How I coped with anxiety at University
Jannat blogs about how University affected her mental health and how she dealt with it.
Jannat, who suffers from anxiety, is editor-in-chief at Lucent Dreaming, an independent magazine for surreal writing and art.
When I started university, I was like any other student: eager to make friends, a little stressed about money (but not so stressed that I didn't buy everything from ASOS and then regret it) and anxious to do my best in a new environment.
"The stress of being at University, the change of environment, the deadlines, and the new autonomy turned out to be more than my brain could handle."
The stress of being at university, the change of environment, the deadlines, and the new autonomy turned out to be more than my brain could handle.
I felt like I was doing okay for a while and the first time I had an anxiety attack was in my master’s year. One day I was sat in a lecture and it was my turn to speak next. I’d spoken in lectures many times before but out of nowhere it felt like someone had electrocuted my chest and that I might die if I moved.
I didn't die, but the pain was agonising. It went on for weeks, intermittently. I didn't realise at the time that it was anxiety. It took three appointments with doctors to finally be diagnosed. At first they suggested painkillers. I even called 111 because the pain was so bad I couldn't sleep. Even when I had my diagnosis, I had no idea what it meant and what to do with it. I asked for drugs, something that would make it less easy to spiral. They helped, but I still needed to figure out what it was that made me anxious. If I thought too much, the pain came back, despite the medication.
The truth, it turned out, was that I was always anxious. I always felt like I wouldn’t do well and I was overly stressed about everything, about the Brexit vote my degree, money, other people. The night before my first set of deadlines at University I was so stressed I felt numb. That had never happened before. It felt like my skin wasn't mine. If you've ever been to the dentist and had some kind of procedure done involving anaesthesia, it was that feeling. I couldn't really feel anything; the back of my hand, my foot, my face. And that made me even more stressed. That was anxiety.
"Make a note of how to access your university's counselling services. They can offer advice about how to cope with stress."
The doctor referred me to some form of therapy, but I missed the deadline to submit my form, ironically because of my university deadlines. Fortunately, my university had its own counselling and wellbeing centre. I didn't know about it until I'd heard a friend of mine had used it. It was helpful. I learnt that the source of my anxiety was a fear of failure. I'd definitely recommend making a note of where and how to access your university's counselling services. They can offer advice about how to cope with stress and help you through difficult periods.
"Anxiety still affects me now, but I have more ways to manage it. Talking about it, learning how to look after yourself (I'd listen to Caitlin Moran on this), learning how to reassure yourself."
It's been almost two years since my diagnosis. Of course, anxiety still affects me now, but I have more ways to manage it. Talking about it, learning how to look after yourself (I'd listen to Caitlin Moran on this), learning how to reassure yourself , learning the triggers, recognising when it is happening and being able to communicate it – it all helps.
Most of all, what helps is realising there is far more to life than grades, university, the people you meet at university, more than broken friendships or broken families, more than Brexit or racism or misogyny, or those people you can't bear to live with (who will be temporary).
The thing that matters most is who you are and how you treat people, and that you are brave enough to admit you need help. It could be from your doctor, your university or organisations like Mind. If you feel low or are anxious about University, seek help and choose what is best for you.
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