As I mentioned in my last post, the past year has seen my anxiety reach an all-time high. I've always struggled with a little bit of anxiety before lectures during my first and second year, but returning to uni after completing an internship seemed to be a larger challenge than I expected.
Coming back for my final year of studies, I found myself struggling to breathe when thinking about attending lectures - I'd sit in my room trying to get myself together and ready to roll, but the overwhelming feeling of dread would always take over leading to me missing lecture after lecture. Not only has my attendance suffered, but I was also sleeping for only 3 hours a night, binge eating and not leaving the house - the thought of socialising made me feel sick. Anxiety took complete control, and I did not feel like myself one bit.
For me, it's difficult to explain how it feels when my anxiety kicks in - this was even more frustrating when I sought help with the uni wellbeing advisor, the university mental health team and my GP; I was met with constant "oh you study psychology so you understand all this!". In my experience, my anxiety feels like an ugly little gremlin that's on my shoulder - I feel him constantly there, even if I don't feel anxious I feel there is something looming that I should be anxious about. However, I am finally making headway and plan to continue throughout 2019, with medication and CBT.
So as January exams approach, I think now would be a good time (for both myself and anyone who reads this) to go over the coping methods that have really come in handy during my low points - just a few tips to give a helping hand when you feel overwhelmed.
If you are really struggling with anxiety, Anxiety UK is a great charity with loads of helpful resources - the tips below can be an added extra and definitely make me feel calmer, but I would 100% recommend having a look at the website x
1. Painting, colouring, anything creative
I was in a really low spot when one of my housemates came to me with her arts and crafts box, and we just sat and painted. When you're painting, even if it's just painting a blank page one colour, you're focusing on something that isn't stressful or weighing you down. For me, painting trees really helps me slow down my breathing and get myself together - it's also a really get-handsy activity. I always find it easier talking to my family or friends about my anxiety whilst painting or colouring - the conversation feels less intense and your feelings don't feel so all-encompassing.
2. Speak to your university!
I know this is scary; my friends had to push me but your university can put concessions in place to make your experience just that bit easier. At first, it was frustrating; I felt that no one was listening properly and I was being palmed off left, right and centre with 'try taking 4 deep breaths before a lecture'. FINALLY, I was taken seriously and the uni jumped into action.
Rather than taking my exams in a room of 800 people(no exaggeration, Loughborough is huge), I will now be in a room of maximum 40 people. Although I won't be pursuing CBT through the university, it's an option that is there! Universities can put plans into place where your attendance is not monitored, you study from home, etc. Knowing that things can be altered if you're struggling is reassuring, and I would recommend getting in touch ASAP if you are having an anxious downturn - you can also be eligible for special consideration/mitigating circumstances in exams and coursework if you are struggling with mental health (you'll need a doctors note).
3. Bedtime routines
I used to be that one kid that would ask their parents if they could go to bed earlier, rather than asking to stay up late - sleeping heavily was the easiest thing ever. Since being back at uni, I've found my sleep schedule is shot to pieces. It takes hours to fall asleep, I wake up constantly and never feel fully rested anymore. Over the Christmas break, I've managed to somewhat try to save my sleeping pattern.
No more phone before bed! I think it adds to my overthinking. Constantly checking social media, googling various ailments I'm suffering from at the time, looking at my bank account, the list goes on. I now put my phone away about 45/30 mins before I want to sleep, and crack out the old Kindle and grab a hot drink. Reading really does help relax you - it doesn't have to be anything intense (I'm quite fond of the free romance novels, even if a lot of them seem to be cowboy themed), but it gives your brain some time to settle down before attempting to sleep, rather than coming straight from stalking the Jenners on Instagram.
I know you're probably thinking, reading is not a revolutionary tip for helping you sleep BUT when I settle down for a little bit of literary flirting, I like to turn on my aromatherapy diffuser.
I love the idea of aromatherapy. I've got loads of little rollerball bottles for my wrists when I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed, and they really do work! My diffuser was about £17 (I can't find the exact link but there are loads from Amazon)and I just put in a bit of water, a few drops of any scented oil and leave it to bubble away whilst I'm reading - the lavender oil especially knocks me out and is great if you are struggling to sleep. Side note - this diffuser is also really good if you've got a cold, pop some tea tree oil in it and it's like a Vicks dream.The diffuser is fab because it's a cold vapour, so no risk of accidentally burning yourself during your zen time.
Thank you for reading. Leave a comment below if you have any other top tips for dealing with anxiety at university!