Monday 4 January 2016

Tips on Managing Anxiety & Panic Attacks at University

 Experiencing anxiety at university can be challenging; but here are some techniques & support that one student used to help manage her panic attacks and worrying thoughts.

Ever been on your way to school, work, or university and suddenly felt your heart beating so fast that you’ve felt like it was going to jump out of your chest, or faint enough that you feel like you are going to collapse any minute or so hot that you feel like you are burning on the inside?  A few months ago, this is how I felt and it was taking over my life. This is the story of someone who suffers with anxiety.

If you’ve ever felt like this, please realise that there is hope and things will get better. I am now living life free of panic attacks and I hope I can help you to do the same.

My panic attacks started very suddenly when I woke up one night with a stomach cramp and instantly I felt a surge of worry and fell into a state of shock. My heart was racing, my face went pale, I felt faint and I was very scared as the panic attack lasted a long time, I went to get help.  After this, the next few months were a struggle and I soon began to think that I would have to take a year out of studies, but things did get better eventually.

Here are some of the things that have helped me to manage my anxiety:

Sleep  - Leading up my first panic attack, I had many deadlines for coursework at university and so was very overworked and fatigued. I felt this was the major cause of my panic attacks and I cannot stress enough how important getting enough sleep is when it comes to reducing anxiety. Meditation and calm yoga before bedtime helped me wind down after a long day and get the sleep that I needed. I’d also found it helpful to play a YouTube video or an audio book where I would concentrate on the voices, distracting my mind from anxious thoughts and helping me sleep.

Exercise - I know this will sound horrible but the more panic attacks I experienced the more familiar I was with them and I soon began to find ways of managing them. One of the best ways I managed my panic attacks was going for walks and other forms of gentle exercise. Getting some fresh air and distracting my mind from the panic attack helped to decrease my heart rate and the rest of the symptoms diminished too. But if you are in a place where you cannot go for a walk, for instance on the tube, I found that distracting myself by checking my Facebook or Twitter or listening to calming music definitely helped.

Coping in lectures - One of the worst places to get a panic attack for me was during lectures. To distract myself from worrying thoughts, I would leave a page in my notebook for doodling. If I felt I couldn't handle sitting through a whole lecture then I would sit at the back near the door just in case I wanted to leave and get some fresh air. Telling myself that I was in no danger and saying things like, ‘so what if I have a panic attack I didn't die the first time and I won’t die now’ helped me stop my anxious thoughts from spiralling out of control. You've got to show your brain who is in charge! ;)

Telling your uni - Letting your personal tutor at university know about what you’re going through will definitely help with coping with anxiety and your studies. Whether you would like extra time for deadlines or exams or be referred to an on-campus counsellor, your personal tutor or a Mental Health Adviser can help you to explore these options.

Seek support - Talk to your GP and discuss your options, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, self-help books, counselling or medication. Self help books helped me to manage my anxiety and learn more about it.  Choose whichever you feel most comfortable with.

Having down time  - where you can do something relaxing like play an instrument, draw, sing or phone a friend will help to keep your anxiety levels down.

Talk  to a friend - It is always good to share what’s on your mind because a problem shared is a problem halved. Never suffer alone – keep your friends and family close.

Although you may feel as if your anxious thoughts are taking control, you can overcome this and soon be in control. One thing I want to express is that you are not alone and there is help for you out there – you can overcome this obstacle; I believe in you!

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