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Starting university: anxiety

You've got the best years of your life ahead of you - but if the idea of going to university is making you nervous, don't panic.

Anxiety comes in many forms; it isn’t necessarily a problem, as it’s your body’s natural reaction to recognising danger. However, it’s not a surprise that it can affect students. If you’re heading off to university or college this autumn, you’ll have been immersed in a tidal wave of work already. In meeting the expectations of parents, teachers and friends, you can feel like you’re taking a lot on, and anxiety can develop. This can lead to symptoms such as insomnia, loss of appetite, knotty feelings in your stomach, low energy and mood swings. You may even have trouble breathing, and experience panic attacks. These symptoms appear gradually and can go unnoticed, making you unsure where to turn. If it starts to affect your life on a day-to-day basis and stops you from doing the things you want to do, you should see about getting some help; the good news is that there’s plenty of help out there.

Where does it come from?

Moving home is generally considered to be one of the most stressful things to do. But what about moving to a new home and town, leaving your friends and family and finding money to pay your fees and living expenses? Pile on the pressure of exams and part-time work and you can feel like you’re juggling too many balls. The average student graduates with around £17,500 of debt, which can also be a big worry. People deal with these stresses differently; some people’s personalities, due to genetic factors or previous experiences they have had,may mean that they become overly anxious.

Get back in control

If you’re experiencing anxiety in any form, remember that it won’t last forever. Just as the feelings of anxiety come on gradually, they will ebb away. Anxiety is a common occurrence that people around the world go through. You’re not alone, and there are plenty of places that you can get support.

One of the best ways to let the feelings out is to talk. Amanda Edmondson, who works as a schools consultation officer for the Samaritans helpline, says: “Talking about your feelings puts you back in control and reveals the choices you have. Many people feel pressured into hiding their feelings out of embarrassment or concern, not wanting to burden family or friends, but hiding under a calm exterior only saves the problem for later and stress can build up until it becomes unbearable.”

Talk to friends, family, teachers or anyone you feel comfortable opening up to. If you don’t want to speak to someone you know, book an appointment with your general practitioner (GP) or the counsellor at your university or college, and tell them how you’re feeling.

Look after yourself

It’s even more important to look after yourself if you’re feeling anxious. Eat a balanced diet and make sure you drink lots of water; carry a large bottle around with you and refill it from the tap. You should also aim for around seven to eight hours of sleep per night; if you have trouble sleeping, try taking a warm bath before bed, use a black-out blind to darken the room or drink calming camomile tea before bed.

Richard Perry, who recently graduated from University College Birmingham and suffered from anxiety during his studies, recommends staying on the ball. “Always remember that there are lecturers and other students who will take time to help with any problem you might have. I mainly found that really getting my teeth into a project helped, not to mention getting organised!”

Help is out there

Anxious feelings are temporary and loads of help is available. According to Perry, the most terrifying thing that he did was to get help. “I spent so long feeling desperate that, by the time I actually spoke about what was happening, I realised that I had cut myself off. When I went to see the counsellor at uni, things slowly started to make sense again.”

Most people experience feelings of anxiety at some point, so never be afraid to speak out. These feelings are completely normal and can be conquered. There are plenty of ways to have an amazing time at university – making lots of new friends and having experiences that’ll shape the rest of your life – so make sure you get involved!

Web watch

You can call 08457 909090 in the UK or 1850 609090 in the Republic of Ireland. They’re a registered charity, offering confidential, 24-hour emotional support for all www.samaritans.org.uk

NHS Direct
Provides 24-hour access to health information and advice. Call 0845 4647 to be put through to a nurse, or to locate your nearest doctor’s surgery and GP www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk

A listening, support and information service, run by students for students. Visit the website to find your local service www.nightline.niss.ac.uk/local.html