Sunday, 9 October 2016

Anxiety + Education - How To Cope.

Mental illness and Education are two things that often go hand-in-hand. The stress and pressure of the education system are like a fuel to mental health issues, and the stigma attached to the two is something that needs to be seriously looked at because I know I'm not alone in my experiences. 

My anxiety reared it's ugly head for the first time at the end of my first year of college. But I didn't really understand what was going on. I felt trapped, my chest felt like someone had wrapped a belt around it and was slowly tightening and I was petrified that I would bugger everything up and my family would be disappointed in me. This gradually got worse over the years and by my first year of uni I was a total mess. I was having anxiety attacks almost daily on the way to uni and my best friend was seriously concerned. So much so that she repeatedly nagged me to go to the doctors and seek help. So I did. A couple of courses of Citalopram and a round of CBT later and here I am. I graduated University with a 2:1 in English Literature almost a month ago and I'm pretty stable nowadays. 

But here are a few tips that I accumulated throughout my time at education with how to deal with anxiety.

  1. Create a watertight plan and stick to it - Having a plan is one of the main things that helped me in my most anxious moments. Some people may find planning out your day and workload to the last minute a tiring task. But for me, it was a comfort blanket. In the morning I would wake up and plan out everything I had to do that day, including meals, snacks and 'me' time. I would then stick to this like it was the law. I found this really helped to manage my fear of not getting enough work done, and it helped me stick to tight deadlines without being stretched. 
  2. Try to do any work that you can in advance - This links to number 1, but I found getting ahead of the work calmed me down massively. Even if it's just requesting the reading lists ahead of time and working them down before the term starts or in the reading weeks/holidays. It definitely helps. 
  3. Remember that it's all about balance, include some 'you' time - Make sure to look after yourself. It's not all work, work, work. You need to remember to give yourself some down time. Spend times with your friends, go out for a meal, take a bath or practise some mindfulness. Self-care is really important when you're in a high-stress environment. The last thing you want to do is to burn out.
  4. Find an outlet for stress - Often times stress builds up and makes the symptoms of anxiety build up and feel worse. Do something that calms you down. Work out, take a walk, cook a meal or have a cheeky glass of wine with your friends. Do whatever you need to, to blow off steam. Don't let the stress build up and hurt you. 
  5. If it gets too much seek help - If you are struggling, remember that you don't need to go through this alone. Tell a friend or family member, a lecturer or teacher you trust or go to your local GP. They won't judge you and they can help. I told my lecturers when I was feeling overwhelmed and they gave me advice and reassurance. My friends all knew of my anxiety and could pretty easily judge when I was having a bad day and knew when I needed a pep talk or just an ear to bend; whilst my GP was great and got me in contact with the charity Health in Mind who offered me an online CBT course, with regular phone calls to assess my progress. This really helped me to learn coping mechanisms and didn't push me out of my comfort zone as I was able to take this therapy at home or at uni, without having to leave and stress myself out. 
I hope this has helped if any of you are suffering from Anxiety whilst in Education. It's a real struggle and it makes you feel as though you are completely malfunctioning, especially when you're living away from home at university. Just remember that you are not weird, you are not alone and you can get through this. 

If you ever need someone to chat to about this please feel free to drop me an email or a DM on twitter. I'm always happy to have a natter and offer some advice as someone that's been there and made it out with a 2:1, even though it seemed impossible. 


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