Strathclyde Telegraph

Keep calm and eat cake: coping with anxiety at Uni

By Mhairi McNeil

November, for me, always starts with a bang. Not only from the fireworks on the 5th, but from a frustrated me hitting my head off a table in the library. Like for many students, this time in the semester feels like a hell of deadlines that even the chilly, dreich days cannot freeze over. Hi, I’m Mhairi, and I’m a stressed student. “Hi, Mhairi!”

Stressed is an understatement. I tend to play it down because I worry about how people will react, but a good friend of mine helped me to realise that if I’m going to write an article discussing the importance of openly talking about mental health, then I, myself, must be brave enough to admit it. Hi, I’m Mhairi and, like 4.7% of the UK, I suffer from anxiety.

I’ve never been that great with managing stress. In Highschool I would have intense migraines during exam times. It speaks volumes of the extent of my anxiety when I actually miss cripplingly blinding headaches compared to how exams and mountains of coursework make me feel now. There’s times when I’ve had panic attacks before exams and once I’ve gotten there I’ve been barely able to remember my own name, never mind that of whatever American President was inaugurated in 1921. I’m hoping that this year’s exams won’t follow the same pattern, but that will mostly be thanks to me finally seeking treatment for my anxiety. Hi, I’m Mhairi and I’m medicated.

So, why did it take me so long to do that? Well for a start, even writing this I’m terrified about what readers will think or say. There’s such stigma attached to mental health that simply discussing it feels awkward. But the reason that so many people suffer in silence is due to a complete lack of understanding of what exactly mental health issues are. Thus, I’m here today to “man the fuck up” (or more gender-neutral if you like) and openly say: it’s okay to be slightly faulty.

The main reason I’m getting better at being open about this is my recent revelations that literally no one I know has their shit together. Look around your lecture theatre and you’ll see a lot of people who seem to be constantly smiling or the epitome of success. A lot of these people are just great at hiding how they’re actually feeling. Us Brits aren’t great at ye ole emotions and because of this we tend to say “fine” when we’re asked how we’re doing. This “Keep Calm and Carry On” mentality is definitely ingrained into our culture, and although I’m proud of this stereotypical tea-drinking, doctor-who-watching Britishness, I think it’s time we took a leaf out of our pals over the Atlantic’s (self-help) book and actually share how we’re feeling.

And so that brings me to my tips on how to combat anxiety and how to prevent it from interfering with your studies. Rule number one, unlike the famous book and film: talk about anxiety club. And I say club because you are anything but alone, and talking about it will only reiterate that. Talking about starting medication with friends has helped me to realise that most folk have been in this situation before, and this has actually helped me feel like less of the alien that the stigmas attached to mental illness often cause me to worry about. Tell your friends, tell your parents, tell your doctor. Surround yourself with positivity and create a support network to remind yourself that your brain chemistry will soon enough balance itself out.

My next tip is to let uni know. Half the battle of anxiety is the vicious cycle of work piling up because you’re too stressed to get it done but then your to do list will just continue to grow and you’ll be left feeling worse than you did to begin with. By telling your lecturers or course leaders, they’ll be able to support you in any way they can. Trust me when I say that they’re more than understanding, because even these academic adults don’t always have their shit together either.

Once you’ve got that tough bit out of the way you can actually focus on yourself. This is my third tip. Put yourself first. I’m rarely a selfish person, and I’d actually go as far as saying I tend to put the happiness of others above my own. This isn’t always the best idea. If you’re worried about pissing folk off when you cancel plans because you don’t really feel up to going out, then you need to find better friends. Real friends will understand. Best friends will come round with a bar of chocolate. Or cake. Cake is the best. You can even put a candle in it and pretend it’s your birthday.

Which brings me to my (for now) final tip. Turn every bad day into your birthday. “Treat yo’ self” and allow others to treat you. Don’t let your anxiety control what you do, and most importantly, don’t let it forget that you are fabulous. If I could, this article would end with lots of sassy emojis! It’s taken me a long time to pluck up the courage to be as open as I have been whilst writing this, but I know it’s for the best. Anxiety stems from fear, so if we’re brave it won’t win. Hi, I’m Mhairi and I’m a fucking champion.

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