By looking for tips on coping with anxiety at university, you are already being proactive in self-care and managing your mental health as you take on all the challenges of being a university student. Whether your anxiety is triggered by the separation from your friends, family, and hometown support network, spurred by the deadlines and other academic demands, or financial strains and responsibilities, know that you are not alone.
An ONS study published in October 2021 highlighted that 39% of first-year university students struggle with anxiety – which has led to more professional support networks opening up for students. Combatting anxiety can be especially difficult for international students getting to grips with a new culture and language barriers while overcoming social anxiety in an unfamiliar environment. By understanding the nature of anxiety, how it can manifest, and how it can be overcome, all students can transform their experience as a student into a positive one.
Know Your Anxiety Triggers
Anxiety management is only possible when there is a clear view of what triggers it. Anxiety or panic attacks can sneak up on you and catch you off-guard; by being mindful and honest with yourself about your triggers, the battle is almost won.
Are you getting enough sleep?
- Are you relying on caffeine to get you through academic work?
- Are you struggling to adjust to your new surroundings?
- Does your anxiety stem from your relationships?
- Is feeling detached from your support network leading to stress and isolation?
- Do you feel overwhelmed by your workload?
- Are you financially struggling?
- Does your anxiety manifest when you are contemplating the future?
You may find that your anxiety stems from one of the points above or almost all of them; each trigger is a perfectly valid response to being put into an unfamiliar environment with responsibilities never dealt with before. By following the tips on coping with anxiety as a student, in addition to tackling the issues at hand, you will start to feel more in control of your well-being.
Learn How to Reframe Your Anxiety
Emotionally, there is a world of difference between fear and anxiety however, both emotions trigger the same psychological reaction. Rapid breathing, increased heart rate, sweaty palms, and a rush of adrenaline and cortisol all follow feelings of stress and excitement, making it possible to reframe anxiety through positive self-talk.
For example, if you are anxious about attending a lecture or heading to another social event, you can reframe your anxiety by saying, “I’m excited”. This can allow your brain to reinterpret the physical symptoms of anxiety. By using this technique instead of telling yourself to calm down, you can more easily put yourself in a positive frame of mind and prepare yourself to tackle the anxiety trigger.
Lean on Your Existing Support Network
For many students, being at university is a time to prove their independence for the first time. But being away from home shouldn’t mean not keeping in contact with friends and family back home and being honest about how you feel. Only by sharing feelings of anxiety with trusted members of your support network will you receive the reassurance that can drastically decrease the stresses of student life. Even if your schedule already feels hectic with socialising with your new friends, writing essays, and taking up part-time work to boost your income, regularly scheduling FaceTime sessions or phone calls with family and friends keeps the feelings of anxiety, isolation, and depression at bay.
Embrace the Social Aspect
Even if it looks like all your fellow students are thriving in every aspect of their lives, know that they are likely feeling the same pressures as you. They are also likely to sympathise when you feel ready to open up about your student anxiety. Making the first move when forming new friendships can be daunting; getting over that fear of vulnerability early in your course can radically change your perspective. If you haven’t found like-minded friends on your course (don’t worry, it happens!), consider getting involved in clubs or societies where you are more likely to find people on your wavelength.
Holistic Well-Being is Key
Your diet and lifestyle have a significant bearing on your mental health. A poor diet, lacking in essential nutrients, is one surefire way to exacerbate feelings of anxiety. Eating well-balanced meals, where possible, will ensure that your brain, one of the most metabolically active parts of your body, has everything it needs to fire functionally. While a diet rich in caffeine and processed sugar is a recipe for stress hormones which exacerbate feelings of anxiety.
Keeping a healthy lifestyle is often one of the most overlooked tips for coping with anxiety at university. A strong self-care routine is something that some overwhelmed students don’t feel they have time for during their hectic schedules. By taking the time to ensure that your nutritional needs are met, you will be better placed to deal with the daily stresses of a student.
Take in the Scenery
Staying active by exploring your greener surroundings is also a great way to keep anxiety at bay. When battling anxiety, bolting the door and avoiding interactions may seem the most attractive option. While having some downtime is imperative, getting outside and clearing your mind in nature can slow down racing thoughts and calm an anxious mind. In Japan, forest bathing is one of the latest mental health trends, but it doesn’t need to be a lush forest for exposure to nature to work its magic on your mental health. If you are in an inner-London campus, check out one of the many parks the city has to offer. Hampstead Heath, Regent’s Park and St James’s Park are all great destinations to get your nature fix.
Self Care Routine
When it comes to effective self-care routines, everyone is different. Using aromatherapy with mood-boosting scents, such as lavender and lemon balm, may work for some; others may prefer to immerse themselves in a book or watch a comedy special. Without meditation and breathing exercises, no list of tips on coping with anxiety as a university student would be complete. Meditation will become one of the sharpest tools in your anxiety-battling arsenal if used correctly. Meditation works as an immediate remedy to oncoming panic attacks and a long-term proactive tool that can set you up for the day and better prepare you for the stress that may come your way. Self-care doesn’t need to involve grand gestures or lavish expenses, which ultimately worsen your anxiety down the line due to the unsustainable cost. It simply means setting some time for yourself, where you are free from stressful demands on your time.
Start a Gratitude Journal
Gratitude journals are one of the most efficacious ways to practice self-care and put yourself into a more positive frame of mind. At the end of each day, write down (preferably in a journal) the ten things that you were most grateful for.
Even on your worst days, you will be able to find things to be grateful for – the positive interactions you had, the food you ate, and the things you got done during the day. By getting into the habit of gratitude, you will train your mind to focus on the positive aspects of your day, instead of the negative. You can also try writing three things you did well that day, which is an effective way to put any imposter syndrome-esque feelings at bay.
Find the Peer Support Programmes Available to International Students
Multiple organisations specialise in providing support to international students while in the UK, in addition to the international offices, which are open in all UK universities and Student Unions.
The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) is great for practical support and guidance, especially around government guidelines and regulations. For students who don’t feel comfortable talking about their visas with the university’s international offices, the UKCISA helpline is an excellent port of call.
UKCISA can also provide helpful information on international student fees and guidelines on working with a student visa. The government-backed organisation also helps current and prospective students to finance their studies and budget during their course.
Student Minds is the biggest student well-being website in the UK, built for students uncomfortable about reaching out to their on-campus peers or who feel like their at-home support network will not understand their student anxiety. It is a vital digital place for peer-to-peer support and guidance.
The website provides a safe and confidential space for students to communicate without judgment and offers a six-week course for students wanting to take control of their mental health. Student Minds also holds staff-run workshops and helps to signpost students to other support available.
The Great British Mag is for international students anxious about immersing themselves in a new country and culture; the magazine is full of helpful and practical insights to help students determine whether studying abroad is for them.
The editorial team behind the magazine consists of former international students; it fills international students in on everything from what happens during fresher’s week to Visa advice and guidance to supporting LGBTQ+ international students.