Catriona offers lots of tips to any students finding it hard to deal with their anxiety while at university.
I still remember my first panic attack at University like it was yesterday. My hands began to sweat as I rubbed them nervously together, exploring the contour and roughness under each touch, trying to distract my brain from what was inevitably going to happen. I gazed down at the excerpt of ‘The Wasteland’ and sucked a cold breath in, trying to regain control.
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
As my vision began to blur I breathlessly asked my tutor if I could go outside for some air. There I was, sitting on the steps of Kennedy Hall in the middle of the worst panic attack I have ever had to date. The visceral feeling of drowning felt so terrifyingly real that I found myself gulping for air through each shattering heave that my torso would take. I had no real friends at University, my weekend job was taking over my life, my grades had taken a real hit from the straight A’s I achieved in high school. Nothing seemed to be going to plan at all.
There were so many times in my first year where I contemplated, perhaps even dreamed, of dropping out. Of leaving and starting in Glasgow (a place that had become a symbol of hope and freedom in my confused mind.) But I forced my way through the next two years and slowly began to feel myself again.
Now I can happily say that I am settled and glad to be completing my final year. However, through opening up to more and more people about my experience with anxiety, and despite how I felt in my first year, I’ve realised that contrary to being alone, anxiety is such a common experience for many students.
So what can you do when you start to feel you are struggling to keep your head above water? Here are some of the tips and tricks that I have discovered throughout my four years of dealing with anxiety.
Count five sounds
When you start to feel anxious and your brain is working overtime, stop and count five sounds that you can hear. It sounds so simple, possibly a little patronising, but it is my way of distracting my brain so that I can get my breathing under control. A way of saying ‘listen up, brain, I am still in control of you and we’re not going to think about our impending doom, instead listen to that goddamn bird chirping in the tree.’ Works like a charm!
Don’t go running home
As tempting as it is, I would advise you not to run off home every time you feel anxious. I went home to Edinburgh pretty much every weekend for my first semester of Uni and honestly, it really just aggravated the situation. All my school friends had moved away and I would feel even lonelier sitting in my parents house. I also missed out on a lot of weekend social activities inhibiting my settling in.
This is a GODSEND. Whenever I need to just mind-numbingly do nothing (but without all the anxious thoughts creeping in) I go on This is sand. It is just wonderfully relaxing and distracting and you can create such beautiful patterns so it doesn’t feel unproductive!
Give up (binge) drinking
It isn’t so much the actual drunk part; it is the hangover the next day. Alcohol is a depressant, and I found my anxiety was so much worse when I was fighting through the hangover and the dehydration.
I cannot recommend this enough. I found the colouring book craze didn’t work for me as I would get frustrated at my inability to stay in the lines. But Zentangling, I love love love. I bought some black paper and a white gel pen from Rymans and honestly, it just instantly relaxes me. There is a myriad of tutorials available online, go check it out!
Help the people around you
Someone who you’ve just met at a house party breaks down and starts crying about feeling overwhelmed. Instead of excusing yourself to the bathroom, sit with them and tell them honestly that you feel the same. It is so comforting to people to hear they are not alone, but it is also so comforting to be someone who can help another person through your life experience. Don’t be afraid to talk about your experience to help and support others as it can be hugely rewarding.
Invite all your friends around for dinner
Throughout university, you are going to learn that there are certain people who prompt your anxiety and then others who relieve you of it. One of my favourite ways to cope with anxiety is to invite all those saintly people around, and make a big old pot of chilli or curry and listen to them babble to each other, and I just allow myself to sit and marvel at these wonderful people who have lifted me up and supported me. Plus, by cooking for them, it feels like my way of thanking them all for being there for me. This is absolutely my tonic.
So, there you have it. My list of top tips to manage your anxiety! Whilst I hope these tips make life more manageable, please seek medical advice if you feel you need some more support. I wish you all a happy time here and remember, if you need additional help there are many supportive organisations.