy, normal lives”. Only in hindsight did I realise I wasn’t the only one. When I eventually began to talk about panic attacks with one of my friends, I was surprised to find that my confident and lovely friend has the exact same anxieties that I do. We even laughed at ourselves and shared moments like “I can’t believe you’ve had a panic attack about this”, or “No way, this is something I have anxiety about too”. We even sat down waiting for a class at college, to find a poster above our heads about confronting the stigma surrounding anxiety, like it was a little ironic joke meant for us to see. I’m sure anyone who has anxiety, stress, or any other mental health issues, have had feelings of weakness or shame, and are probably too afraid about being judged to even consider expressing these feelings. I know I have. At university and general social situations, I often put on an invisible mask of confidence, but in reality I still wrestle with anxiety. The mask is my way of hiding the conflict going on in my mind.
Anxiety is varied, from general worries to obsessive compulsive disorder, and it can overshadow even the minute details in every day life. It eats away at you and makes you feel very lonely. Apply those feelings to an already stressed-out student’s life; homesicknesses, assignment stress, relationships, money, what to do after graduation, or even FE students applying for university, not to mention life outside of university, it can all get too much. Self esteem can also take a huge hit when dealing with anxiety. Students (and people in general) are constantly critical enough of themselves as it is, without ‘good old anxiety’ creeping along to make you feel 100 times worse. I know the hardest thing is probably opening up about how you actually feel; you don’t want anyone to know. You’re worried nobody will understand, or they’ll think you’re stupid if you speak out about it. It’s not easy to say, “yes I feel stressed and worried, please can someone help me.” because not everyone is comfortable asking for help.
So take some advice from me:
Don’t be ashamed.
Don’t feel like you can’t talk to anyone, and especially don’t keep it all locked away in your head. Give the key to someone you trust and let them in. Having these feelings/worries/stresses, doesn’t make you an alien. It just makes you a person, you know a normal human being. Tell someone how you feel, boyfriend/girlfriend, friend or a family member. If not, maybe talk to your tutor, or a counsellor, as sometimes it can be harder opening up to somebody who you’re close with. UCB have an amazing, free counselling service, available to every student (7th floor Student Services). Should you feel like you want to want to confide in a counsellor, they are confidential friendly face who will to listen any problems that are affecting you.
Write things down:
Keep a journal, write down all your fears, worries, stresses, to do lists. I often go to bed with a million and 1 things racing in my head, but by writing down your worries, or things you want to get done tomorrow, it can calm down your brain so you can get some beauty sleep.
Lots of studies have shown how beneficial exercising is to our overall health, which includes a healthy mind. Put your headphones in, hit a song that makes you happy and go for a run or walk on your own or with a friend. Head to the gym or join one of the sports societies at UCB. I’ve found yoga to be really beneficial for me (you don’t have to join a class either, lots of videos are available on YouTube).
Be proud of yourself:
And don’t put yourself down all the time, you have special qualities that make you, well… YOU! Focus on what you enjoy doing and don’t compare yourself to anyone else. We’re all individuals and we all have distinct and unique aspects about ourselves that we should feel happy about.
Find your happy zone, take deep breaths and focus all your energy on that:
For me, travelling, and filling my mind about all the wonderful places in the world I dream of exploring, is one of my strongest coping mechanisms. As crazy as it sounds, I’m 100% more comfortable getting lost in a new city, than sitting up in bed at night, or going for a run, because for me thats a prime time when anxiety strikes.
Hopefully you understand the point I’m trying to make with this post, regardless of whether you struggle with mental health issues, know somebody who does, or none of the above. As a society, we are more open to seeking help than we used to for our mental health, but I think for students, we need to be aware of the support out there for us. University is one of the best experiences of your life, and anxiety must not take away from that.
If you’d like to find out more information about mental health, check out the Mind Charity website, who provide information, support and advice, as well as Students Against Depression, created by students for students suffering from anxiety and depression. Similarly, to find out more information about UCB’s fantastic counselling service or to book an appointment, email counselling@ .