Anxiety has many forms and symptoms, and can affect us all differently. Read our interview with Kerry, BU’s Student Wellbeing Coordinator, for practical tips on recognising and coping with general anxiety, and where to go if you feel that you - or a friend – would benefit from extra support.
What is anxiety?
“Anxiety is a way of describing the feelings we have when we’re tense, worried or afraid. We can all feel anxious at times, and that’s not always a bad thing - feelings of anxiety can help us to respond to dangers and keep us motivated and alert. But there are occasions when people find it hard to control their thoughts, feelings and behaviours, and anxiety begins to affects daily life.”
So, what happens when we feel anxious?
“Anxiety can trigger a flight or fight response, so we are ready to react to danger. The body goes to high alert and releases the hormones adrenalin and cortisol. These cause your heart to beat faster to pump blood to your arms and legs, so they can respond to danger. This is okay when our bodies need to run away or fight a threat, for example, if an aggressive person is shouting at us. However, anxiety can create surplus energy when a worrying thought passes through our minds, but there is no action to take at the time. This can result in physiological responses to anxiety, such as difficulty breathing, feeling hot, dizzy, increased heart rate or digestion problems.”
It is easy to recognise anxiety?
“There are several forms of anxiety, with the most common being Generalised Anxiety Disorder, which causes people to feel anxious most of the time. Symptoms include feeling that you can’t stop worrying, worrying about the future, feeling restless and feeling irritable with others."
“There are a number of other anxiety disorders, including panic disorder and specific phobias, and there are some really good websites out there that explain anxiety conditions and their symptoms, such www.anxietyuk.org.uk/get-help/anxiety-information and web.ntw.nhs.uk/selfhelp.”
A large focus at this time of the academic year is on dissertations or assignments and assessments - what can be done to help reduce feelings of anxiety?
"Doing something practical can often reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. There are lots of things you can do, and of course different things will work for different people, but a few top tips a lot of students I work with find helpful include:
- Writing a ‘to do’ list and prioritising tasks using the ABC model: Absolutely must be done, Best done today, or Could be done today.
- Setting reminders on your phone or computer for regular study breaks and importantly, planning what you will do with your break – maybe phone a friend for quick catch up, put the laundry on, listen to some music – things that will give you a chance to re-charge and re-focus!
- Continuing - or introducing - time for gentle exercise, even a 20 minute walk around the campus can help reduce feelings of anxiety.
- Practicing mindfulness - there are loads of resources online if you'd like some guidance, and I'd recommend the Headspace app.
- Talking to somebody about how you are feeling - just saying how you feel to someone else can relieve some of the pressures you may be feeling."
Who can I talk to?
“If any students at BU feel they're struggling with stress or anxiety, or in fact with any mental health difficulty, and think it is time to seek some help, the Student Wellbeing service is there to help.”
There are so many websites, apps and forums – is there a safe online space you recommend?
“Yes! All BU students can sign up, for free, to the Big White Wall, an online mental health and wellbeing service offering self-help programmes, resources and peer support. Clinically-trained ‘wall guides’ are also available 24/7 and it’s all completely anonymous. This can be a good resource if you're not sure about contacting us, or perhaps while we're processing your registration or between appointments.”
There are a range of support services on campus, which you can read about on our website, as well as advice about when you should ask for help.