Studying at University with Anxiety

Mental health problems such as anxiety are a serious and common issue, but what is it really like studying with such intense emotions?

Written for i-studentglobal

By Maria Baker

It is no secret that higher education challenges you in new ways that school and college lacked. It is the next level in education as well as the next big step in life. It is what may in the end define and prepare you for the career you have always dreamed to work toward. It could also be the time when you make the friends that you keep for life, mentors that teach you even beyond university, and continually broaden your horizons. This amount of pressure to succeed takes a lot out of you, especially if you’re someone who also has the constant weight of anxiety pulling you down.

Put simply, for some people anxiety feels like a constant dilemma being replayed again and again tirelessly in your mind. There are two heavy options playing tug-of-war against one another, in which the options make your heart heavy with multitudes of emotions either way.

You may feel that without the mental diagnosis of the situation that everything would be much simpler, there would be more opportunities, more success even, but with such a feeling pulling your spirit down at the worst of times, you risk these “opportunities”. You’re tired of everything constantly feeling too much, of constantly over-analysing a problem that may never be a problem. You see these worst-case scenarios in your head and they seem more grotesquely realistic, with more of a chance of occurring than not occurring. It is crying from frustration and physical strain pulling at your chest at the crack of dawn, it is having a breakdown amongst a tightly packed crowd, it is fearing the worst, neglecting your best features; this is anxiety and it’s not fun.

As someone who has personally completed three full years of a university degree all the while suffering from anxiety, I can tell you, although everyone experiences anxiety differently, it tires you and it can affect your studies in more ways that one. In my first year, as with most other students just starting out, I shied away from my parents and moved into our first ever living space, living on my own to study far away from my homes. Already this is a big leap; it means to be independent but also not to forget to rely on your social abilities to get some tasks done, especially when moving to somewhere completely new. It’s big, different and disorientating for someone like me who has anxiety, who not by choice cannot go willingly to every social party to get to know new people at the university. This was just the living standards, but the other half of the time you would spend there, you would be studying.

The workload differs depending on the course, the units you take, the year you’re in and so forth. Naturally, as assessments roll in, this could press hard against anyone’s mental health. As soon as I had enough classes to lose count and even more so as second-year turned in, the anxiety flooded my thoughts more. So much so, moving back home and commuting felt like the best and certainly safest option. This also meant the investment of waking up at unspeakable hours weekly and hoping that doesn’t strengthen the anxiety more. Some mornings it was the dark gloomy train carriages when the sky looked more like night than day, when it was 4am and the only thoughts were if any of it was really worth it, the tightening in my chest and the shortness of my breath and wanting to give up and turn back home. Even worse was a day I can’t forget, a silenced panic attack mid-lesson. Again the short exasperated breathing, the strangled thoughts so much so that sometimes as you could not let it out, makes you physically ill that your friends keep making sure you’re not going to collapse on them.

The deadline for our assessments were always at 11:59pm of the day it was due. The time pressure, nevermind how many hours ahead, always strains me and makes me panic more than it would to someone else who may just get the job done and worry later. If the work is due on the day and I still have yet to finish on that due day, the panic does nothing but become very invasive, with my thoughts obstructing completing the work efficiently.

Luckily there are many methods to choose from to at least ease the stress and fear you may get on a daily basis. Although an obvious choice, to talk to someone is a great big first step. It is just choosing who to talk to that can largely change the effects. Perhaps talking to family is not an option but talking to a stranger feels more comfortable. Most universities have their own counsellors who can help you with the entwined anxiety of university and the rest of your life. There are also many websites where you can talk to people freely such as There are also calming games and features to help meditate and deep breathing tasks to calm your nerves before a big event.

Although your studies are very important, your health and wellbeing is always a priority, and you should always attempt to seek help, you are not alone, everyone can become burned out with stress from time to time.

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