Thursday 22 March 2018

Self-Managing on Fieldwork Placements

Jacqui discusses how she learned to self-manage and control her anxiety during placement for occupational therapy.
- Jacqui

Student placements can strike fear into the hearts of even the most laid-back characters. If you couple this with juggling a family, a jarring new environment and a bout of ill health then you have a recipe for disaster. 

I had been placed in a physical care environment, which had lots of very sick people, bodily fluids, medical equipment and I knew I HAD to pass. The pressure I place on myself is always the heaviest - I don’t fail things, I can’t. So when I found myself here, somewhere I would never have chosen to work and with an educator so different to me, I was on edge at all times. I had anxiety. It was beyond the level of nerves before a presentation, or first date butterflies or sales deadline dread. It was the full-on inability to sleep, second-guess every choice I make, continually catastrophizing, life-altering anxiety.

During my previous placements, I hadn’t told my educators - I didn’t want to be judged. I had always done exceptionally well, scoring consistent firsts in my assignments and excellent passes in fieldwork but this just felt different. I started at crisis point, going uphill and I knew it was going to be tough.

My daughter has Autism, and during this period I had been fighting her school, whilst still traveling three hours a day to my placement to deal with work I had little interest or aptitude in and felt incompetent doing. At the same time I was still trying to juggle family, finances, academic writing, and physical health issues (an infection and then a biopsy).

In just eight weeks I could feel my mental health crumble. I stopped going the gym, started eating junk, let the housework pile up, and snapped at those who loved me. As an O.T. student, I know the power of doing. I know that I’m a maker, a baker, someone who likes to be crafty and sew and DO. But I’d stopped everything. When your body goes into trauma and you’re fighting for survival it turns off non-essential functions. Anything non-essential just wasn’t being done. But it was the bits I’d switched off that were the very things that had been keeping me well.

I searched Google for terms like ‘Fieldwork stress’ and ‘Student placement anxiety’ but to no avail, which inspired me to write this blog. I hope that, by opening up about my struggles, someone else will know that they are not alone.

So here it is: I have General Anxiety Disorder. I struggle, I reprimand myself, I fight to please everyone, I barely sleep, I force myself to be brave, to feel the fear and still act, to still live and I do this with an outward smile. I never let it show. I try, wherever possible, to use strategies that might allow me to wade through the sticky treacle that is my dark thoughts. 

Strategies that have worked for me:

• Being occupied with my hands

• Spending time with people who love me

• Exercise and plenty of water

• Writing down my worries / the worst case scenario

Things that don’t work for me:

• Drinking too much alcohol

• Eating fast food and sweets as a ‘treat’

• Using electronics/ social media excessively

• Going over worries in my head without sharing them

You need to find what works for you but regularly taking any prescribed medication and seeking help from your University are good ways to start. Be kind to yourself. You’re still learning.

Hi, I’m Jacqui, I’m currently studying Occupational Therapy in Wales. I was inspired to write for Student Minds after speaking honestly about my anxiety with my educators for the first time.

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