Autumn signifies an intense time of change for many of us with September marking the return or the beginning of higher education. On the one hand, the lure of Freshers’ Week is enough to quell the anxieties of even the most cautious amongst us. However once the party dies down and reality sets in, the uncertainty and stresses of university life can be enough to make even the most confident of us anxious at times.
So, if you recognise yourself below, be assured you’re not alone and, what’s more, there’s a lot you can do to bring your best self to class:
1) Do the worst first
That’s right, take your most fearful ‘urgh’ task and do it now. We are naturally drawn towards what is easy or enjoyable first, meaning there is huge temptation to put off that dreaded assignment or task until (much) later. Anxiety causes us to avoid things that make us uneasy, or that we don’t think will go well, making us stick our heads firmly in the sand and find distractions in instantly gratifying activities. But there it remains, looming in the background, and the more we avoid it, the worse the pressure gets. Not the best of strategies, so do it now. The sense of relief will be palpable and free you up to focus on the things you really do want to do.
2) Be cautious with comparing yourself to others
As a social species, we humans naturally compare to see where we fit. But there’s zero point in comparing ourselves to the six-foot part-time supermodel, or the next Mozart-in-waiting unless it’s going to motivate you and you’re on a near-level playing field. For most of us, it usually comes in the form of a critical voice instead, reminding us why we are aren’t as good as them and making us feel, frankly, rubbish. Not exactly motivating, so, instead, work on supporting yourself to do the best you can do at that point in time.
3) Stay out of the rabbit hole
Anxiety can creep up on us and, once it takes hold, productive work is over. So, if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, your body is tense or buzzing, your brain focus is dysfunctional, and telling you ‘I can’t do this, I can’t cope’ and rabbiting away in overdrive? Stop. Take a deep breath, in fact, take a few. You’re down the anxiety rabbit hole and your body and brain are in fight or flight mode. The tendency is to try and carry on, but you need a reset by sending yourself to the chiller zone. Stop those erratic, anxiety-fuelled thoughts and burn off the stress hormones by listening to your favourite song, singing along to the words and dance, walk, or run it out.
4) Think solutions
Often when financial, social, relationship, and emotional pressures kick in, we can get caught up with ‘titanic thinking’ whereby you start focusing on the problems and what you don’t want to happen, and submerging yourself by imagining the worst case scenario of it playing out. Instead, use this to fuel you onto preventing that from happening by working on solutions for it. Think about, ask, and tap into resources that can help you solve or deal with the issue at hand.
5) Look after your physical health and maintain balance
It may seem easier said than done and not at the top of your priority list, but the condition of your brain really is dependent upon the health of your body. Poor diet, lack of sleep, and too much alcohol are all going to increase your anxiety levels and lower your resilience and brain power. The low that comes with a hangover or after sugar rushes mimics anxiety symptoms and leaves your brain starved of the energy it needs to work clearly, creatively, and rationally. Too little sleep is known to lower our happiness levels and increase cortisol in our bodies which promotes anxiety. Equally, sleep is when you transfer information into your long-term memory, vital for future exams and assignments.
Taking care of yourself with a balanced diet with slow-burning carbs, moderate alcohol consumption with regular exercise to burn off those stress hormones and to clear your head will help you keep anxiety under control. Regularly review your schedule for balance and to factor in some ‘down time’ where you can properly relax and replenish your mind and your body. Being relaxed and on-point will save you time as the clouded, jumbled thinking that anxiety produces is a time vampire. Besides, you’re no fun when you’re not having fun.
Tam Johnston is a mindologist - a specialist in the structure of the brain and the science behind it - with Fresh Insight Coaching
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