I worry if I’m not worrying about something!

Despite the fact my exams finished over seven weeks ago, it’s still difficult for me to fully relax and forget about college/university. I should be relishing all this free time, basking languidly and soaking up all the sun, I know that. I have absolutely nothing to be stressing about! So why am I fretting?

I wonder where this, well, I suppose it is, ‘anxiety’, stemmed from. I mused over genetics for a while, but surmised that, as most of my family are pretty nonchalant folk, it was a pretty unlikely cause. (Do you see what I mean, though? I was worrying about why I was always worrying so much. Sigh.)

I was shocked when, at parent’s evening earlier this year, one of my teachers said “She does worry a lot!” to my mother, then turned to me and asked candidly: “Do you suffer from anxiety?” I was bewildered. It was the realisation that people were beginning to view me in this light when I’d never really noticed it myself. “No,” I replied, “I just worry…about everything.” Soon after this it started to get worse, affecting me physically, interfering with my life: my hands started trembling when I wrote and when I gripped small things, such as grapes. It peaked during mock exam week at college. Before each test I felt nauseas and couldn’t stop jittering. By the end of that week I was a complete mess. I was drained! I couldn’t let this carry on, I was concerned about my health. I went to visit my GP. It was a bit of a kick in the teeth when he told me that these symptoms were merely a product of my worrying. He used this analogy to contextualise what I was experiencing: “If it snowed heavily and someone was constantly reminding you to “Be careful!” before you’d even stepped outside, chances are you’re going to be more afraid of slipping than if you just tackled the thing head on without a single thought about the consequences. Then, if you did fall it wouldn’t’t be so bad! You, yourself are that nagging voice.” Right, well. Ok! That was that, then.

Everyone worries, it’s natural; the difficulty is realising that, most of the time, the situation is out of your hands and that whatever is going to happen, will. This is a simple concept that I find impossible to accept: I must have control over my life. You can imagine how hard it’s been trying to take my mind off exam results these past few weeks! I’ve not done too bad, actually and managed, somewhat, to avoid over-analysing everything. When I do feel overwhelmed, I like to watch ‘Skins’ (1st generation, of course). ‘Cassie’ is my favourite. Failing that, I run a bubble bath, lie in there for a while, make some tea, wear my comfiest pyjamas and go to sleep. Worrying is exhausting. It can make you incredibly sad, too.

Sometimes clarity is necessary: it’s perfectly fine to ask questions to allay your curiosity. On the other hand, an integral part of maturation is gaining independence. It’s important to figure things out for yourself.

Look after your mind by doing things you enjoy and being around people who make you laugh. Strive to achieve balance and stability in life.


Managing Anxiety

~ Lauren Gasser 

Anxiety, in any of its innumerable forms, is a challenging and overwhelming emotion; one that ignites without warning and often grows in intensity if you do not tackle it directly. Anxiety can feel as though it is stealing from you – stealing your social life, stealing your sleep, stealing life’s pleasures, and it is easy to feel as though you have lost control. No matter how overpowering this feeling becomes, it is important to remember that you DO have control; you have control over your actions and your choices, which can directly impact upon anxiety and eventually quench it entirely. It is also important to recall the now clichéd phrase, ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’, because the realization that you can still walk, and talk, and pretty much do anything even WITH anxiety is one of the biggest steps towards overcoming it. It may not be easy to ‘accept’ ones fears and find ways to live with them, but remember how much you have to gain. Yes, you have to be brave, but we’re all capable of that.

Counselling is a great way of working through the causes of your anxiety, and creating a personal action plan can help you overcome your fears in small, manageable steps. Here are a couple of top tips for commonly anxiety-provoking situations:

Panic Attacks: The chemical cause of these frightening episodes is the ‘fight or flight’ response, during which the brain releases adrenalin in order to keep us safe. A primitive neurological feature (designed to protect us from saber-tooth tigers and the like), it is unfortunately rather misplaced in the modern mind and leads to hyperventilating, sweating, dizziness, tingling extremities, and of course an intense feeling of fear.

Breathing Techniques: Panic attacks manifest themselves in various ways, but the great news is that they can be managed, with increasing ease, when you realise that they are simply a result of breathing in too much oxygen. The old paper-bag trick is a bit obvious if you’re on the bus, so a useful technique is to visualise a brick (two long sides, two short) and to focus your breath around this shape, breathing out along the longer lines, and in along the short. It might be difficult at first, especially as panic attacks often feel as though you can’t breathe, but if you concentrate on making your out-breaths longer than your in-breaths, the feeling will pass much more quickly. Moreover, the mantra ‘this will pass’ can be comforting while you are getting to grips with your breath.

Social Anxiety: The idea of entering a room full of people might make you feel incredibly anxious, but there are ways to make the experience a little easier. It’s a good idea to tackle social anxiety in stages, by creating a list of situations that you can tick off one by one, starting with the easiest. Start really easy: invite one other person for coffee, or sit next to someone in the common room and start a conversation. A small group dinner might be the next step, or a cinema trip, but increasing the fear-factor slowly will help to make the process less overwhelming.

Group Interaction: Attending events with like-minded people can also be useful, for example a college club or society meeting in an area that you have some knowledge or interest. Remember, sometimes the loudest and most outwardly confident people are covering up nervousness or insecurity, so there is nothing wrong with being quiet and actively listening to others (in fact, this is a fantastic skill which many extroverts lack!) The breathing technique described above can also help if you feel you are becoming overwhelmed. Even if you are feeling very nervous on the inside, the people around you don’t know that. You can still walk around, talk to people and laugh at jokes whilst feeling anxious. The distinction lies between feeling the emotion and experiencing it – knowing it is there, but not allowing it to dictate your actions. The more we ‘do’ while feeling anxious, the less powerful the anxiety becomes, and the quicker it will dissolve completely. In fact, you may well find yourself forgetting the anxiety is there and having a good time!