For this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, the theme is anxiety.
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems experienced by students and can be difficult to address. Everyone experiences anxious feelings and it’s common to get anxious when there are big changes or challenges in your life. In this article we will outline what anxiety looks like, how to know if it has become a bigger problem and where you can access support.
There is much you can do to help yourself when you’re feeling anxious, but if you are finding it more difficult to manage, or the anxiety impacts on your ability to live your life as fully as you want to, it could be time to reach out for support. There is some good information about student life and mental health on the MIND website.
What anxiety looks like
Anxiety can affect both your body and mind, here are some of the things to look out for:
- a feeling of dread or fearing the worst
- feeling on edge or panicky
- difficulty concentrating
- feeling detached from yourself or the world around you
- racing thoughts
Physical feelings can include:
- feeling dizzy or light-headed
- wobbly legs or pins and needles in your hands and feet
- shortness of breath or hyperventilating
- heart palpitations (a noticeably strong, fast heartbeat)
- nausea (feeling sick)
- needing the toilet more or less often
- sleep problems
- panic attacks
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you might become withdrawn from friends and family, feel unable to attend lectures or avoid events that require a lot of focus or socialisation. While this might make you feel better in the short term, this reinforces the sense of panic that these situations initiate, and the anxiety will persist.
Check-in with yourself and see if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. If you are, try to identify the thoughts associated with these feelings, if you can notice something specific that is activating this anxiousness it might be easier to target. As a jumping off point, here are some tips for dealing with anxious feelings. You can also sign up to receive anxiety-easing emails from the NHS’ Every Mind Matters Campaign or answer a few questions to get a Mind Plan with some personalised suggestions for your mental health .
Challenges of being a student:
As a student, you face specific challenges that might contribute to anxiety for example:
- Meeting and working with new people
- Exams, presentations or deadlines
- Managing your own finances
- Coping with homesickness
- Balancing the demands of studying with other commitments, such as caring responsibilities or work
- Leaving home, finding new housing and living with new people
- Navigating a new city
- Maintaining relationships with family and friends, especially if you have moved away from home
These challenges are likely to bring up stress and worries but with the right support, they should be manageable. A lot of students are struggling with their finances due to the cost of living crisis but there are a lot of resources available to help. It is important to recognise that this is very stressful and can have a big impact on your wellbeing, so please make use of the support the University provides.
If you are struggling with essays and exams, the library have got some workshops and drop-in sessions available to provide guidance. We have also written a blog about how to look after yourself this exam period.
Sometimes, these challenges feel overwhelming and if it feels this way for you, please consider talking to someone you trust or having a look at what other support the university offers, including a free counselling service.
Feeling anxious vs having anxiety
Anxiety can be related to something specific, i.e. for some people it is connected to health, socialising or finances, and for others it can be more broad. Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) involves a ‘persistent feeling of anxiety or dread that interferes with how you live your life’. This is not the same as occasionally worrying about things or experiencing increased anxiety due to stressful life events – National Institute of Health.
If your anxiety is ongoing, intense, hard to control or out of proportion to your situation, it can be a sign of a mental health problem. You might be feeling anxious about a wide range of situations and issues, rather than one specific event, or you might notice that your anxiety is activated by a specific issue, such as socialising, etc. If this is how you are feeling, it is a good idea to speak to your doctor. There is some guidance here on how to talk to your GP about your mental health.
This week, make some time to check-in with yourself and those around you. If you feel that someone you know is experiencing poor mental health, we have written a blog on how to support stressed friends and also offer some advice if it feels a bit more serious.