Anxiety and its antidotes

Going away to university is often said to be the best years of a young person’s life, and yet the number of UK university students who report a mental health concern is now five times what it was ten years ago (Not By Degrees, Institute for Public Policy Research, 2017). Anxiety and depression are by far the most common mental health issues among UK students, according to a 2016 YouGov Survey. The growing concern over student anxiety prompted UK mental health charities Babylon Health, Student Minds and Nightline to collaborate on a project where powerful quotes gathered from anxious students were turned into illustrations “as a way of shining a light on the issue and bringing anxiety to life”:

Dr Umang Patel, NHS paediatrician and Babylon Health Clinical Strategy Director commented:

“University students across the UK today are feeling overwhelmed by pressures, such as social media, in a way that did not exist for previous generations, and as a result are suffering from uncertainty and a distorted perception of their own success. This has led to a significant rise in reported mental health concerns and impacts on young people’s mental wellbeing.  By asking students what anxiety feels like for them, we were able to highlight some of the ways in which anxiety can affect personal growth and restrict opportunities.  In order to emphasise the powerful physical sensation of anxiety we have taken some of the most powerful quotes received through our research and illustrated them in a way to bring those feelings to life. Anyone who suffers from anxiety may also be able to relate to the responses.”

In March 2019, the UK government announced a new task force to improve mental health support for university students, known as the Education Transitions Network.  We wait with interest to see what recommendations and changes this will bring.

Coping with anxiety

One third of students in the UK report regularly feeling ‘isolated or lonely’ according to the Unite Students Insight Report. Making connections at university is easier said than done, but a helpful place to start is to realise that loneliness affects almost everyone.

  • Comparing yourself to the diverse range of people around you, especially in a large university, can make you feel more out of place, even for those who have been the most social in high school. Anxiety is an almost permanent feature of contemporary life.
  • Humans have evolved thus far because our ancestors had to constantly deal with fear and danger. In the modern world, where we fear intangible and relative dangers our ancestral instincts can easily become overwhelmed.
  • Anxiety is an almost permanent feature of contemporary life. Humans have evolved thus far because our ancestors had to constantly deal with fear and danger. Accepting this, we can better understand that there’s no need to feel anxious because we are anxious creatures at the heart.
  • In the Instagram age, the pressures to be perfect have never been greater. Seeing perfectly filtered photos is bound to affect our self-esteem. Consider allocating social media-free time slots during your daily routine or even cutting it out completely.
  • Anxiety can feel crippling, burning you up from the inside. Counter this through physical activity. Play sports, run, do yoga – even short bouts of activity can provide an immediate elevation of mood, according to medical researchers.
  • Avoid self-medication. Coffee and caffeinated sugary drinks may help you power through an all-nighter but it’s not a good route to take. Alcohol or drugs may numb your troubles temporarily but they will never make them disappear.

Remember that if you or your friends need support, you can always contact Student Wellbeing.

~ Thanks to Matt Lindley (@MattELindley) for sharing this content with us.

Assistant Librarian (Promotions) at the University Library. An enthusiastic advocate of libraries, diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice for all, inside and outside the workplace.

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