Even before university, Olivia was a worrier. But when she started her course, her anxiety levels really started to increase. At one point her anxiety stopped her from leaving the house. She was stuck inside for nearly two weeks before being diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder. She then seeked the help she needed.
With support from her university well-being service, her GP and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) sessions, she was able to continue with her university course and start enjoying her life again.
Olivia’s case of anxiety is not rare. In the last five years, the number of students that have suffered with a mental health problem have doubled to at least 115,000.
The chair of Universities UK’s mental wellbeing working group, Ruth Caleb, commented on the figures: “And that is a very small proportion of the students who are having mental health difficulties.”
High levels of anxiety
Research has shown that 20% of students that start university without any symptoms suffer from high levels of anxiety by mid-way through the second year.
Anxiety causes a student’s body to enter the ‘fight or flight’ status.
The professor of psychosocial psychiatry at the University of Glasgow, Chris Williams, explains: “If you are in a situation of imminent actual threat, then the increased alertness and body response can be lifesaving,”
“But if it occurs when trying to revise, or present a talk, or at such a high level that it paralyses or causes errors, it can interfere with what we want to do.”
If you are struggling with anxiety, try a few of these tips:
1. Self-talk. If you start to panic, tell yourself that you can do this – this can reduce anxiety.
2. Control your breathing. Breathe through your nose, hold the breath in, and then exhale through your mouth. Do this a number of times to calm yourself down.
3. Sit near the exit. If you find large lecture halls full of people scary, sit by the exit so if it gets too much, you can leave.
4. Bitesize chunks. Break up essays and coursework into smaller chunks. You will need to plan, but it will mean that you won’t leave everything until the last minute.
5. Moderate alcohol and caffeine. If you’ve got a big day of studying ahead, a hangover won’t help at all. Also, although caffeine can perk you up in the short-term, it can also increase your anxiety symptoms.